The Hill— Israeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project

The Hill— Israeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project

By LAURA KELLY

A pair of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders are hoping their joint initiative can spur investment in one of the most politically charged regions of the world – the West Bank – and are seeking a boost from allies in the Trump administration to make it a reality.
Ashraf Jabari, a Palestinian businessman from Hebron, and Avi Zimmerman, a former international spokesman for an Israeli settlement, believe their grassroots movement can promote investments in a region that has long faced violence and turbulent economic conditions amid ongoing conflict among local leaders.
The two traveled to Washington, D.C., this month to meet with lawmakers and build up recognition for their project, named The Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Their goal is to spark investment in the West Bank in five areas: manufacturing, technology, tourism, infrastructure and environmental renewal.
The name of their organization itself is isolating from Palestinians. Referring to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria is considered political, given that it’s the Biblical Jewish name for the area – something right-wing Israelis tout as evidence for Jewish land claims dating back more than 2,000 years.
Jabari says that working with Israelis is about adopting the language that they use, both speaking in Hebrew and using terms that acknowledge the situation on the ground. “The reality is an Israeli presence in the region,” he says in Hebrew and translated by Zimmerman.
The business leaders face other cultural barriers in their partnership: For a Palestinian to partner with an Israeli settler can amount to treason in the Palestinian community, with punishments ranging from being ostracized to facing extreme threats of violence.
Jabari says he personally feels safe but can understand why other Palestinian’s would stay away or play down interactions with Israelis.
He is dismissed by Palestinians as working on the fringes of society in his interactions with Israeli settlers – underscoring the steep opposition their project faces from gaining wider Palestinian or international support.
And while the duo are forced to operate within the realities on the ground, they believe they have an advantage in their efforts with powerful allies in the Trump administration.
In February, Jabari and Zimmerman hosted an economic forum in Jerusalem, with the keynote address delivered by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Also in attendance was Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
In June, Jabari also led the only Palestinian delegation to Bahrain for an economic summit hosted by Jared KushnerPresident Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, where Kushner unveiled the economic platform of the administration’s broader and still-unreleased Middle East Peace plan.
The summit was boycotted by the Palestinian Authority and more prominent Palestinian business leaders. The Trump administration has had strained relations with the Palestinian Authority the past two years after President Trump announced that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there.

Jabari and Zimmerman are also working to build ties with U.S. lawmakers. They said Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) office reached out to them when the congresswoman, who is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, was planning to travel to the Palestinian territories, before she was blocked from entering Israel. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.

The two men did host a delegation of Republican lawmakers at Jabari’s home in Hebron in August. They included Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.).

Rodgers, who is also the Republican Representative to the United Nations, called the two men’s initiative “an untold story in the West Bank.”

“Sheikh Ashraf Jabari told us the economic relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is basic, strong, and can’t be separate,” she said in a statement to The Hill, using a formal title to address Jabari.

“In a strong bipartisan way, we should be supporting the grassroots movement for economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s foundational to achieve peace in the region.”

Israel oversees the majority of the flow of goods and services into areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, putting Palestinian businesses on more unequal footing. Unemployment in the West Bank among Palestinians is around 15 percent, according to the World Bank.

More than 1 million Palestinians worked in Israel in October, according to the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli administration that handles civilian matters in the West Bank.

But Jabari and Zimmerman note that any change in the security or political situation could ground those interactions to a halt.

“We have a certain set of givens within which we work and those givens can change any day,” Zimmerman told The Hill.

Meanwhile, approximately 400,000 Israelis live in communities described as settlements in the West Bank, recognized as illegal under international law by the global community and criticized as expanding on territory designated for any future, sovereign Palestinian state.

In addition to communities, Israeli settlements boast a university and numerous businesses including farms, wineries and manufacturing plants that employ Palestinians. Roads that connect Israeli and Palestinian communities lead to shared commerce centers in the West Bank.

While the international community views settlements as a barrier to a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Zimmerman and Jabari argue that economic ties between Israelis and Palestinians must be supported to ensure the success of any peace plan.

“Whatever those circumstances will be from a political solution perspective, we already know that the stronger our integrated business community is, the more people will benefit in the future under any political circumstance.”

Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice ruled that products made in Israeli settlements must be identified as such, rather than being labeled as “made in Israel.”

Zimmerman and Jabari argued that the ruling emboldens boycott movements towards Israel that hurt Israeli businesses and Palestinian workers equally.

The Trump administration also disputes singling out Israeli settlements and hardened their policy in mid-November, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing the U.S. would reject a 1978 legal opinion that viewed Israeli settlements as inconsistent with international law.

After the administration announced it would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there, it further isolated the Palestinian Authority by cutting off all funding for government and humanitarian projects, closing their representative office in Washington and ending the U.S. mission to Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Jabari, one of the last links between the administration and the Palestinians, encouraged outside individuals to see the situation on the ground for themselves.

“Anyone who wants to come is welcome to see this reality for themselves,” he said through translation. “Come for a tour of an Israeli factory where they’re hiring Palestinian employees and you’ll understand. After that let them draw their own conclusions.”

Jerusalem Post— Judea and Samaria as much a part of Israel as Golan, top Republican says

Jerusalem Post— Judea and Samaria as much a part of Israel as Golan, top Republican says

“I know that there is a majority of Palestinians that live there,” Wagner said. “I believe that it is, just as I believe that the Golan Heights is.”

By TOVAH LAZAROFF

Judea and Samaria are as much a part of Israel as the Golan Heights, leading Republican Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri told The Jerusalem Post.

Wagner spoke after visiting the West Bank settlements with three other Republican members of Congress on a trip sponsored by the US Israel Education Association (USIEA), founded and directed by Heather Johnston.

When asked by the Post if she thought Judea and Samaria was part of Israel, she responded, “Yes I do. I very much do. I know that there is a majority of Palestinians that live there. I believe that it is, just as I believe that the Golan Heights is.”

Wagner is the vice ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and was the first co-sponsor and a key architect of July’s House resolution against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and 21 members of Knesset sent her and a number of other US representatives a letter criticizing them for including language in the bill that spoke globally of supporting a two-state solution, even though the statement did not include any territorial designation for such an idea.

When asked about the letter, Wagner said that a two-state resolution to the conflict was US policy.

“But you are seeing some evolution in this regard,” she said. “Time will tell if it’s feasible or not.”

Republican Representative Bradley Byrne of Alabama said that he “started out as being a two-state supporter and I am evolving. I am beginning to have doubts that it can work.”

The other two Republican representatives on the trip, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State and Phil Roe of Tennessee, also said they were “evolving” when it came to the notion of two states.

McMorris Rodgers also echoed Wagner in stating clearly that she saw Judea and Samaria as part of Israel.

Neither women clarified the territorial designation of Judea and Samaria, whether it included only Area C of the West Bank or all of the West Bank.

US President Donald Trump has rarely spoken of Palestinian statehood since coming into office, and the Palestinians fear he intends to withdraw his support for a Palestinian state.

Right-wing Israelis have taken his silence for tacit support. In the last two years, Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and recognized Israelis sovereignty on the Golan.

Trumps actions on the Golan and Jerusalem “are all things that will allow us to go forward,” Wagner said.

The trip, which took place toward the end August, included a meeting with Netanyahu, visits to the Temple Mount, the settlement of Ariel, and a trip to Hebron to see Palestinian businessman Ashraf Jabari.

News of the trip was not allowed to be published until after the group had left last week.

The congressional delegation was particularly impressed by the Judea and Samaria chamber of commerce, which brings together both settlers and Palestinian businesspeople. Jabari is co-chair of the group, and was one of the few Palestinians to attend the US led economic workshop in Bahrain in June.

A number of the representatives said they were impressed by the chamber’s work, and how it represented a blueprint for how Israelis and Palestinians could move forward. Johnston, whose organization brought the Congressional delegation to Israel, is one of the key sponsors of the chamber.

The trip to the industrial park in the Ariel area was an “eye-opener,” Wagner said. “To see Palestinians and Jews working together, so many of the myths I had heard fell apart.”

Said Byrne, “I saw Ariel, I didn’t see a settlement, I saw a city.”

Wagner recalled how during the delegation’s meeting with Netanyahu he had urged them to go back to Washington and tell “their truth.”

The BDS movement doesn’t just hurt Israelis, it also hurts the Palestinians, Wagner said.

McMorris Rodgers said the Israeli and Palestinian business leaders she saw working together to provide economic opportunities for their people was “compelling,” particularly hearing them talk about the positive difference it was making.

On a separate note, Wagner also spoke against renewing US financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

“Given the terrorism that is coming out of the PA, given the corruption that is inherent in the PA, I do not believe that we should be giving money to the PA,” she said. “If there is a way to work with NGOs and other organizations to provide for the Palestinian people, that would be fine. We cannot have them taking and using the money for corrupt and terrorist enterprises in any way shape or form.”

USIEA sponsors advanced educational tours to Israel with members of Congress to educate them in the areas of defense, security and joint economic development between Israelis and Palestinians.

Click here to view original Jerusalem Post article

Cleveland Jewish News— U.S. representatives meet with Israeli, Palestinian business leaders in Judea and Samaria

By ELIANA RUDEE

The U.S. Israel Education Association (USIEA) brought Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) to Israel last week. Focusing their visit on Judea and Samaria, they met with Israeli and Palestinian business leaders to discuss financial threats against the Jewish state and the potential for solutions and cooperation.

USIEA Executive Director Heather Johnston reported that she had witnessed a “paradigm shift” in the senior members of Congress over the course of the mission. “Speaking to Israeli and Palestinian members of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, they got a totally different narrative from the one in the news or the one told by political leaders who have taken sides,” Johnston told JNS, referring to Reps. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) pro-BDS, anti-Israel narrative.

Spending two days in Judea and Samaria, the group investigated economic development and partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians, witnessing the “[positive] direction that the grassroots business development is going” in and learning about “the unstoppable people’s business movement that is well underway and is not going away,” according to Johnston.

During visits to Hebron, Ariel’s Industrial Park and the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce, the group met with Palestinian business leaders and employees who voiced their concerns about BDS.

Johnston said that the visiting representatives learned that 90 percent of the Palestinian population wants to work with Israel, but are unable to speak about this desire freely due to the Palestinian Authority’s anti-normalization policy.

BDS “hurts Palestinians and their opportunities perhaps even more than the Israelis because through this cooperation Palestinians are having opportunities they’ve never had before—jobs that are paying three to four times what they could get anywhere else,” delegation leader McMorris Rogers told JNS.

Hearing that “an overwhelming number of Palestinians are excited to create joint economic opportunities” was especially compelling, she said, adding, “we need to be encouraging this economic opportunity as part of the peace solution.”

To ensure this support, McMorris Rogers, who is the acting Republican representative to the United Nations General Assembly, said, “I will be talking to my colleagues and urging them to see first-hand what is happening in Judea and Samaria [in terms of] economic cooperation.”

Since her first trip to Israel five years ago, Wagner, who currently serves as Vice Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said there had been an “explosion” of changes in Judea and Samaria, including job creation, “a couple hundred [Israeli and Palestinian] businesses working together in the same manufacturing facilities” and “the growth of the high tech arena.”

Rep. Roe, who leads the Republican party in the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and has consistently stood up for Israel and against a nuclear-armed Iran, similarly noted that “at the end of the day, the Palestinian people want a good job and better life for their children.”

The cooperation promoted by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce “is just getting its legs,” he told JNS, and “will become a very useful force in this country.”

Each member of Congress expressed hope in the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship, as well as Israeli-Palestinian economic partnerships in Judea and Samaria.

Johnston posed that despite the small number of “strong yet antagonist voices in Congress,” the U.S.-Israel relationship has never been stronger. The Palestinian businessmen, she said, “want to have the backing and support of the United States,” declaring that the U.S. administration will continue its efforts “to support these endeavors that are integral to American interests.”

McMorris Rogers said that “Israel has been our long-time greatest ally within the Middle East, cooperating on defense, technology, innovation and agriculture, and Israel must remain our greatest ally—our support must be bipartisan, staunch and unequivocal.”

Wagner noted that the visit bettered her understanding Israel’s expertise in defense, especially regarding “aero” capabilities that are being tested in Alaska. The experience, she told JNS, “reaffirmed our joint goals towards peace and prosperity, safety and security.”

Click here to view the original Cleveland Jewish News article.

The Times of Israel— Palestinian and Israeli leaders launch West Bank economic initiative

The Times of Israel— Palestinian and Israeli leaders launch West Bank economic initiative

Program is spearheaded by the Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry led by Avi Zimmerman, an entrepreneur from Ariel, and Palestinian Ashraf Jabari, a Hebron businessman

 

By MARCY OSTER

JTA — Palestinian and Israeli business and political leaders met Wednesday to launch a joint economic initiative aimed at advancing economic opportunities in the West Bank.

The business leaders met at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, while Israeli mayors and Palestinian mukhtars from the West Bank got together the following day. There were about 100 participants each day talking about ways to advance business partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs.

The Judea Samaria Regional Development Financing Initiative is being spearheaded by the Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry led by Israeli Avi Zimmerman, an entrepreneur from Ariel, and Palestinian Ashraf Jabari, a Hebron businessman, with assistance from the US Israel Education Association (USIEA).

Zimmerman said the process begins with developing an inventory of projects in the fields of tech, industry, tourism, environment, energy and infrastructure.

Jabari said: “We need to break the fence between Israelis and Palestinians and to know that there’s no other way but to work together. We can’t keep going like we have over 25 years and waiting for a political settlement. We don’t have time to wait for politicians.”

The USIEA has worked to build relationships between US and Israeli officials, as well as bringing US congressional delegations to experience Israel and the West Bank firsthand. Recently it arranged for the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, to visit the West Bank and Palestinian and Israeli businesses in the region.

Friedman praised the initiative, saying that while the United States is hoping to make “real progress” on the political process, “it is never a substitute or a means to delay the opportunity to provide a better future for the Jews and the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, who are entitled to the very same things that we all want for our families.”

Click here to view the original The Times of Israel article.

News Release 2: Israeli Mayors, Palestinian Mukhtars Make First Steps Toward West Bank Joint Economic Growth

News Release 2: Israeli Mayors, Palestinian Mukhtars Make First Steps Toward West Bank Joint Economic Growth

JERUSALEM, Feb. 21, 2019—Israeli mayors and Palestinian mukhtars from the West Bank conducted a closed meeting with each other Feb. 21 at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem as part of an initiative to advance business partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs aimed at improving the lives of all those living in the region. The project, known as the “Judea Samaria Regional Development Financing Initiative” (RDFI), was launched a day earlier at Jerusalem’s David Citadel hotel by the Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JSC).

Preceding the meeting between the mayors and mukhtars, a Forum—co-hosted by the U.S. Israel Education Association and the Chamber—was held, in which a number of dignitaries praised the initiative, noting its refusal to wait for governments and political processes to produce results.

“The political process will continue,” said U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (download video), who addressed the Forum. “We’re hopeful we will make real progress on that in the near future, but it is never a substitute or means to delay the opportunity to provide a better future for the Jews and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, who are entitled to the very same things that we all want for our families.”

The ambassador has already seen the roots of such efforts by having previously met with a number of Palestinian and Israeli businesses throughout the West Bank. The U.S. Israel Education Association, which initiated the Economic Forum in partnership with the Chamber, had helped arrange the visits for the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

“This Economic Forum is different because it involved an unstoppable people’s movement,” said USIEA Executive Director Heather Johnston. “It was important for our U.S. leadership to see what can happen in the way of a new future for Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank. The USIEA has connected with the JSChamber, the Milken Innovation Center, the U.S. administration and the Israeli government to magnify this grassroots movement between business and the RDFI. That’s what the Forum is for today, which was designed to show the future economic outlook and potential for the West Bank.”

The USIEA’s unique trips for U.S. members of Congress throughout the West Bank had previously included U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-OK), who arrived in Israel this week to address the Economic Forum. “Sometimes in the world of politics, things move exceptionally slowly,” Lankford noted (download video). Lankford, who represents a state that has seen a number of natural disasters, said, “What we know as neighbors, is that when a tornado comes through, the first people who come to help are our neighbors. Eventually, the government gets there, but it’s always neighbors who help neighbors first.”

According to Lankford, the U.S. government has already taken a role in advancing such business partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank.

“There was a funding bill that happened a few weeks ago. One of the elements that was in it and that I fought for months was to include language to be able to make sure that in our aid that comes into this region from the United States, that our aid also includes engagement in business development, that when Palestinians and Israelis work together, we help them. For the first time ever, the United States has stepped in and said, ‘Where neighbors are helping neighbors and partnering together, we should consider that a good thing,’” Lankford said.

“The wonderful thing about the JSChamber is you can start making a list of how to move forward,” Lankford continued. “Most of the impact of conversations like this happens in the hallways as people meet other people and have dialogue.”

Ashraf Jabari, a Palestinian business and community leader from Hebron who is also co-founder of the JSChamber, said such dialogue and communication was the only way forward for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. “We need to break the fence between Israelis and Palestinians and to know that there’s no other way but to work together. We can’t keep going like we have over 25 years and waiting for a political settlement. We don’t have time to wait for politicians.”

According to Jabari’s co-founder of the JSChamber, Avi Zimmerman, Thursday’s Forum and meeting were very productive first steps in a process of long-term economic growth in the West Bank.

“This session was very important for moving forward,” said Zimmerman. “Although this is not a peace summit, I’m pleasantly surprised when discussions on joint and mutual economic growth naturally evolve into a conversation of peace. We have not often had this opportunity to hold an Israeli-Palestinian sub-sovereign meeting, and I would like to thank every Israeli mayor and Palestinian mukhtar who joined us today.”

About U.S. Israel Education Association

The nonprofit U.S. Israel Education Association offers U.S. officials unique insight into Israeli matters—especially in the West Bank—and connects regional and national leaders to advance mutually beneficial policies and laws.

About Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The nonprofit Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry works to coalesce and promote the business community in the region through local, regional, national and international programs.