A grassroots-led partnership of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Wednesday, seeking to advance economic opportunities in the West Bank for both populations alike.
The two-day Israeli-Palestinian International Economic Forum, hosted by the Judea Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JSC) and the US Israel Education Association (USIEA), aims to map potential West Bank partners and develop collaborations for projects in the fields of technology and industry, environment, tourism and infrastructure.
“The more we compound our efforts with a shared trajectory, the more we create new opportunities,” said Avi Zimmerman, president and co-founder of the JSC.
“We can’t wait for government handouts to make things happen. We need the business sector to move forward, to determine its own desirable outcomes, and then find a mutual form of investment. We need to see the business community investing in its own future.”
Looking to overcome market failures caused by limited mobility and the political complexity of different West Bank administrations, the JSC has launched its “Regional Development Financial Initiative,” a public-private partnership directing targeted investments to projects based on the interests and capacity of forum participants.
“We worked with Israeli business partners from 1967 through 1993, until the implementation of the Oslo Accords,” Ashraf Jabari, a Hebron-based Palestinian businessman and co-founder of JSC, told the Jerusalem Post.
“Every day, 200,000 Palestinian workers enter Israel, and there’s NIS 3 billion worth of trade per month across the Green Line,” he added.
“We are continuing to strengthen the chamber of commerce and to bring Israeli and Palestinian businessmen to work together.”
During the first stage of the initiative, scheduled to last 12 months, the JSC aims to conduct a review of current West Bank collaborations and identify new enterprise opportunities.
The second stage, slated to be completed within 18 months of the program commencing, aims to provide financial development models to address market failures – these may take the form of either a traditional investment fund or establishing a bond bank.
“These types of meetings are multiplying, and the common denominator is to create a better life for everyone,” said Economy Minister Eli Cohen.
“We are only considering how to improve quality of life. Economic development, companies working together and activities carried out together create links and confidence in one another. Sadly, there are people who are unaware of this.”
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Senator James Lankford and acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz are all due to address the forum on Thursday.
“In view of the peace plans that continued to not succeed, the US Israel Education Association has looked at what else could work,” said Heather Johnston, USIEA Executive Director.
“What is possible in the West Bank today? It’s possible to go directly to the people. A grassroots movement has been formed, with the staging ground of the JSC. It’s co-founded by Palestinians and Israelis, and they’re doing joint business together,” she said.
“Relationships have been formalized and given opportunities to grow and develop. That’s why we’re sitting here today.”