Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Palestine, economics, Deval PATrick and Bob Kraft - looking for input

Last month, when Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's office announced that he was going on  a "Massachusetts Innovation Economy Partnership Mission 2011" to Israel and the United Kingdom with a coalition of the state’s leading business executives and senior government officials, an alliance of about a dozen local groups and individuals reconstituted the "Massachusetts/Palestine Trade Association. We sent a letter to the governor to suggest that, given the situation in Israel/Palestine he reconsider making this trip - and, realizing that given the late date and the kind of people who the governor was going with he was not going to call the trip off, we suggested that he meet with some business and tech people in Palestine and offered to get him in touch with people we know there. We closed our letter with a request to meet with him before he went and, not at all surprisingly, when I spoke with someone in his office I was told that the advance team had already left, Governor Patrick was very busy, and if we contacted the appointments office maybe they could arrange something when he came back.

Then, this past  Tuesday the Metro Section of the Globe ran "Pats owner’s deep ties to Israel are personal" focusing on Bob Kraft's long-standing relationship with and philanthropy in Israel. The article noted that Kraft "spoke of a grander vision for the country’s economic independence, rooted in a capitalist belief that financial prosperity will promote peace and stability for Israel and its neighbors. He said he had "employed Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank at his companies until security checkpoints imposed after the second intifada made it impossible." It quoted Kraft, who has significant interests in Israeli firms:
“We need to create jobs in the West Bank and Gaza and Israel and Jordan and Syria and Lebanon,’’ he said. “I’m rooting for a lasting peace in that area of the world. . . . I hope American entrepreneurs and Mideast entrepreneurs can work to help do that.’’
Gaza Shopping Mall
So, I thought,  maybe the way to address this issue is through Bob Kraft - take him at his word and, given how successful he was in convincing the governor to go to Israel, maybe we could approach him to interest the governor in exploring the potential for investing in industries in the West Bank. I sent an e-mail with these thoughts to the people on my Association list and the few responses I received suggested that there was  little interest in pursuing this either because people thought that Kraft would simply not respond or that the nature of his politics in regard to Israel/Palestine would make it futile to relate to him as some sort of ally. 

Then I had an interesting piece of input. I recently wrote about Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian that spoke at Harvard's Center for Middle East Studies last week. After his presentation I had an opportunity to talk with him for a while during which economic conditions in Palestine came up. I shared what had been going on around the governor's Israel mission. I also shared my concerns about how positive movements in the economy were being manipulated by the "pro-Israel" people. The Israeli PR machine tells us that last year the West Bank had the most economic growth in years, that "they" were building big, beautiful, modern malls [with air conditioning!] and PA Prime Minister Fayyad has made economic development the cornerstone of his program so there's really nothing to worry about.

His reaction, included two thoughts, one which I anticipated and one that I didn't. First he said that we shouldn't be concerned about what was being said, the important thing was to do anything we could to help the Palestinian economy - the other side is going to say whatever they're going to say regardless of what we do and Palestinians need whatever help we can give them.  His second response was that it is really important to project an image of Palestinians as modern, sophisticated people rather than backward, tribal victims and initiatives like this could be helpful, if for nothing else at least educating people.

So, Husam pushed me back into that place of vacillation: would it be helpful to invest time and energy into pursuing the idea of talking to Governor Patrick [possibly through Bob Kraft] or is the potential for getting anywhere with this - coupled with the Massachusetts statehouse's current priorities, so remote that we should just let this go? It would be interesting to know what people think about this.

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