Earlier this month Forbes magazine published an article by Richard Behar describing the possibility of ‘peace through profits’. Israelis and Palestinians would continue engaging in the difficult process of negotiations, of course, but alongside those efforts there would be a more concentrated campaign to develop private sector cooperation.
The Forbes article specifically outlined efforts by John Chambers – CEO of telecom giant Cisco – to develop the Palestinian high-tech economy and to facilitate private Israeli investments in Palestinian startups.
Chambers declared that he was “proud” of the program and enthusiastic about its successes. The sentiment was echoed by the Israelis that Behar interviewed.
Many Palestinians, in contrast, denounced the efforts. Some asked Behar to remove his piece from the web. On Wednesday, Behar ran a followup piece, titled “Why So Many Palestinian High-Tech Entrepreneurs Hate My Forbes Cover Story.” Sam Husseini, the Australian-Palestinian CEO of a startup in which Cisco invested, was interviewed for the new piece and provides a window into the Palestinian criticisms of Behar’s article:
“You should have run it by us first. The first thing we would have told you is move the word ‘peace’ out of the article… It’s a fact that most Palestinians do business today with Israel but they don’t talk about it… I got a call from a friend in Dubai this morning who reads Forbes. And he said, ‘Sam, is this real? Are you collaborating with Israelis? Is this you?’ I said, ‘No!'”
One Palestinian CEO objected to Behar’s description of Israel as a Jewish state:
“This is a political statement. The rest of the world doesn’t agree that it’s a Jewish state. It’s not a Jewish state. And when you emphasize this in an article, you’re negating the peace process.” His second outburst: “You mentioned Jerusalem as the capital of Israel! You want to get me killed here?!”
The consternation among Palestinian entrepreneurs is often reflected across the region. Behar spoke to Israeli historian Benny Morris, who noted that opposition to “normalization” has broad purchase even in Arab countries that have made peace with Israel:
“While Egypt had and has a peace treaty with Israel, its middle class completely rejected and rejects Israel – all and any contact with the Jewish state. The lawyers, doctors, academics associations – all are flatly rejectionist, the very people called ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ by the approving Western press. They may be liberal about democracy, women, human rights – but not about Israel and its existence.”
[Photo: Cisco Pics / Flickr]