Austria champions Israeli-Palestinian economic peace

"There is a lot of room for cooperation," Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern told the 'Post' following a meeting he held between Israeli businessmen, politicians and Palestinians entrepreneurs.

Palestinian Basher Masri speaks with Israeli businessmen and politicians in Jerusalem on April 24, 2017 (credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern waded briefly into economic peace-making by holding a Jerusalem meeting with Israeli businessmen, politicians and Palestinian entrepreneurs, including Basher Masri, who created the new Palestinian city of Rawabi.
“There is a lot of room for cooperation” among Austrians, Palestinians and Israelis, Kern told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting.
Monday’s business forum was organized by MK Erel Margalit, who is running in the election for Labor Party chairman.
Margalit wants to make use of small economic projects, particularly in water and agriculture, to help make regional peace at a time when US President Donald Trump is also focused on the economy as a way to break the three-year deadlock in negotiations.
Among his projects is the idea of creating a regional hi-tech among 10 Middle Eastern cities, including Cairo, Jerusalem, Amman, Dubai and Casablanca.
It is possible to have company- to-company cooperation independent of any diplomatic process, Margalit said.
“The idea is to bring the international community to be supportive of both the political process, which most countries are not involved in the details. But also an economic set of projects that most countries could be involved in,” he said.
International cooperation among Israelis, Palestinians and regional partners is bolstered by help from the international community, including Austria, he said.
“You do not need a big government decision to have health care IT cooperation,” he said, adding that “It is working on projects that are breakthrough.
“When we have the Austrian chancellor give credibility to some of the cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, it calms things down and opens things up,” he said.
At the forum just one day after Masri had hosted the Austrian chancellor in Rawabi, Masri told the Israelis that the Palestinians want to develop their economy so that a future Palestinian state could be on an equal economic footing with Israel.
“This is good for us and this is good for Israel as well,” he said. “Israel will have a very tough time accessing the area in a big way without going though Palestine and without solving the Palestinian problem and strengthening the economy in Palestine,” Masri said.
At the moment Palestinian businesses that deal with technology and media have the best chance of success, because they are not dependent on open borders, Masri said.
Palestinians are looking at green technology and developing business opportunities with the Israeli-Arab community, Masri said.
He later told the Post that there is a limit to how much economic development could happen before the creation of a two-state solution.
“We have to walk before we run. We are still crawling. Our economy is very weak for obvious reasons. We would like to get out of the occupation bubble. Big international money is not going to come to occupied Palestine. It will come when there is a peace agreement or a potential peace agreement.”