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Business before politics: Merchants set up court to handle Israeli-Palestinian trade disputes

Tired of waiting for a political solution, Israeli and Palestinian businessmen are taking matters into their own hands, launching a court to handle business disputes properly. 

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Secretary of State John Kerry has put Palestinian economic growth high on the agenda with his recent shuttle diplomacy to restart peace talks, but a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders are a couple steps ahead of him.

The last few years, amid a dearth of political progress, they have been working toward the establishment of an arbitration court, the first of its kind, to resolve cross-border-trade business disputes between Israelis and Palestinians that otherwise have no realistic address for adjudication. 

Economic collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians has been hobbled by the lack of a neutral forum for settling disagreements between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen when they arise. Palestinians and Israelis face restricted access to each other’s territory and have little trust in courts lying across the border. Without any legal recourse for problems like a bounced check, transactions become riskier and less attractive, cooling commercial ties.

So they created the "Jerusalem Arbitration Center," which is sponsored by chamber of commerce associations on both sides and slated to begin its work by the end of 2013. The goal is to give merchants and investors peace of mind, eliminating disincentives to expanding the trade relationship that totals $4 billion a year – Palestinians’ largest such relationship, by far. The court will consist of two Israelis, two Palestinians, and five international legal or arbitration experts. The Israeli and Palestinian governments have agreed to enforce the court's rulings.

"The trade community became a cash-based community, because there was no recourse if a check bounced," says Sam Bahour, a Palestinian businessman. "If [the arbitration court] gets traction, it could be something interesting."

Skirting politics  


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