Fri, Oct 24, 2008 - Page 6 News List

West Bank real estate skyrockets

WORLD BANK REPORT The international body concluded that little can be done to ease price pressure on Palestinians until their conflict with Israel is permanently ended

AP , JERUSALEM

Palestinians wait to cross the Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

The price of property in the West Bank is rocketing beyond the reach of most local businesses and homeseekers, pushed up by a weak US dollar and Israeli control of large chunks of the territory, a World Bank report published yesterday says.

The 41-page report cites local government data from the commercial and political center of Ramallah as saying the value of prime downtown commercial plots has doubled each year since 2005, hitting around US$4,000 per square meter at present.

Israel, citing the need to prevent Palestinian attacks inside Israel or on Jewish settlers in the West Bank, has placed large swaths of the Palestinian land and roads under its control off limits to Palestinians. It also maintains a complex network of checkpoints on roads that remain open to West Bankers.

That leaves the vast majority of Palestinians chasing land in the remaining 41 percent of the territory, which is home to at least 90 percent of the population, the World Bank said.

“As a result, land prices are shooting up and in certain towns are becoming prohibitive for all but high value commercial activities, or high rise apartment buildings,” it said.

“Residential development is crowding out other economic activities on scarce plots available for development, yet there remains a housing shortage,” the report said.

The report does not cover the Gaza Strip, which Israel evacuated in 2005 and largely sealed off after the Islamic militant Hamas movement seized power there last year.

In addition to the Israeli squeeze on the West Bank, the World Bank said, property prices there are being nudged up by the many Palestinians living abroad and sending money home, some of it slated for investment.

“The real value of domestic cash savings, usually in US dollars or Jordanian dinars, are threatened by the falling dollar, creating pressure to convert these cash savings into stable investments,” the report said. “With few profitable options in the productive sectors, much capital is invested in land, putting added pressure on prices.”

The World Bank report concludes that little can be done to increase the stock of land available until the Israelis and Palestinians end their conflict.

“Ultimately, the restrictions on access to land [under Israeli control] will only be resolved with the final resolution of the peace process and the end of the occupation,” it said.

The renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a US-hosted conference last November was supposed to have produced a final peace deal by the end of this year, but the sides have acknowledged that target is unreachable. With Israel in the throes of forming a new government and US presidential elections just around the corner, change seems unlikely anytime soon.

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