June 16, 2009


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Background Information

Partnership Name: Palestinian Business and Investment Forum of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership (UPP)

Partnership Type: Shared Policy Objective of Peace in the Middle East

PPP Life Cycle Phase for Learning: Engagement

Bureau or Post: Office of Private Sector Outreach, Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

State Department Strategic Goal (s): Improved Peace and Security, Economic Growth and Prosperity, and International Understanding

Major Partners: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Palestinian Private Sector Coordinating Council, Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce

Resource Contributions: In-Kind from participants and U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosting the Forum, and about $25,000 from the U.S. – Palestinian Partnership (UPP, formed by the U.S. Department of State as an effort to unites the US government and private sector)

Dates of Partnership: throughout 2008 (Forum held on Oct. 14, 2008)

Problem/Challenge Statement: Bringing together U.S. and Palestinian businessmen and entrepreneurs in a forum for exploring investment and partnership opportunities was challenging, due to the volatility of the situation within the West Bank and between Israel and Palestinian Territories.

In December 2007, President Bush, Secretary of State Rice and USAID Administrator Fore announced the formation of the U.S. – Palestinian Partnership (UPP). Key members of the UPP are Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute, Jean Case of the Case Foundation, and Ziad Asali of the American Task Force on Palestine. In mid-2008 the UPP co-hosted the Palestinian Business and Investment Forum with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to discuss how the U.S. private sector is situated to contribute to peace and prosperity in the Mideast and to bring U.S. and Palestinian businessmen and entrepreneurs together to explore investment opportunities. The Forum was seen as a means of helping to foster peace and security in the West Bank, showing how investments and closer relationships can make a difference in the lives of the Palestinian people and support peace and security. It was one event in a series of conferences throughout 2008 that encouraged investment in the Palestinian economy. The Forum was a direct follow-on to the Palestine Investment Conference (PIC), which the Palestinian Authority hosted in Bethlehem in May 2008, and a similar event was held in London in December 2008. This was crucial to the Forum’s success because the UPP worked directly with Palestinian partners who had hosted the PIC and brought entrepreneurs and projects from the PIC to a U.S. audience.

In conjunction with the Department of Commerce and UPP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce searched the business community to find enterprises willing to consider the possibility of partnerships in a region fraught with risk, with instability, and few prior relationships with small- and medium-size U.S. enterprises. The Chamber canvassed thousands of businesses in certain states around the USA to find self-financing, interested participants.

The Forum included representatives from selected small- and medium-scale businesses in the U.S. and the West Bank, and U.S. Government Agencies (USAID, Commerce, Treasury, OPIC and USTDA). Over 200 business leaders took part, self-financing their individual participation, with in-kind support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Government (USG), and modest funds ($25,000) from the UPP. The effort culminated in the Forum (held on October 14, 2008) and a follow-on business delegation that traveled to the West Bank. The challenge of bringing together U.S. and Palestinian businessmen and entrepreneurs was successfully met and mutually beneficial business opportunities were explored.

As the Forum launched, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed the importance of the event in her keynote address. “Through investments in the Palestinian people, you are going to make sure that they see tangible improvements in their daily lives and begin to really believe that there is a path to peace.”

Presentations and panel discussions were led by Palestinian officials, leading U.S. and Palestinian businesspeople, and USG representatives, focusing largely on ongoing business commitments, the West Bank business climate and economics of security, information and communication technology, banking, tourism, agribusiness, and pharmaceuticals. Major commitments by U.S. enterprises were formally announced at the Forum:

  • TouchStar will develop a major call center in East Jerusalem, offering Arabic call center services for business customers in the Middle East and North Africa;
  • Cisco Systems, Inc. will provide training for Palestinian business people and seed money for investment in Palestinian businesses;
  • Intel Corporation will train professors and students in business development and planning and will provide Personal Computers to Palestinian schools;
  • U.S. Agency for International Development and private sector partners will create high-tech youth centers in the West Bank and the Boys and Girls Club will train center leaders; and
  • Bank of Palestine signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Capital Gate Services to become one of the Call Center’s first clients.

The U.S. – Palestinian Partnership is an ongoing alliance; there are no immediate plans to repeat the Forum.

Conclusion:

As a cost effective, pragmatic way of encouraging business relationships and recognizing the value of peace and security, the Forum helped create business opportunities for people in the West Bank. It was essential that willing and open-minded government and business people participate, in an effort to facilitate the Mid-East peace process where all can live in peace and security. The U.S. – Palestinian Partnership is an effective component in facilitating progress toward lasting peace, security and prosperity in the region. Events like the Partnership-sponsored Forum play an important part in this long-term process and the Partnership will, hopefully, continue as long as needed. The Forum itself was a success, as shown by the commitments made by U.S. firms, the large numbers of self-financing participants, a follow-up business delegation traveling to the West Bank, and the ongoing gains in investment and business opportunities.

Key Takeaways:

  • Even a Forum with over 200 participants does not require substantial up-front or implementation funding, if attendees meet their personal costs and the partnership leaders are volunteers.
  • Despite a complex security situation, U.S. businesses showed a willingness and interest in exploring opportunities in the West Bank. This could be leveraged and expanded to other regions in the Mideast.
  • The opening of the ‘call center’ creates job opportunities and an avenue for expanded U.S. – Mideast business relationships.

Sources: Information on the Partnership can be obtained at www.uspalestinianpartnership.org.