When the media, policymakers and international organizations discuss the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they often do so in just those terms: as a conflict. What is lost in the sensationalist, ratings-oriented media and in the speeches of vote-oriented politicians is the enormous degree of peaceful cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. The fact is that Palestinians benefit enormously from Israel, with the Jewish state providing valuable goods, services and opportunities to Palestinians that otherwise would not be available in the impoverished, underdeveloped Palestinian territories or in neighboring Arab countries.
Perhaps the strongest area of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation is economics. From tourism to agriculture to entrepreneurship, the Palestinian economy is inextricably tied up with Israel. For example, over 450 Israeli companies are involved in building the new Palestinian city of Rawabi in the West Bank at an estimated cost of $1 billion and an annual revenue of $100 million for the Israeli economy. The project employs 5,000 Palestinians, and the most of the building resources are coming via Israeli roads and ports. Israel is also helping the people of Gaza set up their first Coca Cola factory, a modest yet desperately needed attempt at revitalizing an economy that’s been run into the ground by Hamas. And Palestinian farmers recently came to Israel to learn more techniques for growing strawberries.
Economic cooperation also extends to the exciting world of tech startups. Mr. Hani Alami, a telecommunications tycoon and owner of Ramallah-based internet service provider CoolNet, stated in an interview with Times of Israel that. “There is plenty of blame to go around for the political situation. There are no men of vision on either side. But economically, there is no reason the two sides cannot cooperate, and in fact that would benefit both the Israelis and Palestinians.” Alami’s company has partnered with several Israeli firms and he has close personal ties in the Israeli tech world. Additionally, the Israeli branch of multinational networking company Cisco, with whom Alami’s firm works, has invested $15 million in Palestinian tech startups and training programs. The words of a Palestinian entrepreneur trained by Cisco-Israel are astute. The goal of the joint program, he explained, is “not to make friends, but the outcome of the program, indirectly, is making friendships.”
In one of the most well-known examples of Israeli-Palestinian economic partnership, the Israeli company Sodastream (maker of a home water carbonation machine) had, until recently, its main factory in Mishor Adumim in the West Bank, where it employed hundreds of Palestinians at a substantially higher wage than the Palestinian Authority’s minimum wage. The company has been the focus of intense international scrutiny, with the governments of Norway, Sweden and Finland banning their products. Most notably, the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement led the charge to cripple Sodastream. Facing declining profits due to the decrease in the consumption of sugary drinks and the impact of the BDS movement, the company recently moved its operations to Israel.
As demonstrated by statistics, BDS’ insistence that everything Israeli be boycotted would do nothing to help Palestinians and do everything to hurt them. Consider that in 2012, Palestinian exports to Israel accounted for a whopping 81% of total Palestinian exports and that Palestinian purchases from Israel made up two-thirds of total Palestinian imports. Israel employs an estimated 110,000 Palestinian workers and has built 16 industrial parks in the West Bank where Jews and Arabs work side by side. Even the virulently anti-Israel Arab media praises Israeli companies for treating their Palestinian workers much better than they would be treated working for a Palestinian company. In fact, Israel is the only country with any serious level of investment in the Palestinian economy. Breaking this relationship, as BDS suggests, could potentially send the already impoverished Palestinian territories into an economic depression, ruin the intimate business and personal ties the two sides have forged over the years, and even spark another major conflict. The good news is that while BDS makes the headlines, their actual economic impact on Israeli trade has been negligible according to Moody’s Investors Service.
But don’t think that cooperation between the two sides is limited to dollars and cents. Countless Palestinians are the recipients of Israeli medical aid and humanitarian aid every day. In one touching story, an IDF medical team was able to save the life of a six month old Palestinian baby who had a heart attack. In another example, doctors at Haifa’s state-of-the-art Rambam hospital helped a Gaza woman with a severe blood clot deliver twins. The same hospital also delivered the baby of a Gaza woman with Rh incompatibility and then treated the baby’s congenital heart condition.
During the intense fighting during last year’s Gaza war, the IDF and Magen David Adom were at the ready to treat wounded Gazans by setting up a field hospital near the border and evacuating to Israel those Gazans who had been prevented by Hamas from travelling to Turkey for medical treatment. Even the sister and mother-in-law of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh were granted treatment at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. One incredibly generous Israeli group, the Peres Center for Peace, provides hospital care in Israel, without charge, for Palestinian children with heart conditions. Meanwhile, due to the abysmal state of Palestinian healthcare, the Israeli government hands out thousands of humanitarian entry permits to Palestinians every year so they can receive care, and the Palestinian Authority itself often funds patients’ treatment at Israeli hospitals.
Humanitarian aid is another one of Israel’s strong suits. Even as the rockets rained down on Israel in 2014, the IDF’s humanitarian relief efforts were in full swing, bringing fuel, food, electricity, water, clothing, medicine, agricultural materials and more to the people of Gaza. Israeli engineers came into Gaza to perform repairs of the roads, electrical systems, water supply, sewage plants and communication lines. However, Hamas’ incessant rocket attacks and use of human shields created a dangerous situation for the Israeli teams, thus severely limiting the amount of aid that could reach Gazans. In all, Israel sends over a million tons of aid into Gaza every year. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved a plan last month to further lift the restrictions on Gaza, meaning that Gazan trade, agriculture and home reconstruction will increase significantly.
Contrast Israeli aid to the Palestinians with that pledged by the Arab countries. A 2011 article in Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily noted that “Arab countries have cut aid to Palestinians substantially, despite their rhetoric of supporting Palestinian rights. Arab donors provided less than $80 million in the first half of 2011, compared to $231 million in 2010, $462 million in 2009 and $446 million in 2008. Arab countries have committed to billions in aid in past years that never materialized. One reason could be that the Arab world has become fed up with the Palestinian problem. Even the Arab League and U.N., not exactly Israel’s allies, have rebuked oil-rich Arab countries for failing to live up to their promises. For example, Arab countries pledged $999 million in 2004 to the budget of UNRWA (the U.N.’s Palestinian Refugee organization) and delivered only $107 million. Nor do the Arab League or U.N. discuss the plight of Palestinians in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon where they’re kept in refugee camps and treated as second-class citizens.
And it would certainly be too much to expect Palestinians to rely on their own government for assistance. The hopelessly corrupt Palestinian Authority refused last year to take millions of dollars in medical aid from the Israeli Ministry of Health. In another disturbing example, EU investigators in 2013 found that the P.A. had wasted $2.7 billion of aid, some of which likely went to paying convicted terrorists and their families.
The recent decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to end security cooperation with Israel puts the jobs and lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at risk. Abbas had just last year called security ties with Israel “sacred” and promised that they would persist despite disagreements with the Israeli government. If these ties are not restored soon, the burden of preventing Hamas attacks might be placed solely on Israel’s shoulders. In the words of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, “If the Palestinian Authority ceases or were to cease, security cooperation – or even decide to disband as a result of their economic predicament, and that could happen in the near future if they don’t receive additional revenues – then we would be faced with yet another crisis that could also greatly impact the security of both Palestinians and Israelis, which would have the potential of serious ripple effects elsewhere in the region.” Robert Serry, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East, warns that this could be the “final nail in the coffin of the Oslo Accords.”
For now, despite such foolhardy and counterproductive measures, Israeli-Palestinian relations outside the political realm are healthy and constantly expanding. While this may not lead to a political solution, it can at least lead to increased understanding and respect between the two sides.
(Sources: Times of Israel, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Good News From Israel, Forbes)