Last Wednesday, 10/7/2013, in anticipation of next month's scheduled opening, representatives from the Civil Administration, the Bethlehem CLA and the Palestinian Authority joined Agence Française de Développement (AFD) for a joint tour of the French Industrial Park in Bethlehem. The tour was an opportunity to appraise the project's progress and coordinate assistance from the Civil Administration.
The "Bethlehem French Industrial Park" (BMIP) is the outcome of the 2008 economic cooperation agreement between the French Government and the Palestinian Authority. France undertook to assist and contribute to the development of the Palestinian economy, and had already commenced work on the AFD-sponsored BMIP in 2009. The 20 million Euro industrial park will include factories and corporations in various branches of industry, as well as a center for academic engineering and technician studies.
All the project's infrastructure is modern and environmentally friendly: solar panels will supply approximately 15% of the park's electricity needs and a water purification facility will recycle waste water for use in irrigating the industrial zone's green areas and serve the villages surrounding the park. "This project will make a multidisciplinary contribution" explained Lieutenant-Colonel Eyal Zeevi, Head of the Bethlehem District Coordination Liaison Office. "It will boost education, jobs and the quality of the environment, and its main impact will be to make a significant contribution to the local economy."
The project's contribution to the Palestinian economy will indeed be significant - The industrial park is set to provide around 1,500 new jobs (a figure which will only increase with the construction of additional factories in the area) and 15% of the factories' profits is to be set aside for the benefit of the neighboring villages. Beyond its immediate contribution, the new park shall create "New Bethlehem" - a modern and technologically advanced industrial center with the capacity to generate corporations and commodities and to establish a name for itself in the region.
"What we are seeing here is only the start, the object is to stimulate initiatives and creativity amongst the Palestinian population and to develop this industrial park," explained Dr. Samir Hazboun, Chairman of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and the industrial zone's board of management. "It's easier for businessmen to invest in something which already exists since success is assured."
The establishment of BMIP is projected to do much to alleviate the unemployment problem, particularly in the Bethlehem area. Bethlehem has one of the highest unemployment rates in the West Bank, with 24% of the entire population being out of work, including a disproportionate number of workers with higher education. The educated unemployed workforce is one of the main reasons for the growing unemployment rate - while each year around 36,000 students graduate with bachelor degrees from higher education institutions, the subjects which many of them choose to specialize in do not qualify them for the jobs available in the market and there are only around 12,000 job vacancies open to them. In order to solve this problem, a center for academic engineering and technician studies has been established in the industrial park, the purpose of which is to train students to become technicians and engineers. This is the first institution within the Palestinian Authority administered areas which trains engineers and technicians and will constitute a significant milestone in the process of developing the Palestinian economy.
Despite the fact that the park is located in Area "A", the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories has been involved in advancing the project. The Civil Administration facilitated permitting for all BMIP's secondary projects which required infrastructure that would run through Area C in the West Bank.
"I feel that the Civil Administration showed understanding and gave the project its full support every step of the way", remarked Hervé CONAN, Director of the AFD in the West Bank, "when challenges arose which were already beyond my control, the relevant officers responded positively and were partners in finding solutions. I think that it is a common goal for all the parties - to stimulate a new spirit of creativity and ambitiousness in this region in particular and in the West Bank in general."
"We appreciate all the support and assistance received from the Civil Administration throughout the project", explained Dr. Hazboun. "The project has not reached completion, they shall continue to create additional factories and companies here and I hope that the cooperation between all of us shall continue and that next year at least four new factories shall start operating".
"There can be no doubt that the economy has an impact on the security situation, and that the security situation affects the economy. The more the economy is developed the smaller the individual crises and thus the motivation to undermine security. Similarly, when the security situation is stable, there is greater justification for easing restrictions and assisting in civilian issues in order for the population to develop in the most positive way", concluded LTC Zeevi, Head of the Bethlehem DCL. "I see this as a flagship project and hope that it will set a positive example for the entire region."