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.