The United States introduced the economic element of their long awaited plan for the Middle East Peace Process, entitled Peace to Prosperity, at a meeting described as a workshop, which took place in Bahrain on 25-26 June. The published document sets out a range of possibilities for economic revitalisation and growth for Palestinians and the neighbouring countries, which could be achieved if the parties can agree a settlement of the conflict, and large scale international investment can be attracted to the region. Part of the purpose of the workshop, which was aimed primarily at Gulf Arab States, was to introduce the plan to such possible donors or investors. Ireland was not represented at the meeting.
I have always been clear in my view that an economic element can help support a well-thought out political solution, by setting out a vision of a post conflict situation in which all are winners. But as I have stated consistently, it is not possible to solve political problems by economic means alone. Support to the Palestinian people is of course always important and welcome. However, any potential investor or donor, public or private, will be very conscious that the main impediment to economic development for Palestinians, and the reason for the severe contraction of the Palestinian economy over the last two decades, is the web of restrictions due to the Israeli occupation. It is thus very difficult to discuss economic possibilities separate from the political context.
The EU has encouraged the US in its efforts to develop a peace plan, and Ireland has done this in all our contacts with the US Middle East team. It is my strong view that any plan must address the needs of both sides if it is to be successful. Preparing the ground can also be crucial to winning a considered hearing for any plan, and improved dialogue between the US team and Palestinian community and its leadership will be important in this regard.