The international investors participating in the Palestinian Investment Conference, taking place in Bethlehem between the 21st and 23rd May 2008 have started to arrive in the city on Tuesday at midday.
The conference is aimed at jumpstarting a process of integrating Palestine into the global economy. Arab, Israeli and Palestinian investors will all be participating.
As delegations started to arrive, residents of Bethlehem noticed the heavy presence of Palestinian Authority security forces across the city.
In addition to the heavy presence, witnesses in Bethlehem told media that Palestinian security forces have arrested 35 residents of the city. An unofficial security source told IMEMC that those arrested are people who â€œmay disturb the atmosphere of the conferenceâ€.
Tony Blair, the Quartetâ€™s representative, today launched a package of measures designed to boost the Palestinian economy and aid preparations for statehood. The package includes Israelâ€™s agreement to ease some travel and trade restrictions on the West Bank. Four Israeli military checkpoints are to be removed, while over 500 will remain, dividing the West Bank into 64 separate areas.
The residents of Bethlehem have been awaiting this conference with high hopes, as Azzam, a Palestinian worker in Bethlehem, told IMEMC:
‘I hope that they will do something, but if they do not provide a five or three year development plan, and the [Israeli] army continue to attack, this is not going to make any change.’
The Palestinian Network of local NGOs issued a statement on Monday declaring their belief that this conference was going to be used as a way to â€œnormalize with the Israeli occupationâ€, a view shared by some people living in Bethlehem, such as Hazem:
‘I am against this conference for several reasons, one itâ€™s normalization with the occupation, and they come to our city and block roads we can’t move, and we never saw anything good come out of the conferences they made before.’
Although people seemed to be unhappy over the performance of the Palestinian Authority, some like Sahdi, a shop owner from Bethlehem, remain optimistic:
‘I hope this conference makes real change and is not just a media event. I hope that more investments will take place in Palestine, to counter the high unemployment rates.’
Questions over whether this conference will succeed in boosting the Palestinian economy, or will develop a method to operate an economy under military occupation, have to wait until much later this week to be answered.