RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Jordanian and Palestinian governments are ramping up their relations, planning to increase cooperation in trade, energy, agriculture and other areas.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah met Sept. 17 in Jordan with his counterpart there, Omar al-Razzaz, and agreed to schedule a meeting of the Joint Higher Jordanian-Palestinian Committee early next year in Ramallah. The committee will “strengthen and develop relations … in various fields and continue coordination on issues of common concern,” Hamdallah said, according to a statement issued by the government.
The Joint Higher Jordanian-Palestinian Committee was established in the wake of the Oslo Accord in 1995. The group last met a year ago in Jordan, when Hani al-Mulki was that country's prime minister.
According to the statement, Hamdallah said, “An agreement has been reached to increase trade exchange between the two countries, establish a logistics area between Palestine and Jordan, and set up an agricultural marketing company" and perhaps joint ventures for providing services to people traveling for hajj and umrah, two of the five pillars of Islam. "An agreement has also been reached to increase the power supply from Jordan to Palestine and establish joint investments in industrial zones.”
Palestinian Minister of Agriculture Sufian Sultan, who attended the meeting between Hamdallah and Razzaz, told Al-Monitor that during the next few months, ministerial committees of both countries will conduct several bilateral meetings in the lead-up to the Joint Higher Jordanian-Palestinian Committee meeting. Beginning in October, the committees will discuss recent and previously implemented agreements and the means to expand future cooperation.
The agriculture sector is one of the most important that the Joint Higher Jordanian-Palestinian Committee has focused on. According to Sultan, this is reflected by the number of agreements that aim to increase joint marketing. Also, Jordan has agreed to open its markets to Palestinian agricultural produce.
On April 25, the agriculture ministries signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the Amman-based Palestinian-Jordanian Company for the Marketing of Horticultural Products with startup capital of $10 million from each government. Sultan pointed out that agricultural products account for 50% of the total volume of Palestinian exports. Such products include dates, medicinal herbs and olive oil and are exported to Jordan, the Arabian Gulf, the United States and Europe.
Both countries want to speed up implementation of 22 agreements they have signed in recent years. These pacts cover agriculture, transport, culture, interior issues, social development, energy, economy, trade and investment, education, higher education and health.
Zafer Melhem, head of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority, told Al-Monitor the Palestinian and Jordanian energy authorities are seeking to expand the electricity grid between the two countries. They want to boost the power supply from Jordan to the city of Jericho from 12 to 36 megawatts in a bid to satisfy all the electricity needs of the Jericho governorate and possibly other areas.
He pointed out that the two energy authorities always touch base on possible means of cooperation. This, he added, led to them forming technical and commercial committees to establish the best ways to cooperate, all the while exchanging experiences and holding training courses in Jordan. The countries currently are examining renewable energy projects.
The governments have set several goals to be achieved through the joint high committee; chief among these is increasing the trade volume between Palestine and Jordan.
“Since the beginning of the year, the volume of trade exchange with Jordan has reached 266 million Jordanian dinars [$374.9 million]," Palestinian Minister of Labor Mamoun Abu Shahla told Al-Monitor. "We hope that by the end of the year this volume will have reached half a billion Jordanian dinars [$704.6 million].”
He also noted "the need to coordinate our political positions in light of Jordan’s support for the Palestinian cause.”
Abu Shahla pointed out the importance of creating jobs. Also, he sees the need to learn from Jordan's social security experience and cooperate on how to deal with international organizations.
The logistics area currently being built in Jordan's Shouneh area will become an artery for Palestinian exports to foreign markets. It will also provide Palestinians with an opportunity to import Jordanian and Arab products.
Although these efforts to intensify cooperation come as the Palestinian Authority seeks to break away from economic relations with Israel, that's not likely to be achieved soon. This is especially true as far as foreign trade is concerned, as Israel controls the West Bank’s land crossings.
According to a Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics survey released Sept. 24, Palestinian exports to Israel rose by 12.2% in July compared with June, and accounted for 90.7% of total Palestinian export value in July. Also in July, imports from Israel rose slightly, by 0.9%, compared with June, and accounted for 54.5% of the total value of Palestinian imports in July.
The Jordanian and Palestinian governments’ efforts to promote and expand cooperation in trade and joint ventures will give Palestinians hope that they will have access, albeit only partial, to Arab and international markets, away from Israeli control.
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