The Middle-East peace that has spectacularly and frustratingly eluded politicians and warriors for generations may be being forged through enterprise.
The Associated Press recently reported that even as the world struggles to find ways to coax, cajole and appease the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and intimidate and threaten the Israelis into concessions, Israeli capitalism has already forged inroads toward the type of economic cooperation that makes war counterproductive.
AP reports that some Israeli technology firms have started outsourcing tech jobs to the Palestinians.
The reason for this having begun in the past three years or so, according to the story, is because it makes business sense. The possible peace-inducing implications are a secondary potential by-product, the story says, which is one reason why it might work.
With the most start-up firms per-capita in the world, Israel’s high-tech industry is a matter of national pride, having helped produce “such game-changing innovations as instant messaging and Internet telephony,” according to A.P.
Many Israeli tech firms contract work out to Eastern Europe, India or China, but in recent years have started using Palestinian engineers and programmers.
“They are cheaper, ambitious, work in the same time zone, and – surprisingly to many Israelis – are remarkably similar to them,” the story says.
Working with engineers in India and Eastern Europe, communication can be difficult, one Israeli CEO said, so in 2007, he turned to Palestinian engineers.
If there’s a problem, a Palestinian high-tech industry association chairman said, it’s in marketing Israeli products under a Palestinian name to a wider Arab market where they’re boycotting Israeli goods.
This tells me that the larger problem – the reason peace continues to elude the Holy Land despite all the years of trying – may have more to do with the wider Arab world than the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.
Cooperation in the high-tech industry is not the only type of business cooperation that seems logical in the area and that common sense tells you has the potential to create wealth and improve the standard of living for both peoples.
Imagine what life in that region would be like if the Palestinians found a way to pull back from the outside Islamist agitators and partner with Israel in the hospitality industry, catering primarily to the religious pilgrim customer base.
Nearly every season of the year contains a holiday important to somebody and with deep roots in Israel/Palestine. If the Palestinians could find a way to stop trying to blow people up, the possibilities for cooperative tourism are almost limitless.
Meanwhile, at least this outsourcing thing is making headway.
But there are some bugs to work out, according to the story.
The years of violence directed against Israelis by the Palestinians has resulted in some serious measures being taken by Israel to stop them. So, now, “Israel’s military prevents most Palestinians and Israelis from visiting each others’ cities without special permits,” the story notes, and a “network of fences and concrete walls (built earlier this decade during a wave of Palestinian suicide bombing attacks,) divides Israel from the West Bank.”
So these gadget gurus on both sides have some physical and psychological barriers to overcome if they’re going to make this work, according to the story.
But, since the reason it’s being done is based mostly on sound economics, there may be a chance for success.
According to the A.P., the main reason these jobs are being outsourced to Palestinians is because it costs about half what it would hiring an Israeli firm. And though Indians and Chinese engineers cost even less, the Palestinians are easier to understand, “are more loyal to his company than workers from distant countries,” the head of one firm is quoted saying, “and have a dogged work ethic.”
The story notes that networking giant Cisco claims it was the first international corporation with research and development centers in Israel to outsource work to the West Bank. Israeli branches of Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. have followed suite this year, according to the story.
Arranging meetings is “sometimes like crossing the Red Sea,” a Cisco spokesman is quoted saying.
“Last year’s initial meeting of Palestinian and Israeli engineers was meant to take place in the West Bank city of Jericho, but an Israeli military closure forced the workers to drag their laptops into a nearby Bedouin tent they rented for the day,” the story says.
But the meeting went well and produced the partnership, and other firms are looking into it, according to the story.
If enough of this type of cooperation produces enough economic incentive, at some point I think the Palestinians themselves will realize they’re tired of being cannon fodder for the rest of the Arab world, and a real, lasting and fair peace may be possible.
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