Israeli and Palestinian Tech Entrepreneurs Work Together

Cisco Project Is Example of Privately Funded Initiatives

Working Together: While in Israel, Obama praised small, privately funded effort to bring together Israelis and Palestinians.
Getty Images
Working Together: While in Israel, Obama praised small, privately funded effort to bring together Israelis and Palestinians.

By Reuters

Published May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

At first glance, it is a tech utopian’s dream. For the last two years several dozen Israeli and Palestinian high-tech entrepreneurs have been quietly meeting at a Dead Sea resort that Palestinians can visit without receiving permits from the Israeli military.

Funded by the American high-tech giant Cisco Systems, the meetings feature little talk of settlements or suicide bombings. Instead, Palestinians are coached on the latest trends in software development processes, best practices and branding.

“From my own perspective, it was a very successful training,” said Saeed Zeidan, chief executive officer of a small Palestinian startup. “We managed to improve our services.”

The training sessions are an example of privately funded economic initiatives that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have praised in recent trips here.

In his March visit, Obama lauded Cisco’s efforts. In a landmark speech in Washington last week, where he tried to redefine the “war on terror,” Obama said it was vital for the United States to help countries in the region “modernize economies, upgrade education and encourage entrepreneurship.”

Three days later, Kerry unveiled a plan to create $4 billion in private-sector investment in the West Bank and Gaza, the largest economic initiative in the Palestinian territories since the 1993 Oslo accords. He called it a “new model” for economic development in the region.

“We need to partner with the private sector,” Kerry said, “because it is clear that most governments don’t have the money. And in certain places the private sector actually has a greater ability to move things faster than government does.”

Cisco’s efforts began five years ago. Encouraged by U.S. and Palestinian officials, the company’s CEO, John Chambers, visited Ramallah in 2008. Since then, Cisco has invested $15 million in Palestinian tech startups and training programs.

“It opened the door for Palestinian software companies to do business with international corporations,” said Gai Hetzroni, an Israeli Cisco executive who manages the program.

Dozens of other Israel-based companies have followed Cisco’s example and hired Palestinian firms for outsourcing work. Palestinian firms now also work for Hewlett-Packard, Alcatel-Lucent and other American and European tech giants.

Today, 250 Palestinian information and technology companies produce 6.1 percent of Palestinian economic activity, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently reported. PalTel, a large Palestinian telecommunications company, skews the figures, but the tech sector is now larger than the historically dominant agricultural sector.

Ali Taha, another Palestinian participant in the program, said receiving Cisco training helped to boost Palestinian firms’ reputation in the tech world - as it has for his own company, Art Technologies. Taha said one potential overseas customer was shocked to hear that such business existed on the West Bank.

“When someone told them there is a company that can do this, they said, ‘Is there Internet in Palestine?’ ” Taha recalled, laughing. “They could not believe we could do it.”

In his speech Sunday, Kerry said, “Foreign direct investment - private investment, leveraged investment, visionary investment - has the ability to be able to change the world.” Success in Palestinian territories, he argued, could serve as an example for countries across the region.

Researchers working with Quarter representative Tony Blair and international business leaders have identified “stunning” opportunities for private investment in tourism, light manufacturing and construction, Kerry said. Home building alone, he estimated, could mean jobs for 100,000 Palestinians.

“These experts,” Kerry said, “believe that we can increase the Palestinian GDP [gross domestic product] by as much as 50 percent over three years  Their most optimistic estimates foresee enough new jobs to cut unemployment by nearly two-thirds - to 8 percent, down from 21 percent today - and to increase the median annual wage along with it, by as much as 40 percent.”

This week, however, Kerry’s optimism ran into the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Palestinians’ reactions to his proposal were generally positive, but the history of failed past initiatives loomed large.

Many Palestinians - including participants in Cisco’s program - cautioned that economic investment was not a substitute for the creation of a Palestinian state. They have been complaining for years that Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods in the West Bank strangle the local economy.

Taha, the Palestinian entrepreneur, recalled that foreign economic investment had poured into the West Bank after the 1993 Oslo accords. But Western high-tech companies closed these offices a decade later when Israeli forces carried out an incursion into the West Bank after Palestinian suicide bombings.

“Investment and economy cannot survive together with unstable political situations,” Taha said. “Economic investments are a waste of money and effort if they are not executed in parallel with a politically permanent solution.”

Kerry’s economic proposals are positive. Corporations that now have record profits and unprecedented global reach are being asked to make a contribution. They can and should do so. To Kerry’s credit, he has repeatedly stated that his economic initiative is no substitute for a political settlement.

His effort is laudable. But he faces a long road ahead.

Palestinians remain eager to unilaterally seek official recognition at the United Nations, Israelis, meanwhile, are increasingly focused on their own domestic issues, not peace with the Palestinians.

Economic proposals involving private companies involve little political risk. Reaching a peace settlement, however, means Israeli, Palestinian and American officials must take enormous risks. Peace is not possible in the Middle East on the political cheap.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.