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Palestinian Economy “in Shambles″

April 7, 2001

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ The Palestinian economy has lost more than $20 billion in trade and wages in the past six months and unemployment now tops 50 percent due to Israeli closures, the Palestinian finance minister said Saturday.

The minister, Maher al-Masri, said that even if the travel restrictions were lifted, it would take the Palestinians years to repair the damage. ``The economy is in a shambles,″ al-Masri told a news conference.

Palestinian economist Samir Hulaileh said that if the situation remains unchanged, two-thirds of the more than 1 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip could be living below the poverty line by the end of the year.

In February, the United Nations had said that one in three Palestinians is poor, living on less than $2.10 a day, compared to one in five half a year ago when the Israeli-Palestinian fighting began.

Israel’s travel restrictions keep 130,000 Palestinian laborers _ or one-sixth of the work force _ from jobs in Israel. During the past six months, Israel has also confined Palestinians in the West Bank to their communities for extended periods for security reasons, and has periodically prevented travel between parts of the Gaza Strip.

Hulaileh said business had plunged and the closures have forced factories to reduce production, either because materials are not available or because products cannot be distributed in the market.

Al-Masri said the Palestinian economy has lost more than $20 billion since September, but did not provide a detailed breakdown.

Unemployment has risen to more than 50 percent, from 11 percent last year, Palestinian officials said.

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