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Joint Israeli-Palestinian High Tech Ventures Offer Hope of “Peace Through Profits”

Israel’s regional cooperation minister made a visit to Jericho on Thursday – the first by a high-level Israeli official since 2007 – to inaugurate a  Japanese-funded Palestinian industrial park in the West Bank city.

Silvan Shalom, Israel’s minister of regional cooperation, spoke about the economic and political components of peacemaking as he toured the park. Israel had contributed infrastructure to the project, including water and electricity, and had facilitated the transfer of materials between Jordan and Palestinian-controlled portions of the West Bank.

The Jericho venture is one of several efforts designed to leverage Israel’s culture of innovation in order to bootstrap a Palestinian tech sector.

This week Forbes carried a cover story by Richard Behar about literally dozens of similar joint Israeli-Palestinian business ventures quietly sprouting up around the West Bank. More than 300 Palestinian technology firms now employ 4,500 people up from just 23 firms in the six-year period leading up to 2000.

The cooperation, however, may have limited political benefits. Some of Palestinians profiled in the story bristled at the notion that they favor normalization with Israel. Saed Nashef, who left a top job at Microsoft to become an entrepreneur before cofounding Sadara Ventures, the first venture fund in the Palestinian territories, told Forbes that “normalization… is really kind of the taboo word… and for good reasons, too.” He described economic growth as a “form of resistance.”

Yet Behar told The Tower that he believes “Peace Through Profits” – as the Forbes article was titled – may one day be possible. He described “ventures [that] are secret or just under-the-radar, due to the political sensitivities,” and emphasized that they were “amazing stuff and I’m hopeful for better relations.”

“Perhaps it’s time for politicians to move aside, and let the tech entrepreneurs bring the peoples closer together,” he added.

[Photo: tomaszszczesniak1/ Youtube]