Last night a talk was arranged by Project Hope by the Head of the Nablus CCI. He gave us a slide presentation with some local statistics, mixed with some photographs. Less than 2% of businesses employed more than 10 people!
In what could be perceived as a dry presentation, the figures were actually terribly revealing, and we could see at a glance what a difference the Intifada/blockade of the West Bank made to the economy of the area. Even now, when the blockade is partially lifted, there are still road-blocks and checks, and many, many restrictions on moving goods around Palestine, let alone export problems.
He mentioned the difficulties of getting your lorry-load of goods to the Ports, and then having the constraint of no Palestinian export representative at the Port, so having to provide all of the necessary documentation to the Israeli Authorities, which includes papers on security, destinations, etc, and entails complete un-loading and re-loading of the goods onto pallets of a certain size.
Add to this problem one of the restrictions on imports - aluminium, for example - plus taxes and levies applied by Israel, and you begin to get a tiny picture of the difficulties of getting this economy on its feet again. He explained that although they sincerely want to start exporting, it is often prohibitively expensive and so they sell to Israel, who then ship the goods out as Israeli. They are working to correct this, he told us, so that at least Palestinian goods, such as olive oil and soap, are labeled as such.
One of their best exports, however, is stone. He was understandably proud of this, and said that it is exported to Europe. Presumably this is a product which is less problematic to transport, as it can pretty easily be cleared by 'security'. One of my main concerns, however, is that this is exactly the wrong sort of export as it is totally unsustainable - I had already noticed on my trips to Tulkarem the huge quarries, with large amounts of machinery. The surrounding area was covered in a fine white powdery dust, and the lorries were plying back and forth. The saddest sight of all, for me, was to see the Palestinians earnestly trying to improve their local economy by literally blasting and removing their only asset: the hills and the land around Nablus.
It no doubt brings in a few shekels, and no doubt there is a demand because it is reasonably priced, but once these hills are gone, what next? The West Bank is small enough already, without this geological suicide.