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

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As part of the revived push for a peace agreement, Israel, the US, and the Palestinians are devoting substantial time and attention to efforts to boost the Palestinian economy, believing economic growth would improve the environment for negotiations.

Many of the steps, such as ceding Israeli control over some parts of the West Bank so the land can be devoted to Palestinian economic projects and relaxation of restrictions on Palestinian movement, are likely to face opposition from hardliners in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. The US is also expected to transfer more aid for infrastructure projects     

The arbitration center is something different. Three years in the making, it is a homegrownindependent effort by business communities on both sides to smooth commerce – in spite of chilled relations between their governments, a vacuum of negotiations, and Israeli barriers on movement and access that handicaps Palestinian businessmen.

"It has nothing to do with the political process. It has to do with surviving the conflict and not ending the conflict," says Samir Hulileh, the chief executive of Padico, a Palestinian conglomerate with businesses from real estate to telecommunications to manufacturing. "It gives confidence to investors. Investors should see there’s an exit, and that they’re not part of a problem held up in the political process."

The effort has been spearheaded by Palestinian billionaire Munib Masri, the owner of Padico, and Oren Shachor, a former major general who oversaw the Israeli government’s civil administration of the Palestinian territories.

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