The Israeli-Palestinian Marketplace

The Israeli-Palestinian Marketplace

Israeli politics is an excellent example of why term limits can be a good thing. In a country where losing consecutive elections for decades doesn’t cost politicians their party leadership, let alone their ability to serve as government ministers or members of Knesset, the political class has grown incredibly stale. Party labels mean little, with the socialism of the Labor Party long gone and some leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party aiming to sustain a permanent welfare state, at least for their own constituents. There’s nearly no difference among the big parties on economics; in the end, they all support some form of a liberalized free market.

Israel’s economy is increasingly fueled by high tech and globalization, drawing on the instincts of young entrepreneurs and businesspeople who desire some sort of normalized climate in which to work. And this means support for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

In a country where the terms “left “ and “right” have long meant that you are a dove or a hawk, not a socialist or a free-marketeer, you can be a dovish business leader, pursuing peace by nonpolitical means. Today, when Israelis talk about a two-state solution they could just as easily be talking about a two-city-state solution: that is, Tel Aviv and Ramallah—and not Jerusalem and Gaza City. To Israelis and Palestinians alike, Tel Aviv and Ramallah represent the secular cosmopolitanism that was so important in the promise of the Oslo Agreement and of Israel’s new president Shimon Peres’s Nobel vision for a “new Middle East.”


But while Tel Aviv and its suburbs are the economic heart of Israel, even if Jerusalem is the religious head, in Jerusalem, too, Israeli and Palestinian business people are coming together even as politicians dither. Ramallah is the place where a new Palestinian business class is struggling to compete in a regional and global marketplace, to win out over the dysfunction of local politics, and to succeed even in the midst of the ongoing Israeli occupation (not to mention the Hamas stranglehold over Gaza).

The Israeli-Palestinian Business Council, founded last spring under the umbrella of the Davos World Economic Forum, is an example of a natural evolution, as businesspeople from both sides of the border started to meet in Israel and around the world. It’s an entrepreneurial effort based on personal relationships that have been fostered among Palestinian and Israeli businesspeople. Amos Shapira, CEO of Cellcom and former CEO of El Al, co-chairs the Council. He recently told an Israeli radio audience, “This isn’t a question of the exploiter and the exploited. I can tell you that everyone on the Palestinian side is intelligent and . . . educated abroad. They are very successful businesspeople. Some are billionaires on an international scale. They’re not exactly the horse, and I’m not exactly the rider—nothing like that. All i...

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