I am very pleased to be here today and bring greetings and a strong message of support from Secretary of State John Kerry. I want to thank our U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norm Eisen for his hospitality, his commitment to support the building of a new Palestinian economy – and as many of you here have experienced first-hand -- his extraordinary efforts to bring us all together for this conference.
I also want to acknowledge Dr. Mohammed Mustafa, the Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister for Finance, who is here today and who has been the leader of the effort to launch this initiative on behalf of the Palestinian Authority – and the business delegation accompanying him here will be important partners in fostering a vibrant Palestinian private sector.
I would like to thank Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Office of the Quartet Representative team. We appreciate your personal leadership and all the time and effort you have invested in this initiative. I’d also like to thank Mr. Kito de Boer and his team at McKinsey which has given so much time and provided the important analysis upon which the Initiative for the Palestinian Economy is based.
We are also very grateful to former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, for her leadership of Partners for a New Beginning together with Mr. Walter Isaacson. Secretary Albright has played a pivotal role in pulling together the public-private partnerships that have been a large element in strengthening U.S. relations with the Arab world, and she and her team have been played a critical role in organizing this conference.
Finally, our thanks go to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for helping gather such an impressive group of American businessmen and women here. We are so glad that you could come to this meeting.
As most of you know, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama are working very hard to bring about an Israeli–Palestinian peace agreement. We look forward to welcoming President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington on March 17. The negotiations are at an important juncture, they are intensive, and they offer the best opportunity in years to move toward a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and the Palestinian people.
Diplomatic agreements can set forth a framework for peace, but the United States sees our responsibilities in peacemaking more broadly. We believe that helping the Palestinian people build a balanced national economy – one that creates needed goods and services, jobs and profits for businesses -- can most effectively help deliver the benefits of peace.
We have seen a great deal of unrest across the Middle East region in recent years that can be attributed, in large part, to the frustration of a very large rising generation of underemployed, or unemployed Arab youth. The economic and social roots of these upheavals are as important as the political ones. Palestinian young people today are connected to and communicate with the world like no previous generation – and they have aspirations for good jobs and better lives that deserve to be addressed alongside their desire for national independence.
It is critical that governments help strengthen the Palestinian economy, working to remove obstacles to expanded business and setting forth programs and policies that facilitate business expansion -- including providing education that equips young men and women with marketable, 21st century skills.
Governments simply do not have sufficient resources to address all of the Palestinian people’s social or infrastructure needs. Although the international community has done much over the years to sustain the Palestinian people, the ability of donors to provide assistance or loans to make up their huge development gaps cannot be sustained. The time has come for this region to break away from the models of the past that looked to governments to provide for needed investments – and instead to support the building of a vibrant private sector to take on those responsibilities.
One of the ways we are hoping to achieve this goal is through this Initiative for the Palestinian Economy. We intend to attract billions of dollars of new private sector investment to the Palestinian economy over the coming years. As mentioned in the McKinsey report, this Initiative seeks to fundamentally transform the Palestinian economy through large-scale private sector investment in the eight key sectors.
These are not meant to be donor projects. Instead, they will be a package of corporate investments that are intended as profit-making opportunities for the global private sector, both operating within the Palestinian economy and using it as a base to access regional markets. In the process, they will generate thousands of good jobs.
While we all recognize that the full potential of this initiative can only be achieved through a final status agreement, we hope through our meetings this weekend to identify tangible projects that the investors in this room can support now.
Moving forward, the U.S. Government will help support Palestinian private sector growth. My colleague Elizabeth Littlefield, the CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation is here. I encourage you to talk with her about how OPIC is expanding its existing loan guarantees to provide new financing and insurance for private sector investment in critical infrastructure, energy and job creation in the West Bank and Gaza. Our colleagues from USAID may also describe our cooperation with the Palestinian Authority to develop smaller scale infrastructure projects in the West Bank like roads, health clinics and schools, with contributions from the United States and other countries.
At a business conference I attended in Jordan a few weeks ago, I was struck by the number of businesspeople from around the region who see in a final Israeli–Palestinian agreement the prospects for expanded growth and trade. I want to encourage the American businessmen and women here to take a close look at possible partnerships with Palestinian business – there are very real opportunities to make money. Thank you.