Creating a New Gaza

With the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza complete, attention turns to plans for redevelopment in the area. Nigel Roberts of the World Bank tells Renee Montagne about rebuilding prospects and obstacles to economic recovery.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A suicide bomber struck inside Israel over the weekend. The bomber died in yesterday's attack in the southern city of Beersheba. Two Israeli guards were badly injured. It was the first such attack since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Palestinian leaders condemned the attack, saying continued violence threatens efforts to restart the peace process and rebuild the Gaza Strip. Nigel Roberts is World Bank country director for the West Bank and Gaza. He joins us from Jerusalem.

And may I ask you just what is happening now in the immediate aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza?

Mr. NIGEL ROBERTS (World Bank Country Director): A couple of things are worth mentioning here. The first are the bilateral negotiations that are under way to try and deal with the congestion of the Gazan borders. For Gaza's economy to recover, it's essential that you see a much freer flow of people and goods across the borders than has been the case up to now. That requires a new system to be put in place, particularly on the borders between Israel and Gaza, that is first secure and, second, commercially viable.

Second thing I'd mention is the Palestinian Authority's own attention to what it's going to do with the evacuated areas of the settlements. And here, I think the key is that a planning process be very quickly set in place that gives real confidence to the Palestinian public, that those efforts are going to be allocated fairly and in a way that responds to the public requirements and needs.

MONTAGNE: A major problem for Palestinians in Gaza is unemployment, and most particularly among young men. How is the Palestinian Authority--how would the World Bank encourage creating jobs?

Mr. ROBERTS: Well, you've put your finger on the right thing. Because if you look at the southern part of Gaza and if you desegregate from the general employment statistics, those in the age cohort of 16 to 24, you'll find by some estimates that as much as 70 percent of the young people are employed. You're looking at a generation of young men that have essentially not worked and are, therefore, unaccustomed to operating in the normal job marketplace.

Now what can be done? I think it's a two-step process. In the first phase, you've primed the pump, if you like, with public financing in order to help create the confidence and the infrastructure based into which private investors will be drawn and induced to invest and create, thereby, sustainable employment.

MONTAGNE: The Palestinians want to build a seaport and a functioning airport. What kind of planning and cooperation will they need from the Israelis to do that?

Mr. ROBERTS: The physical planning is something that's already been done, both for the port and the airport. The key issue here is not so much the construction of these facilities, but an agreement to operate them. This, of course, requires a security agreement between the parties about how a port and an airport will be operated in a way that serves Israel's security needs. What that's likely to require is probably some kind of third-party security involvement. That's not yet been agreed, but I anticipate that that will be a subject to discussion in the coming weeks.

MONTAGNE: Nigel Roberts is World Bank director for the West Bank and Gaza, speaking to us from Jerusalem. Thank you very much.

Mr. ROBERTS: You're most welcome. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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