Trade between Israel and Palestinians reached NIS 15 billion in 2008, and the traffic is increasing, said Ofir Gendelman, who heads the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in Tel Aviv. To help promote and regulate that trade, as well as improve economic ties with the Palestinians, Israeli businessmen organized the chamber of commerce, which was registered in October 2008 and formally opened in March 2009. On Monday, it plans to hold its first gala event in Tel Aviv with President Shimon Peres, Quartet Special Envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom, and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. There will be some 250 businessmen, as well as foreign ambassadors, including a strong representation from Egypt, Gendelman said. The fact that the event coincides with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's first trip to Washington to meet with US President Barack Obama is purely coincidental, said Gendelman. Nor is the chamber a vehicle to promote Netanyahu's bottom-up peace plan, in which he wants to improve facts on the ground such as the Palestinian economy before finalizing a peace deal with the Palestinians. "Economic peace is a part of making peace. Trade is something that facilitates trust and political relations," said Gendelman. "We do not think that there could be an economic peace without a political arrangement," he said. "But until then the businesses are doing business in spite of the political problems and obstacles," said Gendelman. Out of the NIS 15b. in trade with the Palestinians in 2008, NIS 2b. was with Gaza and NIS 13b. was with the Palestinians in the West Bank, he said. Ayalon said that "the ministry welcomes the opening of the chamber," which is the first venture of its kind. He added that it provided a platform by which joint economic ventures could be launched. As part of the ministry's support for Palestinian economic progress, Ayalon said that he and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman held their third meeting with Blair on Sunday. Shalom is scheduled to meet with him on Monday. "We welcome intensive dialogue with the Quartet. This comes with the implementation of the bottom-up policy. It is not enough to have photo ops and announce some esoteric programs," said Ayalon. On Sunday, Ayalon, Lieberman and Blair spoke of how the Quartet and Israel want to change the situation on the ground by improving the humanitarian situation for the Palestinians and strengthening the Palestinian economy through investments and job creation, Ayalon said. They also discussed ways to increase cooperation between Israeli and businessmen, he added.