France backs plan on economic projects for Israeli Arabs

Jerusalem Venture Partners's initiative will launch projects in Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Negev.

By NADAV SHEMER
July 21, 2011 23:54
3 minute read.
Erel Margalit with Valerie Hoffenberg

Erel Margalit 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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France has thrown its weight behind a Jerusalem Venture Partners initiative to launch economic projects in Arab communities in Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Negev. JVP founder Erel Margalit hosted an event to mark the initiative Thursday night in Jerusalem. It was attended by a French government delegation headed by Middle East special envoy Valerie Hoffenberg and by local Jewish and Arab businessmen.

“When people talk about peace in the Middle East or about transforming the region, it’s either utopia or nothing,” Margalit told The Jerusalem Post prior to the event. “One of the things that we want to do is put concrete plans on the table: How can the European Union and especially the French government be involved? How can Israel and the Palestinians cooperate and encourage economic goodwill from a variety of governments and countries? How can we start not just by talking about the problems in the Arab sector but also by looking at opportunities and seeing where money can be invested to make a difference?”

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Hoffenberg, who orchestrated the establishment last year of the French-Palestinian Bethlehem Industrial Park and is also a candidate in the June 2012 parliamentary elections, knows how to mobilize business and government leaders, he said.

“What we want to do is take that energy with my energy and my vision and put it on the table in Israel,” he added.

The projects will begin to be determined in August, but Margalit foresees work being done in the capital, “something like an Arab Israeli business park,” as well as another project near Shfaram or Kama in the Galilee.

He expressed confidence in the initiative, saying Hoffenberg has brought not just a commitment from the French government but also from major investors such as France Telecom, the country’s leading telecommunications company, and Credit Agricole, the country’s largest retail-banking group. In addition, the Israeli government is expected to take part in covering infrastructure costs, he said.

Margalit, who is currently vying for the Labor Party chairmanship, said: “Since the time of [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin there has not been a leader in Israel that has spoken clearly about the need to cooperate economically between Arabs and Jews, about the need to open up the region, about the need to have Israel be a proactive country rather than a reactive country like we have today under [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman, about the need to have a start-up nation, not a stagnant nation, as we see with the peace process.”

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“What we’re looking for is instead of having the people of the region keep talking about what it is they have to lose in terms of the peace process, we want to start giving a presentation of what people have to gain, what economic rights they have to gain, what cooperation they can gain,” he said.

Margalit rejected the notion that he was attempting an impossible task, pointing out that the same thing was said 20 years ago about bringing hi-tech to Jerusalem. Since then his fund has grown to run investments of about $850 million and has helped bring 70 companies to the Har Hotzvim and Malha industrial parks, he said.

“I don’t like this notion of impossibility,” Margalit said.

“I want to show it is possible. And the thing you need in Israeli politics today more than anything else: you need a new sprit, you need a spirit of imagination, you need innovation like we have in the hi-tech sector, you need to bring the innovative spirit in Israel into the political realm, and we will be amazed at the kinds of things that can be done.”

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