British Ambassador to Israel Tom Phillips on Wednesday urged Israel to pursue business ties with its neighbors, and especially Palestinian businesses, as a means of furthering the possibility of a peace deal.
"By working with her neighbors, Israel can find joint solutions to the economic, environmental and security problems which she faces in the region," Phillips said during a speech delivered at the Prime Minister's Conference for Export and International Cooperation. "The challenge ahead lies in ensuring that Palestinians, too, have an economic stake in peace."
Phillips quoted a study by the Portland Trust saying that within five years of signing a peace treaty, 1.2 million Palestinian jobs could be created and that the value of goods and services provided by Palestinian companies could rise by $1.65 billion a year above the $2.03b. mark of 2002.
Also for Israel, he continued, a peace deal would create jobs, free resources to be spent on education, infrastructure and welfare and help it integrate with the rest of the Middle East .
While stressing that business and economic links were not a substitute for political processes, Phillips said that much can be done on the business side until such time as a deal is struck.
"We can hope that before then, conditions will be right for the establishment of an Israel/Palestinian Chamber of Commerce," he said. "There are also several plans for mutually beneficial infrastructure projects."
Phillips also took the opportunity to outline recent successes in the business relationship between Israel and the UK.
"In a difficult year, two-way trade has increased by 6 percent, two-way investment is increasing, with over 200 local companies having a base in Britain, and major British companies such as HSBC, APAX, British Airways and British Gas having significant interests in Israel," he said. "Israeli companies continue to raise capital on the London Stock Exchange and 25% of all international listings on the AIM last year were from Israel."
A survey, initiated by the British Embassy in Israel, showed that 67% of Israelis see the UK as a reliable trade partner, the embassy's UK Trade & Investment division said Wednesday.
The survey, conducted by TNS Teleseker, revealed that 25% of the sample 625 Israelis said they see Britain as their preferred partner in Europe, while other players in the market, Germany and Holland received 10% and 8% of their confidence, respectively.