Can Business Be the Language of Peace?

There have been many efforts over the years to bring peace to the Middle East, particularly between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But despite those efforts, there has been little progress.

However, an article in today’s Wall Street Journal offers some hope.

Israel’s innovative technology sector—which inspired the nickname “Startup Nation”—faces a shortage of 10,000 software programmers and engineers, the government says, posing one of the biggest threats to economic growth outside of war with its neighbors.

But in a strange twist of fate, the intense labor shortage is pushing Israeli tech firms to hire Palestinians in the West Bank. About 1,000 Palestinian engineers currently work for Israeli and international companies.

Palestinians were once a rarity in Israel’s high-powered tech sector. Many Palestinians oppose working for Israeli companies without a peace agreement, fearing such links enshrine the status quo of Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza.

Some Israelis, meanwhile, worry that violence or political upheaval could interrupt business with Palestinian workers. But the depth of Israel’s talent shortage and the high wages Israeli companies can offer are breaking down political barriers.

Israel depends on the tech sector for almost half its exports. If the labor shortage persists, economic growth will stall. Israel’s needs are converging with Palestinian efforts to broaden the economy in the West Bank, where the unemployment rate is over 18%, and lay the financial foundations for a state.

The result is that the number of Palestinian workers employed by Israeli companies is growing, as Israeli companies learn the advantages of outsourcing closer to home, including developers who work at a fraction of the price of Israelis.

It seems like a win-win-win situation. The Israeli tech firms get skilled tech workers at a lower cost than Israeli engineers. The jobs offer employment opportunities for Palestinians.

And perhaps best of all, it’s way of bringing people together, and hopefully, by working together they can get to know each other as neighbors, as opposed to enemies.

And once that happens, perhaps peace will just happen organically, with no need for outside intervention.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that such initiatives work.

I’m also hoping that there is no slow-down in the tech sector in Israel.

*image from UN Global Compact

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