Earlier this month, journalist Rich Behar wrote an optimistic cover story for Forbes suggesting how cooperation among high-tech entrepreneurs on both sides of the Green Line might just create the climate for peace or something that looks like it.
At the center of the article was John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, who leads a coordinated effort among tech titans helping Israelis and Palestinians become partners and colleagues in various start-ups.
Cisco has put more than $15 million into the effort. “The way to end this conflict is to create a very large middle class and be inclusive in how you go after it across all individuals, regardless of age, religion or gender,” says Chambers. “If you can address those issues and you can get others involved, then you can have a shot at peace in the Middle East.”
And yet the article led to a backlash — among many of the Palestinian entrepreneurs it quoted. These web designers and software developers complained that they were unwittingly enlisted in a political agenda by the magazine. Many asked that their names be removed from the article. “I’m not happy with the politicization of our company,” wrote one Palestinian CEO. “We are a tech start-up, not some political party.”
Israeli historian Benny Morris tells Behar that the Palestinians are wary of being labeled traitors to their nationalist cause. “They don’t want to be seen as collaborators, and economic cooperation, even if it is in their interest as well, is seen as collaboration, and helping normalization,” says Morris.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab has a different explanation: that the entrepreneurs are worried that an “economic peace” will deflect attention from a political solution.
Either way, there is something enormously sad about all this: that these forward-looking Palestinians must run away from the very things long trumpeted as the best hope for peace — mutual recognition, economic self-interest, and an entrepreneurial spirit that, for all their differences, links Jews and Palestinians.