Some of the country’s top businessmen met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month to express concern that the stalled peace process with the Palestinians would ultimately harm and even endanger the Israeli economy.
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The businessmen told Netanyahu they are worried by the signals they are getting from the international business community.
“We come from the field, and we’re feeling the pressure,” one said. “If we don’t make progress toward a two-state solution, there will be negative developments for the Israeli economy. We’re already noticing initial signs of this. The future of the Israeli economy will be in danger.”
One businessman who attended the meeting told Haaretz that the lack of progress toward a two-state solution could send Israel down a slippery slope toward a binational state that would be either not Jewish or not democratic.
“The world will not accept this,” he said. “Foreign investments will not come to such a state. No one will buy goods from such a state.”
During the 90-minute meeting, the businessmen did not preach to Netanyahu, criticize him or try to pressure him, one participant said. He added that Netanyahu and International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz, who attended as well, did not argue with them, and in fact agreed with most of what was said.
Heading the group was high-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, who had served as an economic adviser to Netanyahu during the talks with the Palestinians that resulted in the Wye Agreement of 1998. Vardi was a founder of Mirabalis, which developed ICQ, the first instant messaging system, and was sold to AOL in 1998 for $407 million. Since then he has been a major investor in Israeli Internet start-ups.
Joining Vardi were Shlomi Fogel, a close friend of Netanyahu’s and the owner of Ampa; Ruth Cheshin, a member of Teva’s board of directors and the founder of the Jerusalem Foundation; Shmuel Meitar, one of the founders of Aurec and Amdocs, who now runs an educational nonprofit; Benny Landa, a founder of Indigo and now an investor in nanotechnology start-ups; and Rami Levi, owner of the eponymous supermarket chain and cellular firm.
The meeting took place shortly before the six traveled to Jordan for the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, where they launched a joint initiative by Israeli and Palestinian businessmen. The initiative was aimed at both increasing economic cooperation and urging the leaderships of both sides to advance the peace process and implement the principle of two states for two peoples. The group asked for Netanyahu’s support for their initiative and received it.
One of the businessmen said Netanyahu’s frustration at the diplomatic stalemate was obvious, and that the prime minister expressed hope that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would be able to restart negotiations.
“I made the Bar-Ilan [University] speech, and I gave a 10-month freeze [on settlement construction], but they are still setting preconditions,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying. “I can’t get Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] to the negotiating table.”
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment for this report.