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Building partners in peace

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November 24, 2016 23:20

It has been a difficult and depressing few months for those of us who believe in a two-state solution: the terrible loss of life in the summer on both sides has been followed by a series of terrorist attacks on civilians in Jerusalem, including the horrendous attack on a synagogue this week in which four rabbis and a policeman were tragically killed, including the UK citizen Rabbi Avraham Goldberg.

While the stalled peace process leads many to despair and disengagement, we must not give up and allow those that wish to spread terror and violence to succeed. Some wrongly believe that the only way peace can be secured is through a campaign for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, but as Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander and I have said many times before, we do not support this approach, it is wrong-headed and counterproductive and would only serve to widen division. We must strengthen not weaken our economic, trade union, intellectual and cultural ties.

A lasting peace, however, needs to be underpinned by a strong civil society and a strong Israeli and Palestinian economy. It is this which will provide both peoples with an important stake in defending peace against those extremists who will inevitably seek to destabilise it. This is the foundations upon which a sustainable peace will be built.

Two years ago, I launched the Labour UK-Israel Economic Dialogue at the Labour Friends of Israel Annual lunch. That ongoing dialogue aims to strengthen our vital bilateral relationship. And last year I was pleased to see for myself the growth and entrepreneurialism in Israel and was encouraged by the strengthening partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian businesses. I met Palestinian businessmen building the new city of Rawabi, near Ramallah, the largest private sector project in Palestinian history, reliant on both international investment and Israeli expertise in cutting-edge design and construction. This is a model for the kind of economic ties between the international community, Israel and the Palestinians which we need to encourage.

To achieve strong economies in Israel and the Palestinian territories we need more engagement between Israel and the Palestinians and Britain, too, must play its part in encouraging and supporting these links.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in his speech to the World Economic Summit in January, talked about a "peace dividend" that a two-state solution could bring about and how "a Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine can develop into an international hub for technology, for trade [and] tourism."

The possibility of a settlement is not a naive pipe dream. With the highest number of new businesses per capita outside of California, Israel has a well-deserved reputation as the "start-up nation". Last month, I met again the Israeli chief scientist, who is tasked with investing government money in promising business ideas. This relationship between government and start-ups is one that Britain could learn much from. Perhaps less well-known, however, is the work that is under way, with the support of tech companies like Cisco, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, to bring together Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs. And, as Forbes magazine put it, they are not just trading goods but becoming actual business partners and colleagues in a process that is beginning to transform the economy of the West Bank. Indeed, they have estimated that, backed by training, investment and partnerships from Israeli companies and the Israeli subsidiaries of American companies, there are now more than 300 Palestinian technology firms employing 4,500 people. That is up from just 23 firms 14 years ago. Building these partnerships is helping to transform the economy and we should not be opposing or dissuading it but encouraging it.

Many Israelis knows that their future peace and prosperity rests on strengthening their country's social and economic ties with the Palestinian people. This is a difficult time but it is not a time for walking away or giving up hope. Amid all the challenges they face in a land torn by division and strife, pioneering Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs are mapping out a path forward. It's not an alternative to a peace process, but it's vital to it. British business and entrepreneurs should get behind it.

November 24, 2016 23:20

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