The solar power plant currently being constructed in the West Bank is not particularly large – it will have an annual output of 422,000kWh hours a year – but its potential significance is greater.
The photovoltaic cells will supply electricity to the Jericho Agro-Industrial Park (JAIP), allowing the first stage of the park to be constructed. Further progress is expected in the coming days. Officials at the Palestinian Industrial Estates & Free Zone Authority say they will soon confirm the name of a developer and that up to 25 companies have committed to operating from the site.
They will process, package and export the agricultural produce, which the local economy used to rely on so heavily in the past. The agricultural industry has declined in importance since 1967 and the local economy could do with the boost. A recent World Bank report, Stagnation or Revival? Palestinian Economic Prospects, highlighted the challenges facing the country’s severely weakened economy. JAIP opens up the promise of some much-needed jobs and economic growth.
There are many difficulties yet to be addressed, including Israeli refusal to allow a new access road, which would shorten the distance to the nearest border crossing with Jordan. There is also a clear need to make it easier for companies to import raw materials through Israeli borders for use at the park.
Solving those problems requires diplomacy, trust and a willingness to compromise, but such qualities are in short supply at the moment. Economic developments are no substitute for renewed political talks, but they may help to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in the meantime. Progress at JAIP may be a small step, but at least it is being taken in the right direction.