Two years ago, Aziz joined a panel of Palestinians speaking to Jewish rabbinical students about the Palestinian point of view. Among the speakers was a Palestinian-American businessman who moved to the West Bank after Oslo, hoping to invest in a developing area. He shared his experience working with the Palestinian telecommunications company Jawal, and his job with the new Al-Wataniyah Company that was to compete with Jawal in the mobile market.
Just recently Al-Wataniyah sent a letter to the Palestinian Authority, asking the government to pay back the company’s registration fees plus 200 million dollars in investment damages. The company is demanding these remunerations because Israel has not given them the airwaves to start the company, even though in 2007 the Israeli government agreed to allow the company to operate after long negotiations and the interference of former British Prime Minister Blair, the World Bank, and American officials.
The cost of this failure is hundreds of millions of dollars and over 3000 potential jobs in the West Bank. This is a lost opportunity for Palestinians, but it is just one example of the Palestinian Authority’s lack of control over its own air waves, water and other national resources. All projects must be approved by the Israeli Administration, which makes it look as though the Palestinian government is operating as an arm of the Israeli occupation. This lowers the credibility of the PA in the eyes of the Palestinian public.
After Mr. Netanyahu won the elections in February, he promised to work to improve the Palestinian economy. However, so far there are no indications that there will be any changes in Israel’s policy in the near future. This is crippling to the PA, as economic development is a critical aspect of national stability and is intertwined with the success of a viable Palestinian state. The lack of growth in the Palestinian private sector is quickly crushing Palestinians’ hope for the future. As a whole, this damages the PA’s effectiveness, since the Palestinian government will never be able to enforce the rule of law if there is no prospect of prosperity for its citizens.
These economic policies and the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are mutually detrimental to both the Israeli and Palestinian communities, and are creating a perfect nest for future extremists. Unemployment in the Palestinian Territories is increasing and is often over 30%; the poverty rate is at 68%, according to the UNDP. Educated and successful Palestinians often find themselves forced to leave the Palestinian territories, leaving behind poorer and more frustrated communities.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also stunts economic growth in Israel’s industries. Consider that Egypt had 12.8 million tourists last year, while Israel had only 3 million tourists. This is only one of many examples. In addition, Many investors are still hesitant to invest in Israel because of the political instability in the region.
Although economic hardship threatens to exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, economics can also speed the end of the conflict. Business cooperation on an equal and empowering basis, that focuses on businesses, such as tourism, that employ thousands of people, not just enriching a few, can be a catalyst for further collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians.
We propose to the Obama Administration that, in addition to pressuring the sides for rapid progress at the political level, they also strong encourage, even insist upon popular, people to people, business initiatives between the two sides. A synergy will be created that will naturally create grassroots pressure from private businesses in support of peace. Also, once a peace agreement is reached, economics will continue to play a large role in maintaining peace. Any peace agreement between Israeli Jews and Palestinians must maximize equal business cooperation between the two sides, and should not bring a total divorce between the two communities. We have witnessed business partnerships become the key to new friendships at a profound cultural level, in addition to creating prosperity for everyone.
An Israeli friend of Aziz used to be strongly right wing, and they often disagreed on politics. However one thing he always said, “If there is peace we will be eating with golden spoons as a sign of our prosperity.” The reality is business opportunities and financial growth speaks to everyone and presents an appealing future even to those currently opposing the peace process.
(This article was first published at ( www.marcgopin.com)