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Tech diplomacy: Israeli CEO hires Palestinian programmers

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Israel's technology industry – which lures investment from leading tech multinationals – is located less than 50 miles from Ramallah, a proximity that facilitates cooperation. Asal Technologies, the outsourcing firm that supplies programmers for Mellanox, gets 40 percent of its work from Israeli companies and Israeli branches of multinational companies such as Intel.

"We are close by, in the same time zone, and have the same [Friday-Saturday] weekend. They know us and we know them," says Asal chief executive Murad Tahboub, who sees the potential for boosting not only business but peace as well. "Palestine was never on the radar of the information-technology industry worldwide. But there is a viable business model, and it helps the region.... Having a good economy is good for the Palestinians, which makes people more open to living peacefully."

Indeed, for some Palestinians, the outsourcing business is one way of nourishing their own fledgling technology sector. Though the industry is still embryonic on a global scale, executives argue that it has the potential to one day serve as a pillar of the private sector.

"Any sector that depends on Palestinian brain power is a promising sector. Frankly speaking, this is about the only thing that we have," says Bashar Masri, a member of Asal's board of directors.

Despite differing politics, 'as a company we work together'

To be sure, not all Palestinian technology executives see outsourcing to Israel as the best way to prosper. Andre Hawit, the chief executive of Ramallah start-up gSoft Technology solutions, says the Palestinian technology sector shouldn't become dependent on Israel. Building original products is a better way to attract talented programmers and venture capital and is a growth model "more resilient to political and physical limitations on the ground," he says.

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