Rare event showcases potential of Israeli-Palestinian business cooperation

October 23, 2018 by Israel Kasnett - JNS.org
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The Judea Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JSCOCI), an NGO that promotes Israeli-Palestinian commercial partnerships beyond the Green Line (the pre-1967 ceasefire line), held an event recently in the city of Ariel, an Israeli city in Samaria…writes Israel Kassnett.

U.S. Ambassador David Friedman speaks at an event held by the Judea Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JSCOCI) in the Israeli city of Ariel. Credit: U.S. Embassy in Israel

After U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attended the event, a number of news outlets wrote: “It is rare for U.S. envoys to Israel to appear in the West Bank in an official capacity.”

What those news outlets should have written is that it was rare.

Friedman’s visit to Ariel should be seen as an extension of the current U.S. administration’s foreign policy concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. U.S. President Donald Trump has made it clear—not just in word, but deed—that he views the diplomatic approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict worshipped by his predecessors as misguided and wrong.

After the event, Friedman wrote on Twitter: “At the invitation of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, I met in Ariel with Palestinian & Israeli business leaders ready, willing & able to advance joint opportunity & peaceful coexistence. People want peace & we are ready to help! Is the Palestinian leadership listening?”

Avi Zimmerman, founder and president of JSCOCI, told JNS that the organisation aims to “generate opportunities for economic prosperity in the region. We see it as a geographical region and not political. We need to incorporate everyone in the region, and our board includes Palestinians and Israelis.”

Zimmerman said that while the organisation is active on a regular basis, it’s when both communities do something together that tends to get the most attention.

A delegation of American investors came to meet with the organization, and Zimmerman wanted to couple the opportunity of meeting the investors with sharing the idea of building businesses together. “If we can build these relationships beyond our region, whether across the Middle East or across the Atlantic, we seek those opportunities,” he said.

While many Palestinians simply want to make a living and raise families—and as such, are willing to conduct business with Israelis—a strong fear factor remains. The Palestinian Authority has made any commercial agreement with Israelis illegal, and punishable by both fines and jail sentences, according to P.A. law.

Nevertheless, more than 70 Palestinian businesses, including shipping and logistics, car dealerships, stone quarries and produce, work with JSCOCI, which also represents a large number of Palestinian businesses that cannot be vocal about their involvement.

“It is very difficult for them to go public with these relationships,” said Zimmerman. “We are careful not to publicize names and pictures. Leading up to the event, a lot of the pictures could not be made public.”

This is unfortunate since many, if not most, Palestinian civilians simply want to put food on their table and support their families. The corrupt leadership led by P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas clearly does not represent their wishes and those of the majority.

“[Some] 90 to 95 per cent of the Palestinian street is in this camp of [wanting] economic partnership and prosperity,” said Zimmerman.

‘The inevitable economic future’

David Weinberg, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, told JNS, “We need to connect the economic meeting to the recent announcement that the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem has been rolled into the embassy in Jerusalem, as well as Ambassador Friedman’s increasingly frequent travel over the green line. The U.S. is acting to ensure that it speaks with one voice regarding Israeli-Palestinian matters. No more dichotomous mixed message diplomacy to the parties. I think the administration is signalling that the West Bank is not all Palestinian. Any peace deal will involve sovereign Jewish areas.”

These types of partnerships, in which Israelis and Palestinians maintain business relationships, help prove that the general Palestinian public does not stand behind the P.A.’s anti-normalization efforts.

According to Weinberg, “Israeli-Palestinian partnerships are the inevitable economic future.”

Israel Kasnett

The U.S. administration has made huge strides in helping Israel clarify to the international community that Jews have at least equal rights to the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as the West Bank.

When it comes to the Middle East, Weinberg pointed to the “awful [Bill] Clinton and [Barack] Obama presidencies, and their unrealistic peace paradigms as examples of misguided diplomacy that has proven to be the wrong approach.

“Realistic peace diplomacy,” he said, “involves recognition that there are legitimate and sovereign rights to Judea and Samaria.”

As for Israel’s presence in the disputed territories and Friedman’s trip there, Weinberg emphasized that “the Green Line is not sacrosanct.”

He said that by clarifying its stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the administration is “helping to recondition the global diplomatic community.”

The Trump administration, emphasised Weinberg, is “making a contribution to realistic peace discourse.”

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