Israeli and Palestinian businesses are set to meet in Nazareth Ilit starting Monday at a Peres Center-sponsored event aimed at improving business ties.
Exports from Palestinians in the West Bank to Israel have doubled since 2006, according to the Center, but untapped potential for increasing ties remains.
“There is enormous financial potential in increasing partnerships with Palestinian businesses. Market and economic forces can override disputes and borders, and create fascinating opportunities for both Israeli and Palestinian industrialists," said Peres Center CEO Ido Sharir.
The event will bring 35 companies from the West Bank in fields such as textile, furniture, stone and granite, processed foods, cleaning materials, and cosmetics, alongside Israeli businessmen.
The Palestinian economy is highly dependent on Israeli trade. In 2012, 71% of Palestinian imports were from Israel, and 81% of Palestinian exports went to Israel, according to the Center.
Israeli business, for their part, can take advantage of the cheaper prices Palestinian businesses offer, with the added advantage of geographic proximity that other sources of inexpensive goods and labor, say in east Asia, lack.
Some sectors are more open to trade, according to Idan Raviv, director of the business and environment department at the Center. Companies that import clothing on a large scale may do better to turn to China or Turkey, he said, but those looking for quick turnover or boutique items could have an advantage.
Ramallah has also begun growing a decent high-tech community, he added.
“The working assumption is that most people participating in our activities believe in the ideological side of what we’re doing, but at the end of the day, what we’ve found is that when you put two businessmen in front of each other, they talk business,” Raviv said. “It’s a combination of economic utility and social responsibility.”
Yet politics, inevitably, gets in the way.
The Center canceled the scheduled third day of the show, which was to be open to the public, and a Gala dinner honoring donors from the EU after Hamas kidnapped three Israeli teenagers
“It didn’t feel right for us or our Palestinian counterparts to do anything celebratory while the whole nation was glued to their televisions waiting to see what happens to these poor boys,” said Raviv.
In general, he said, the lack of political progress chills business ties. “You see it in two senses. The first is the anti-normalization that you see on both sides of the border from people against cooperation of any kind with people from the other party. The second is that the political situation has effects on the economics of it.”
Crossing points, procedures, freedom of movement and ease of access become more difficult when the political climate sours.
“All of that being said, over the past few years we have been successful in implementing our activities, and even more so than in the past,” he added.