BDS should Build, Develop and Settle the West Bank
Let me start by stating my qualifications to advise BDS. These include: I met with the PLO Executive Committee in Tunis before the signing of the Oslo Accords. (Yasser Arafat invited me on his plane to Washington for the signing.) On behalf of Siemens I built a high-tech company in the West Bank that employs Palestinian engineers. And above all, 75 years ago my grandmother planted trees throughout Israel, which cultivated a culture of building, not boycotting.
The economies of Israel and the West Bank are inextricably linked.
In fact, the Palestinian security services are paid in Israeli currency, which has Zionist slogans on it, and one of the founders of BDS, Omar Barghouti, received his master’s degree from Tel Aviv University at Israeli taxpayers’ expense. Since Israel has an economic-growth rate nearly double the United States’ and lower unemployment, BDS should seek to align the Palestinians economy with Israel, not decouple it.
Before Hamas took over Gaza and subsequently shot more than 10,000 rockets into Israel, tens of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel every day. Unfortunately, today those workers are unemployed and Israel instead imports workers from Thailand and Africa, while Egypt effectively closed its Gaza border crossings to the Palestinian workers.
Banks, Not Tanks
So perhaps it might make sense for BDS to change its mindset to one of investment and genuine nation-building activities.
BDS might take a page out of the American Jewish playbook for building a vibrant economy in a barren slice of Mideast land by investing in the Palestinian people, instead of threatening one of the pillars of their economy.
First, come and visit: Tourism is the fastest form of direct foreign investment the economy can enjoy. Then, make financial investments. Look at what happened to the Jordanian economy after King Hussein made peace with Israel. Tourism spiked so fast that Amman doubled its hotel-room capacity and the Jordan Cement Company share price rose 50% on the Amman Financial Market in less than two years. (And that is when shares were traded using white boards in a small room near the old Plaza Hotel in Amman.) Remember the “Asian Tigers” of the 1980s? In a successful developing economy, stock markets will render great returns to investors and the local economy.
Come and live in the West Bank and Gaza. Tens of thousands of U.S.-educated Americans moved to Israel and contribute richly to the economy. This includes people like the former governor of the Bank of Israel, now vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Stanley Fischer. Throughout the global economic crisis Fischer maintained Israel’s currency (which is effectively the Palestinian currency) as the strongest in the Western world.
BDS should confer with Palestinian Cabinet Minister and former Acting Prime Minister Nabil Shaath, who studied at the Wharton School of Business, Shaath knows that Berkshire Hathaway, run by his fellow Wharton alum Warren Buffett, made its first non-U.S. investment in the Israeli company Iscar. Buffett invested $5 billion in a single Israel company – more than all Arab aid to the West Bank.
Israel has the world’s highest proportion of people working in R&D. Apple, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola and many others invested billions of dollars in Israel and each have at least one R&D center in Israel.
I replicated that model in the West Bank by bringing Siemens to build an R&D facility there. Siemens’s CEO, who manages 350,000 workers and a more than $70 billion company, came to the opening ceremony in Ramallah. Of course, Shimon Peres, Israel’s former prime minister and president, was there to advance the Palestinians’ interests, but no member of the Palestinian government came across town to acknowledge this contribution to the economy albeit encourage others.
The Siemens venture is a model through which Palestinians’ quality of life was strengthened. BDS might invest itself in conceptualize similar win-win ventures between Palestinian businesses and the same US companies they unsuccessfully in encouraging to boycott Israel. The U.S. government’s Agency for International Development actively seeks American businesses to contribute to the West Bank’s economy. I invite BDS to do the same. To Build, Develop and Settle the West Bank.
An example of an Israeli company divesting from the West Bank:
The SodaStream factory in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim recently relocated leaving 250 Palestinian workers without Jobs. The Palestinians, some who managed Israeli settlers, earned three times more in the Israeli settlement than they can in nearby Ramallah or Jericho; they even enjoyed paid prayer session. Their termination caused a net annual loss of $4 million out of the pockets of Palestinian people; insufferable loss of self-esteem for those bread-winners and 1500 people most of whom are children are actually eating less.