Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, who is a former Israel Ambassaor to the U.S. and a leader of the Israel Beiteinu party told a group of about 70 Palestinian women – who arrived mainly from Bethlehem, Beit Jalla Beit Sahur, Bethany and El Azariya – that while “we can’t ignore political issues, we shouldn’t wait for everything to be solved,” before taking steps to develop the Palestinian economy.

Ayalon gave the opening address at the “Women Making Business” conference at the City Hotel in Tel-Aviv sponsored by the IPCC [Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and Industry established in Oct. 2008], MASHAV [Israel’s National Agency for International Development Co-operation], and the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Centre in Haifa.

The Palestinian participants, the vast majority of whom were Christian [and often tend to be more moderate than Moslems in their political views], all received special permits from Israel to attend the conference.

“I apologize to anyone present if any of you had problems in crossing the checkpoints. I hope there will be a day when there are no checkpoints…Most checkpoints have been removed [by the Netanyahu government]-from 41 checkpoints there are now only 14-and we hope to take more down… The West Bank economy is better and tourism is up.”

Ayalon called on the Arab world to also take responsibility for developing the Palestinian economy and fostering a climate of peace.

“…The Gulf Countries have billions of Petro dollars. If they put 10 billion dollars into the West Bank, it will create a new economy, with jobs…It will be a basis for a good statehood.”

In an interview following the conference, Ofer Gendelman, CEO of the IPCC was asked whether the injection of money by Gulf States would serve to merely promote the development of two separate Palestinian economies-an economy for the wealthy and an economy of ongoing poverty for Palestinian refugees living in UNRA camps, who would continue to relish ideas of returning to homes left in 1948. He responded:

“It is up to the Palestinian Authority to run its economy. It’s a country and they have a Minister of National Economy. How the money is directed is not an Israeli project. It’s up to the Palestinians to run their own affairs.”

When asked specifically what would be done to ensure that money injected into the Palestinian economy reached the bottom level of Palestinian society, Irena Etinger, Ayalon’s media advisor answered, “If they [the Gulf States] will put money into the Palestinian economy, there will be more jobs and infrastructure and industry. His[Ayalon’s comments] were general ones, and not specific about this. The idea is if there are more jobs, change will come from the people.”

In an interview, Robert Ilatov, Member of Knesset for Israel Beiteinu said in this regard,

“We know from the past that when Fatah has gotten money, it didn’t distribute it properly and lots was stolen. But, we can’t be responsible for what Fatah does when it gets money…There has to be some international supervision. The most we can do is to encourage the development of the Palestinian economy with the purpose of taking as many Palestinians as possible out of the cycle of poverty.”

Fatima Faroun, Chairperson of the Sharouq Society for Women, based in Bethany, expressed frustration at the conference of the fact that women entrepreneurs were given far less support from the PA than their counterparts in Israel were.

“In Palestine, there’s nothing to support us. There is no government money in Palestine given to women who want to start businesses. There is no justice. International organizations need to hear this.”

Most of the Palestinian women at the event were nodding their heads when she said this.

“I visited Oman to see what they do there. The Oman government supports women who want to open small businesses. If a women gets training and consultation with the government there, she can get a $20,000 dollar loan, and if she succeeds, she can get up to a $100,000 dollar loan. More money from the PA and NGO’s needs to go to women,” Faroun said.

Haim Divon, who was Israel’s Ambassador to Canada from 2000-2004 and heads MASHAV, welcomed the Palestinian women and said that “we all feel badly when we hear about difficulties at the checkpoints.” Divon stressed “we are sending a message to the international community that we are looking at ways to improve our economies.”

In an interview, Gindelman, said that in 2008, “Trade between Israel an the Palestinians amounted to 15 billion shekel[ over 3.5 billion U.S]. Of that 15 billion, 80% is Israeli exports to the Palestinians, while only 20% is Palestinian exports to Israel. Also, of that 15 billion, 13 billion consists of trade between the West Bank and Israel and 2 billion is trade between Israel and Gaza.”

These figures show how Israel, on the whole, benefits from trade relations with the Palestinian Authority.

“I expect that the amount of trade between Israel and the Palestinians will grow significantly this year, given the removal of many checkpoints, the improved security situation, and the developing Palestinian economy, among other factors,” said Gendelman.

When asked why there is no Palestinian co-CEO with him at the Israel-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gendelman responded:

“We would love to have a Palestinian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce but it is up to the Palestinian Authority to o this. We represent Israeli businesses first and foremost, but we also help Palestinian businesses that want our help. We have had a few dozen Palestinian businesses who have asked for our help, mostly in regard to security and customs issues.”

For example, Gendelman noted that “Coca-Cola in the Palestinian territories wants to import assets to clean its bottles, but the problem is that the assets could also be used to make bombs. Israel prevents dual use materials from entering the West Bank and Gaza, so they can’t import it. We are trying to find another product for them that isn’t dual use, so that way it is a win-win situation. We haven’t yet found the solution.”

Before becoming CEO of the IPCC, Gindelman was the Israeli Consul at the Embassy in Ottawa from 2003-2007, and following that worked as the Israeli government spokesperson to the Arab Press.

“I was Israel’s face to the Arab world, doing more than 2000 appearances on Arab T.V. Channels,” he said


While there was a lot of talk about “peace “ and “economic growth” at the conference, the political views expressed by most of the Palestinian participants interviewed were hard-line

Sumayah Soboh, a Moslem sociologist from Bethlehem said she believes in a “one state” solution in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. “Any Palestinian refugees who want can return to their land,” meaning that the Jews would live as a minority in a Palestinian majority. “ Maybe the one state could be called ‘Jew Palestina,’ she said.

Her sister, Mary Soboh, age 20, an occupational therapist, and her mother Jamileh Soboh, a speech therapist, who directs the Nur-Al Bara’ h Special Education centre in Bethlehem, both say they agree with Sumayah. “We all think the same,” said Jamileh.

When asked what she thought of the Fatah convention, Sumayah said “I am angry with Fatah for saying there could be two states- there shouldn’t be a Jewish state, but just one state, one leader, one G-d, one people.”

Another Moslem women living in Bethany whose “family are refugees from a village near Abu Gosh, on the way to Jerusalem” said “I want to be able to go back to my land.” She said the parties “must meet and find solutions.” She said the situation was “miserable- you can’t move Israel and the Palestinians can’t be moved,” but she doesn’t express any willingness to give up her right of return, or accept compensation in return, to enable a two-state solution.

Mari Sadi, a Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem, says “Israel should go back to the 67 lines.” Sadi owned land in front of Har Homa but “the Israelis took 15 dunams and they closed it off.”

When asked what she thinks ought to happen to the Jewish populations in Gilo and Har Homa, built over the 1967 lines near Bethlehem, she says clearly “ The Israelis have to leave Gilo and Har Homa, unless they want to be citizens of Palestine under Palestinian rule, then they can stay….We don’t need a weak peace”

Additionally Sadi said “we hope that all of the refugees will be able to come back.” When pressed on whether she would accept it if Palestinian refugees could return only to a Palestinian state, not Israel, she said “Some refugees can return back to Israel, and some back to a Palestinian state.”

But then, she also said “I have many relatives in Jordan and the U.S. and a lot of different lands. They are from Nazareth and Haifa and Jaffa and they should be able to come back. They will want to come back.”

Lorette Zoughbi, who runs a small patisserie in Bethlehem, said she thinks “Palestine should have its own state and Israel should have her own state. If we ask for everything, all we’ll get is nothing.”

As for Har Homa and Gilo, Zoughbi said “Israel should return it, but how can they return it-It’s such a big area?”

Zoughbi appeared to be more moderate than Sadi when spoken to one on one, but then in front of Sadi, she said “Refugees who have their land can return to Israel. My grandfather had a house in Katamon and in Jaffa. I still have the keys. We’ll never give up our land.”

Inam Mitwassi, a Christian Palestinian, who makes ceramics in Bethlehem, and Laila Nazzal, a Christian Palestinian who makes embroidery in Bethlehem indicated Israel should go back to the 67 lines and Palestinian refugees should be able to return to the pre-67 Israel.

Ms. Antionette George Youse Knezivich, a Christian Palestinian from Beit-Jalla was responsible for bringing 38 of the women to the conference. Knezivich is a member of the executive committee of Palestinian NGO’s. In her formal remarks she referred to 1948 as being the Al-Nakba.

In an interview afterward, she said 80 of her olive trees [30 dunam’s worth] were taken down to build the wall [security fence] around Bethlehem. “First the wall must be taken down, and all the checkpoints removed and then the ought to be negotiations.” When asked about whether the Palestinian refugees ought to be able to return only to a Palestinian state, not to Israel, she said “ there must be a just solution,” “we seek justice,” but she refuse to elaborate further. Later, over lunch, when Sadi took the position that refugees ought to be able to return to their homes they lost in 1948, Knezivich nodded in agreement.

There were two women spoken to who expressed genuinely more moderate opinions [whose names will not be given for their safety].

One was a young Christian Palestinian, who said that she believes any right of return for Palestinian refugees would be “to Palestine,” not Israel. She also said “Tel-Aviv is beautiful.” A Moslem Palestinian woman said she believed “there should be Palestine and Israel”, and “I think the right of return should be to Palestine.”

As she said before we parted, “They can all say they have their rights, but we must finish this conflict. To end it, refugees should return only to the Palestinian state.”

In an interview, Robert Ilatov, Member of Knesset for Israel Beitienu said he wasn’t surprised to hear that many of the Christian Palestinian women from Bethlehem at the conference expressed hard-line views. “They were probably afraid that if they expressed more moderate views they’d be killed. The Moslems in Bethlehem make life very difficult for them.”

About half the women present at the event were sponsored by MASHAV to spend a week in Israel, to undergo entrepreneurial training in Haifa. About 20 of the Palestinian women who arrived were in their 20’s and were students studying in Beir Zeit University, Bethlehem University and the University of Jordan.