Israeli mayors and Palestinian Arab mukhtars from Judea and Samaria conducted a closed meeting with each other today (Thursday) at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem as part of an initiative to advance business partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs aimed at improving the lives of all those living in the region. The project, known as the “Judea Samaria Regional Development Financing Initiative” (RDFI) was launched a day earlier at Jerusalem’s David Citadel hotel by the Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JSChamber).
Preceding the meeting between the mayors and mukhtars, a Forum was held in which a number of dignitaries praised the initiative, noting its refusal to wait for governments and political processes to produce results.
"The political process will continue," said US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman who addressed the Forum. "We're hopeful we will make real progress on that in the near future, but it is never a substitute or a means to delay the opportunity to provide a better future for the Jews and the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, who are entitled to the very same things that we all want for our families."
The ambassador has already seen the roots of such efforts by having previously met with a number of Palestinian Arab and Israeli businesses throughout Judea and Samaria. The US Israel Education Association (USIEA), which initiated the economic Forum in partnership with the JSChamber, had helped arrange the visits for the US Ambassador to Israel.
“This economic Forum is different because it involved an unstoppable people’s movement,” said USIEA’s executive director, Heather Johnston. “It was important for our US leadership to see what can happen in the way of a new future for Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank. The USIEA has connected with the JSChamber, the Milken Innovation Center, the US administration and the Israeli government to magnify this grassroots movement between business and the RDFI. That’s what the Forum is for today, which was designed to show the future economic outlook and potential for the West Bank.”
The USIEA managed to break the glass ceiling in sponsoring trips for US members of Congress throughout Judea and Samaria. Previously included among those members is US Senator from Oklahoma, James Lankford who arrived in Israel this week to address the economic Forum. “Sometimes in the world of politics, things move exceptionally slowly,” Lankford noted. “What we know as neighbors is that when a tornado comes through, the first people who come to help are our neighbors. Eventually, the government gets there but it’s always neighbors who help neighbors first.”
“The wonderful thing about the JSChamber is you can start making a list of how to move forward,” Lankford added. “Most of the impact of conversations like this happen in the hallways as people meet other people and have dialogue.”
Ashraf Jabari, a Palestinian Arab business and community leader from Hebvon who is also co-founder of the JSChamber, said such dialogue and communication was the only way forward for Israelis and Palestinian Arab in Judea and Samaria. “We need to break the fence between Israelis and Palestinians and to know that there’s no other way but to work together. We can’t keep going like we have over 25 years and waiting for a political settlement. We don’t have time to wait for politicians.”
According to Jabari’s partner, Avi Zimmerman who serves as president and co-founder of the JSChamber, Thursday’s Forum and meeting were very productive first steps in a process of long-term economic growth in Judea and Samaria
“This session was very important for moving forward,” said Avi Zimmerman. “Although this is not a peace summit, I’m pleasantly surprised when discussions on joint and mutual economic growth naturally evolve into a conversation of peace. “We have not often had this opportunity to hold an Israeli-Palestinian sub-sovereign meeting, and I would like to thank every Israeli mayor and Palestinian mukhtar who joined us today.”