Read the rest on Forbes.com
Even by Middle East standards, the scene in a Dead Sea restaurant, situated within a “green zone”–a no-man’s-land claimed by neither Israelis nor Palestinians–was surreal. As a camel knelt outside, two Israeli soldiers nonchalantly sipped coffee at the counter and a score of rabbis said a prayer before their communal lunch–all oblivious to a dozen history-making Palestinians and Israelis huddled together in the back room.“So the safety guard should be put at the whole project rather than the task,” said a Palestinian. “Exactly,” answered an Israeli Jew, who added: “Also, should the buffer be hidden or public? What do you think?” A second Palestinian spoke up: “Who’s gonna hide it?” The room broke into laughter. Yet another Palestinian, oblivious to an abstract painting of the Star of David behind him, asked: “Do you want the truth, or do you want the truth plus protection?”With official relations between Palestinians and Israelis still poisonous after a century of conflict, any constructive dialogue is newsworthy. But these aren’t security forces talking about joint military patrols, nor is this discussion connected to the sudden resumption of peace talks after a three-year stalemate. The group, brought together by Cisco Systems, is speaking their common language: tech management. Nearly 100 times over the past two years Israeli high-tech experts and Palestinian entrepreneurs have gotten together in the hope of making Israel’s “Startup Nation” economic miracle a cross-border affair. And it’s just one of dozens of business-driven dialogues quietly–in many cases secretly–proliferating across the Holy Land.
“The way to end this conflict is to create a very large middle class and be inclusive in how you go after it across all individuals, regardless of age, religion or gender,” says John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, the most actively involved American tech executive in a coordinated effort that includes de facto diplomats from the likes of Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. “If you can address those issues and you can get others involved, then you can have a shot at peace in the Middle East.”Of course, there’s already billions of dollars’ worth of trade flowing between the West Bank and Israel, given their proximity and the latter’s border control over the former. Even in Gaza, whose leaders have a stated goal of destroying the Jewish state, commerce furtively passes back and forth on a massive scale. April’s Dead Sea meeting, however, represents something much more far-reaching and rarely discussed. Rather than just trading goods, hundreds of Israeli and Palestinians are becoming actual business partners and colleagues in startups that are slowly transforming the Palestinian economy, at least in the West Bank.It’s not easy. Over the course of reporting this story FORBES interviewed scores of high-tech leaders on both sides of the border. Nearly all expressed fears and worries over how their comments would be perceived. (Many insisted on full anonymity; FORBES was granted access to the Dead Sea training session only on the condition that we keep its exact location a secret.) On the Palestinian side a large contingent myopically equates any collaboration with treachery, even if it strengthens the local economy (and especially if it’s perceived to strengthen Israel’s). While most in the Jewish state would view these partnerships positively, a sizable minority fear that Palestinians armed with the skills and technology that have driven Israel’s prosperity would use them against Israel in a future war.Yet for all the mutual suspicion, collaborate they do. Buoyed by training, investment or partnerships from Israelis or Israeli subsidiaries of American companies, more than 300 Palestinian technology firms now employ 4,500 people, FORBES estimates, up from just 23 firms in the six-year period leading up to 2000. More are on the way: There’s at least $100 million in venture cash from Israeli or Western sources either looking for deals or recently put to work in Palestinian or Israeli Arab startups (with the latter community, representing one-fifth of the country’s citizenry, increasingly agitating to get in on the action). Meanwhile, Chambers and his peers at U.S. technology giants have pushed their Israeli subsidiaries to outsource research and development projects to Palestinian startups or to hire local Arabs.This is the real backdrop for the renewed peace talks lurching forward under the aegis of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Feckless politicians will invariably look to blame the other side for inaction. The private sector’s detente is delivering results right now, with the intention of creating enough interconnected prosperity to make a lasting peace in everyone’s economic self-interest.Ramallah, the business capital of the West Bank, is just 20 minutes from Jerusalem. On paper. A group of Palestinian CEOs from the disputed, eastern part of Jerusalem had agreed to meet FORBES for dinner in Ramallah but had to cancel. The checkpoint between the two had been closed by the Israeli military, who were grappling with 50 rock-throwing, tire-burning Palestinians.Such are the difficulties of doing business in Ramallah, which has emerged as the West Bank’s tech hub. But the dinner date also demonstrates the city’s vibrancy: With just three phone calls and an hour’s notice, a different group of locally based tech CEOs shows up in their place. We dine at a Mexican restaurant called Fuego, one of dozens of trendy spots in the city where twentysomething Palestinians sip cocktails, their laptops open, their smartphones on–a scene indistinguishable from one in Austin or San Francisco.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
A side of Israel's relationship with the Palestinians that the Huffington Post doesn't want you to know: