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West Bank

Volume 541: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2012

Our private sector initiative in the west bank and Gaza supports about 500 companies. We attribute perhaps £50 million to sales and exports, and also support about 2,200 jobs.

Last year, I visited Rawabi, a new Palestinian city being built near Ramallah. It is the biggest private sector project in Palestinian history and is being facilitated by the Portland Trust with the Palestinian Authority. Does the Minister agree that economic progress will be an important component of peace? Will he update the House on the recent package of economic measures reportedly offered by the Israeli Government in response to the Quartet?

I do indeed agree with the right hon. Lady. The economic development of the west bank has been a significant feature of the past few years, coupled with security improvements, and it is a measure of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that this has continued. We want the discussions between the Israelis and Palestinians that were started in Amman to continue. A package of support is part of those continuing discussions, and there is no doubt that a comprehensive settlement will be of benefit to both the Palestinian and the Israeli economies.

Commerce, restaurants and hotels continue to provide the highest number of jobs in the west bank, according to a recent United Nations Relief and Works Agency report on the Palestinian labour market. Given that these sectors stand to benefit directly from a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, will the Foreign Secretary reiterate the importance of the Palestinian Authority returning to direct peace negotiations without preconditions?

Order. I remind the House that we are talking about private sector initiatives in the west bank, not about the peace process more widely. I want a brief reply from the Minister, and then we will move on.

The health of the private sector economy is a component part of the all-round package for the future of the Palestinian Authority and Israel to which my hon. Friend alludes. There is no doubt that a comprehensive settlement will benefit both the state and private sector economies, and I am pleased that she raised the matter.