Delivering on its commitment to boost Palestinian businesses, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD, signed its inaugural project in the West Bank during the first visit by President Suma Chakrabarti to Ramallah. As one London based financier commented to The Middle East magazine this week: “EBRD’s decision is much more than a gesture, the Bank has elected to, quite literally, ‘put its’ money where its’ mouth is’ and back Palestinian efforts to repair and restore the economy of the illegally occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Summarising his recent stay in the West Bank, the EBRD President said: “We are very pleased to offer our unique model of combined investment, policy engagement and technical assistance to our Palestinian partners with the goal of improving the business environment. Local businesses have proven to be remarkably resilient and adaptable under challenging circumstances and our goal now is to work towards steady development for the benefit of the population.”
During his visit to Ramallah and Bethlehem the EBRD President met Azzam Shawwa, the Governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority; Rula Maayeh, the Minister of Tourism; and Abeer Oder, the Minister of National Economy. He emphasised the EBRD’s readiness to deepen the engagement in the West Bank and Gaza where several projects are currently under preparation.
The signing of the first project in the West Bank marked another highlight of the visit. It is a $5 million loan to Cairo Amman Bank Palestine which will be on-lent to small firms and was welcomed by President Chakrabarti with the words: “I am delighted to launch our first investment with the strong support of the authorities. We are confident that this will mark a first step towards improving businesses’ access to finance. Supporting the all-important private sector is key for the development of the local economy. EBRD’s actions are to be applauded. ”
The visit by President Chakrabarti was the first since the EBRD shareholders’ decision last year to expand the Bank’s operations to the West Bank and Gaza, where the Bank will provide support to improve the competitiveness of the private sector as well as strengthen innovation, increase access to finance for small businesses, promote improvements of the business climate, foster the sustainable supply of energy and promote private sector participation in energy efficiency and infrastructure. First initiatives are promising and the Bank has already built a strong pipeline of projects, exceeding available funds and requiring the mobilisation of donor support to match the strong demand for EBRD support.
There is no shortage of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians living under siege but real action is thin on the ground for the obvious reason that Israel can destroy what it wants, when it wants, as all too often has been the case. However, many voices within the international community believe that in recent weeks Israel has pushed the boundaries too far. It has gone way beyond political muscle flexing from Tel Aviv, in the last few days innocent and entirely defenceless people have actually being massacred on the streets of Gaza.