Industrialists Try to Launch Israeli-Palestinian Business Forum

Israeli, Palestinian businessmen join to form Palestine International Business Forum, to promote projects in West Bank, Gaza Strip.

A group of Israeli and Palestinian industrialists have established the Palestine International Business Forum, in order to promote projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The group's board of directors is set to hold its first meeting on Wednesday, in Bethlehem.

Israeli members include businessmen Benny Gaon, Dov Lautman, Jacob Perry and Yaakov Gelbard, as well as Shraga Brosh and Amiram Shor of the Manufacturers Association of Israel.

At the meeting, a new study on Palestinian-Israeli economic relations is to be released. Gaon Agro Industries will present planned joint agroindustrial projects, including purifying and recycling well-water, a 300-dunam (75-acre) pomegranate plantation and a fish-breeding project.

The group is also planning to establish a research and study center in Deir Hijleh, in the Jordan Valley.

PIBF was initiated and funded by the Swedish Foreign Ministry, along with the International Council for Swedish Industries (NIR), whose mission is to help regions in political, economic or cultural distress. Large Swedish companies such as Ericsson and Volvo have expressed interest in forming corporations in the Palestinian Authority.

A month ago, Gaon and Shor met with Palestinian businessman Ismail Da'iq and discussed the investing in joint projects. Gaon decided to match a $1 million Palestinian investment for a project via Gaon Agro and a subsidiary.

Gaon told Haaretz he believed that a Palestinian who makes an honest living will not attack his Israeli neighbors. He said the Israeli economy cannot exist within a bubble, while ignoring foreign-policy developments and the socioeconomic situation of its Palestinian neighbors.

Shor noted that the cooperation with the Palestinian industrialists has already resulted in informal communication channels that have helped remove obstacles, such as easing the passage of tourists to Bethlehem and providing permits for tour guides from the West Bank to access holy sites within Israel.