Last year, Nicola Khamis, a Beit Jala city council member and owner of Jala
Foods, decided to establish an independent production line to manufacture
desserts. Based on rice pudding, the small individually packaged desserts come
in different flavors – raspberry, chocolate and vanilla – and have become quite
a hit throughout the West Bank.
On Tuesday, Coordinator of Government
Activities in the Territories Maj.- Gen. Eitan Dangot stood in the parking lot
of Jala Foods’ headquarters eating one of these desserts and chatting with the
prominent Palestinian businessman.
Khamis established his business
decades ago and quickly became the chief distributor of all of Tnuva’s dairy
products in the West Bank. His company has grown in recent years; today it
employs close to 300 employees and represents additional Israeli companies
throughout the Palestinian territories.
As head of COGAT, the military
body responsible for coordinating civilian and security issues among the
government, the IDF, the Palestinian Authority and international organizations
in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Dangot regularly visits Palestinian towns
and cities and meets with locals to hear their assessments, requests and
On Tuesday, in addition to Jala Foods, he visited a nearby
cement construction company and sat down with a group of top Palestinian
businessmen from the tourism industry.
On the surface, the meetings
themselves seem strange for an IDF general to be holding at a time when the
current governments in Jerusalem and Ramallah are in complete disconnect and PA
President Mahmoud Abbas is moving forward with plans to submit a proposal to the
United Nations later this month to ask for recognition for a Palestinian
But that is the inherent paradox in Dangot’s position. While he is
a senior official from the Israeli establishment, he is also the man entrusted
with facilitating Israeli economic assistance to the PA, coordinating
between the IDF and PA security forces and advancing large-scale infrastructure
projects throughout the West Bank together with other countries and
Dangot was appointed COGAT head in November 2009, but
even before then, he had been intimately involved in formulating Israeli policy
vis-à-vis the PA as the military secretary of three consecutive defense
ministers – Shaul Mofaz, Amir Peretz and Ehud Barak.
Before that, he
served in the Home Front Command and the IDF’s Strategic Planning
During his meetings Tuesday, Dangot asked the businessmen about
the current sentiment on the Palestinian street and what they expected would
happen following what Israelis have gotten used to calling “September,” but what
really refers to the period in October or even November following the UN vote on the PA
One Palestinian, a known hotelier, said that Israel did
not need to be afraid of September.
“There is nothing to be scared of,”
he said. “The Palestinian people care about their pockets, what is inside their
wallets and their livelihood.”
The Palestinians took advantage of the
meeting to raise issues related to the tourism industry. One of them wanted
Israeli approval to build a hotel on the Dead Sea, something the PA’s chief
negotiator Saeb Erekat has raised before, and was told that such a gesture would
likely have to wait for a final peace settlement.
wanted permission to build new hotels on West Bank land defined as Area C, which
is under Israeli security and civilian control. Options were discussed at length
for hotels in Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah. The owner of a large travel
company based in Bethlehem asked Dangot to enable more Palestinian tour guides
to enter Israel and more Israeli tour guides to enter Bethlehem.
the holy land for both of us,” the owner of the travel company said. “Both sides
can gain from working more together.”
Dangot could not agree
“Both sides stand to lose a lot if the situation escalates [because
of September],” he said. “The people who are trying to escalate the situation
want violence, blood and causalities to serve their cause. The PA leadership
does not want violence, but there are other elements who do.”
IN the IDF of what will happen after the UN vote are split. Some senior officers
believe that the Palestinian street will enlist with a movement for independence
and will rise up against the army with marches toward checkpoints and
In the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), there is a belief
that the Palestinian street is tired from the first and second intifadas, and
while thousands of people might participate in demonstrations, they will not
resort to extreme violence like in 2000. At the same time, the Shin Bet fears
that if violence erupts in the West Bank, Hamas and other terrorist groups will
try to ride the wave and increase their efforts to carry out attacks inside
Dangot’s job is to prepare for a wide range of scenarios, and at
the same time to try and continue working with the PA to ensure economic growth
sustainability in the West Bank and stave off a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza
He told The Jerusalem Post
he was not concerned about the
challenges Israel faced from September.
“I am rational,” he said, “which
means that we will need to wait and watch and see how the situation develops on
COGAT, he continued, is an integral part of the country’s
entire preparations for what will happen after September, but for now it appears
that it will continue working together with the PA and Palestinian businesses
even after the declaration of statehood.
He was, however, critical of the
PA for delaying essential infrastructure projects that could benefit the
Palestinian people by creating new factories and jobs.
One project is an
industrial park near Jericho that has been in the works for two years, but the
Palestinians are now refusing to build – even though Israel has given its
approval – since one of the roads to the park runs through Area C. The PA has
asked Israel to change the status of the road to Area A, but Israel has said
that the issue will be dealt with under a final peace agreement.
stalled projects are industrial parks near Bethlehem and Jenin.
are non-economic considerations at play here, and unfortunately projects that
can provide hundreds of jobs are not moving forward even though we have given
all of the permits,” Dangot said.
After a meal of humous, felafel and
labana cheese, Dangot bade farewell to his hosts and the Palestinian businessmen
at the construction company and Jala Foods.
Now it is time to wait and
see what this month of September will bring.