A delegation from the Palestinian Businessmen's Association (PBA) in Gaza met separately with members of the Israel Manufacturers Association and the Israel Chamber of Commerce on Monday in an effort to initiate cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian private sectors.
The meetings come in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August which the Palestinians said has brought new challenges which the private sector was not necessarily prepared for.
"The Gazan economy is in crisis at the moment due to the sudden independence from the Israeli economy," said PBA chairman Ahed Besieso. "We believe that it's difficult to separate the two economies in the short term and want to reach an arrangement for stronger ties, which will be beneficial to both sides."
Amongst the issues discussed, said Chamber of Commerce President Uriel Lynn, was the creation of an industrialized zone in Gaza which would encourage partnerships in the private sector between the two groups.
"The Palestinians face difficulties in doing business with Israel and we can provide them with the necessary assistance," Lynn said.
The Chamber of Commerce reported that trade between the Palestinian Authority and Israel reached approximately $1 billion in the first half of 2005, of which about $763 million was Israeli exports to the PA and $174m. Israeli imports. Trade between the two reached $2.3b. in 2004.
An initiative for the Peres Center for Peace, the meetings marked the first time that leaders from the Palestinian private sector met with their Israeli counterparts in Israel since the start of the intifada.
"Our aim is to foster trust between the two business communities and build the relationship to what it was before the intifada," said Ron Pundak, director general of the center. "We recognized an eagerness to renew relations even before the disengagement, but these were boosted by foreign interest and investments in Gaza which followed the pull out."
The Palestinian Businessmen's Association was established in 1994 and has 130 members in various sectors of the Palestinian economy.