Encountering Peace: Buy Palestinian

No one can argue with the logic that says hungry, unemployed neighbors are dangerous neighbors.

palestinian 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
palestinian 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
No one can argue with the logic that says hungry, unemployed neighbors are dangerous neighbors.
Likewise, prosperous, employed neighbors are much more likely to be good neighbors, or at least nonviolent ones. In any conflict situation it is always advisable to create situations whereby the other side has something to lose. The other side must realize that the cost of resorting to violence is so great no possible gain could outweigh it.
Intuitively we should easily understand that if the Palestinian economy is strong, the chances of violent outbreaks are smaller. Just to be clear, economics does not replace politics. You cannot buy Palestinian national aspirations with money, but an improved economic situation will help to create the chances for a better political outcome.
After the appointment of Salam Fayyad in 2007 the Palestinians became busy with the process of state building.
They decided to work on undoing the damages of the second intifada by reasserting their authority, fostering rule of law, fighting corruption, reorganizing the security forces and making an all-out, concerted effort to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in the West Bank.
By all professional assessments the Palestinian Authority’s efforts have been successful, and as the threat of terrorism dissipated, with American encouragement Israel began removing checkpoints all over the West Bank and actively backed Palestinian economic development. During the first years of the international-Palestinian-Israeli initiative for economic growth there were impressive advances. Economic growth was significant, unemployment decreased and there was a sense of hope that was important for stability and keeping the struggle against radical extremist elements in the success column.
However, economic growth has since slowed down, due to global financial realities. Coupled with the lack of a genuine political process, the security situation in the West Bank is precarious and potentially dangerous. We need a genuine political process. We also need additional Palestinian economic growth. Palestinians and Israelis have common interests in this regard, and there should be wide agreement on the need to develop an active strategy for turning it into a reality.
For example, Israel needs workers, particularly in construction and agriculture. We have no need to import foreign laborers from China, Russia, Ukraine, Thailand or anywhere else. We have a willing, trained and experienced work force right next door to us who go home at the end of the workday and don’t stay in our cities. They also use their wages, paid in Israeli shekels, to buy Israeli products. Their money stays in the economy and is used to build the Palestinian economy.
We have had very good experiences with Palestinian labor and while employment in Israel cannot be the answer for long-term Palestinian economic growth, it would serve the immediate end of providing jobs and pumping a significant amount of money into the economy.
Israel could easily employ an additional 50,000 Palestinian workers in a very short period. With an average monthly salary of NIS 5,000, that would pump NIS 3 billion into the Palestinian economy over the next year.
That money would be taxable by the PA, and a lot of it would be used for purchasing goods in Israel as well.
There are about 1,500 hi-tech graduates from Palestinian universities who enter the workplace every year with little chance of being employed. They lack hands-on experience. Israeli hi-tech companies outsource work to India and China. The same outsourcing could be to Palestinians, with lots of advantages accruing to both sides.
To make this a credible option there is a need to provide Palestinian hi-tech graduates with a hands-on internship learning experience. It is possible, with rather little investment (which could be provided by the international community), to create a robust internship program for Palestinians in Israeli hi-tech companies. Much of their work can be done online from their homes or from a local Palestinian incubator that could be established for this purpose.
I imagine that the best interns would probably be hired by the Israeli companies. Others could be encouraged and coached to launch Palestinian start-ups much in the way it happens in Israel. Israeli start-ups could provide advice, coaching and direction for them and the international community and business world could provide finance, venture capital and other means of assisting the Palestinians to become the close cousins of the start-up nation.
The best way to assist the Palestinians’ economic growth is to purchase Palestinian products. Palestine is very fortunate to have a relatively affluent market right next door. Some 80 percent of the goods in the Palestinian market come from Israel, yet there are very few Palestinian products that make it into the Israeli marketplace.
There are a lot of non-tariff barriers which prevent the goods from getting into Israel. There is also a lack of awareness and knowledge about the Israeli economy in the Palestinian marketplace. A lot of work could be done to identify Palestinian products that could enter the Israeli market. Business support could be provided to develop a program to assist Palestinian businesses in overcoming all of the barriers that exist.
One barrier which needs to be overcome is the psychological one. The Israeli consumer does not have a high regard for most Palestinian products, except perhaps tehina, olive oil and humous. There is almost a knee-jerk reaction in Israel against Palestinian products: Palestinian? I won’t buy that – the product of the enemy. We need to find a way to overcome that response. Buying Palestinian should become a positive, pro-active step toward building peace with our neighbors. When one enters a store in Ramallah, Bethlehem or Nablus, the shelves are filled with Israeli products. In the absence of a parallel situation in Israel, resentment grows in Palestine against buying Israeli products. This does not have to be the case.
While we wait to see whether US Secretary of State John Kerry is successful in getting the parties back to negotiations, the rest of us, the ordinary Israeli citizens, can get engaged in peacemaking efforts by seeking ways to purchase Palestinian products. The Israeli government would be acting in Israel’s interest by enabling those products to reach us. Buying Palestinian is good for Israel.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.