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Interview Archives

Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.


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Helmi Kittani

Helmi Kittani is an economist who worked for over 20 years in a senior position in one of Israel's largest banks. In 1992 he became the Executive Director of the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, where he works to strengthen the economy in the Arab sector in Israel, and to build business partnerships between Jews and Palestinians both within Israel and across the Green Line.

  • Please tell me a little about your background and how you got involved in this work.

    I am 57 years old. For 20-22 years, I worked at Bank HaPoalim.1 I was a banker in different management positions, senior positions in Bank HaPoalim both in Jewish and Arab towns and at its headquarters. I am an economist by training. I graduated in 1973 with an economics degree from Tel Aviv University. Then I turned to business within the banking context. In Bank HaPaolim, which operates in a very professional and business like manner, I aspired to work for economic development in the Arab sector. I wanted to use the bank's resources for the sake of the economic development of the Arab sector. I think the bank must not only be a commercial entity that gains money, but also contributes to the welfare of the community within which it operates. I think I was the first person that had the courage to say that the bank must act significantly for the sake of the economic development of the Arab sector. This approach is beneficial for the two sides. It will lead to more customers, larger turnover and more profits for the bank, and also to more businesses and a new level of business in the Arab sector. This is my background and I really think that, despite the fact that I was young—I was the youngest manager in Bank Hapoalim; I was in a management position when I was just 25 years old, this was not easy as a 25 year old—I think I contributed much to the bank and contributed much to the Arab community. Not just to hold on to a conservative approach to the economy, but also to advance the thinking regarding business in a more modern context, even with regard to agriculture. For example, I was in the area of Kalanswa-Tira2 when it used traditional agriculture. I used the tool of bank credit loans. I encouraged people to jump a level towards developing a modern agricultural approach; all the issues related to strawberries, all the issue of growing flowers in greenhouses require a lot of investment in resources. I believed that if you give people the opportunity to develop, they can earn more; they can also contribute more to the bank's activity. This is what happened. During my tenure, the Kalanswa-Tira area was the number one exporter of strawberries and flowers in the country, primarily exporting to Europe. This is my background. After a period of 20-22 years at the bank, I thought the time had come to try my luck with a private business. I resigned and created a consultation and investment firm in Baka el-Gharbiyeh,3 where I was born. I was an investment advisor and opened an office in Baka. But after a short period of two or three years in this field, I realized it was more important for me to do more public activity than to work for myself.

    • 1. One of Israel's leading private banks.
    • 2. Two Palestinian Arab towns in the North of Israel.
    • 3. A Palestinian-Israeli town in the North of Israel.

  • What do you mean by you wanted to be more involved in "public activity"?

    I prefer projects that are related not just to individuals but focused as much as possible on the community, projects that help advance the community. And in 1991, the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, which was still a young and small organization, turned to me and asked me to lead special courses for young Arabs on business enterprise. I liked this idea because to prepare young Arabs to manage businesses with a modern perspective and not just family businesses in a traditional manner, is important. We began with courses in the Triangle Area1 especially for the second generation of businessmen, the sons of businessmen, the young siblings, people who still had an open mind to accept the tools for modern business management. We succeeded quite well in this endeavor. This project was greeted with open arms by the community. And this became a strategic plan of the Center. In the beginning, the Center worked to encourage the establishment of joint businesses. I came and said that it would be very difficult to create joint businesses of Jews and Arabs if the economy of the Arab sector is very weak and the economy of the Jews is very strong. This gap makes it impossible to advance partnerships and cooperation. I said it is necessary to help to advance and to raise the level of economic development in the Arab sector and then you can develop true partnerships between the two sides. And so we began with the empowerment process of young Arabs, the human capital. Later we helped the Arab local authorities to develop the physical infrastructure. We said first you must begin with this approach and later you can move to the level of encouraging individual initiatives of Arab and Jewish businessmen. In 1992, after the success of the courses, the founder of the Center, Sarah Kremer, and the board of the Center requested that I become the executive director. Initially I wavered because from my personal, financial position I knew I would be taking a drastic pay cut. To be a senior manager in a bank and then to own a private business that had good earnings, and then to move on to an association, an NGO 2, would clearly lead to a substantive reduction in my personal income. However, I thought about the future of my children, who were still in high school then, and I thought about what I would have to learn in order to help them develop their personal careers. I thought that for the sake of my community, and for the sake of building one society in the State of Israel with regards to Arabs and Jews, it is worth sacrificing money for the sake of making a contribution. I took this challenge upon myself in 1992, thus becoming a co-Executive Director of the Center with Sarah Kremer. From then on I have been working at the center, I have been "stuck" in the Center. This is my history in the Center.

    • 1. An area comprised of Arab villages in the North of Israel.
    • 2. Non-governmental Organization

  • Could you describe the different things you do at the Center for Jewish Arab Economic Development?

    The bank gave me a great deal of experience regarding assessment of economic projects and an understanding of economic development. But since the bank was a commercial body, I thought that it would be more possible to develop an ideology in addition to business development. Through an organization of Arabs and Jews that believe that through shared economic development, through strengthening and providing support to the Arab sector, it is possible to build a foundation on which Jews and Arabs can live together in the State of Israel. I believed that. Since then I have directed all of my thinking, directed all of my experience and knowledge to achieving this goal: cooperative living by means of shared economic development. The first thing I initiated when I started working at the Center was research to determine the true needs of the Arab sector, what is the current situation, what is the potential. Taking into account the existing situation and the potential, how can we arrive at a level of economic development and at a level of shared businesses between Arabs and Jews? In this survey, which was conducted by two academics, one Jew and one Arab, we arrived at several conclusions that were very interesting-- the reasons for the absence of economic development in the Arab sector, the potential, how those obstacles could be overcome. Some of these reasons are political; Israeli governments have not invested enough to build infrastructure for the Arab sector, have not provided the budgets to foster economic development in the Arab sector. This requires more advocacy and convincing the governments that it is worthwhile to invest more in the Arab sector because this will help to build the whole Israeli economy. But it is also important for the State of Israel from a political perspective. Once you have a community that feels deprived, that feels alienated, that feels that it does not receive its rights, not only will it not contribute to the society or the economy as a whole, but the situation can also lead to damage. There are more internal reasons for the absence of economic development in the Arab society in Israel. For example, Arab women, because of societal reasons, are not active enough in the economic sphere; heads of the local Arab municipal authorities do not have enough professional tools, do not know enough about how to manage projects, how to create employment resources, or how to foster the professional development of their municipal workers. We made two meaningful decisions: First, that we would establish a special department in the Center to advance the status of Arab women from the societal and economic standpoint. Since 1995, for nine years now, we have a package especially for young Arab women, which includes a business-training course. We talk about how it is possible to adjust their lives from an economic, societal perspective but also within the household; how to deal with their personal positions in the household, how they can raise children and at the same time manage a business and contribute from an economic perspective to their family, to their society. This should give them a sense of empowerment, that they are contributing, creating. They are not only housewives. They produce something, and can economically contribute to their families. A woman's independence makes her a role model. She can "push" her children to be more independent, and she can contribute to her community as a model or example for young women about how to develop a business. Because of our activities, during the past four years, four hundred new businesses have been opened in the Arab sector, which are owned or managed by women. This is amazing. Today we have established what we call "businesswomen clubs." In addition to creating businesses, we wanted to create a framework that would allow people to meet to discuss their business, society and how they can contribute not only to their own well-being, but also to their community. We also established clubs for Jewish and Arab women to enable them to learn how to advance joint Jewish-Arab businesses. In the final analysis, we want to help facilitate the development of joint Jewish-Arab businesses. The clubs, which meet once a week, are an amazing tool. These meetings strengthen the women and provide them with the opportunity to learn from one another. We believe this process can contribute a lot to Arab women, and create the infrastructure for joint activities of Arab and Jewish women not only regarding the economic issues but also in the societal and cultural spheres. I very much hope that we will succeed with our current annual project to develop a national union of Arab and Jewish business women, which can become the arm that will fight for the sake of achieving the rights of women and their equality and will make people realize they are not the weak link in society. This is one example.

  • Do you think it is easier for women to work together in cooperative activities between Jews and Palestinians?

    If we speak of quantity, it is much easier with women; we can speak from our own experience. We have succeeded with projects for men and women. However, women are represented in greater numbers probably because the element of societal cooperation is important to them and they are more aware than men of the issue of their children's common future. This helps them and us succeed in our projects, whether the joint ones, the independent ones or the groups. So, yes it is easier for women. Easier and more successful. However, we have not neglected the other side, i.e. the men. We created an entity in the Center, which is called "The Club for Arab Businessmen in Israel, "ABC, Arab Business Club in Israel." Its 80 members are the leading businessmen in the Arab sector. We wanted a representative entity of Arab businessmen. Prior to its creation there had not been an entity like this one. Through this entity, it's the same story. There is empowerment of Arab businessmen, and also through the framework of the club they can foster a lot of thought regarding joint ventures with Jewish businessmen and with other Jewish entities like the Industrialists Union and the Chamber of Commerce. Through the Club, we were able to establish cooperation with these entities, cooperative efforts between Arab businessmen and Jewish businessmen. One of the more successful projects, and the first we started in the Arab sector, was the technological incubator in Nazareth. The technological incubator is a big investment. There was no other example in the Arab sector of a project of joint investment by multiple Arab businessmen. Traditionally, in the Arab sector, most of the businesses are family-owned. Even the big and successful ones are family-owned and not joint ventures. We succeeded in bringing Arab businessmen to invest serious amounts of money in a joint venture. We also brought Jewish investors to this project. However, for us it was more significant that we brought Arab businessmen. In the Jewish sector there are already large public projects, they already know what a board of directors is and what technological businesses are. What is wonderful is that all of the Arab businessmen, six Arab businessmen, came together to invest money in this project and none of them had a technological background. All of them are traditional businessmen: a contractor, a meat distributor, a gas distributor. To bring these businessmen together to invest in a risky venture—because ultimately a technological incubator is about developing ideas that can succeed or fail—this, in my opinion, was our success. We also showed the young ones that want to develop ideas that they have a "home," they have a "father" that can adopt them, invest in them, and show faith in them despite the risk of their projects. This is a giant success when you think about it.

  • Was it difficult to convince people to invest in the technological incubator project in Nazareth? What did you tell them in order to get their support?

    Truthfully, the people who invested large amounts of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars each, did not exactly believe in the business goals of the project. Therefore, I had to influence them more in terms of their contribution to society—adopting Arab scientists, developing new projects, providing a framework, or a home, through which scientists could reach the international markets and connect with the international business community. This idea appealed more to the businessmen, so I focused more on the issue of the social empowerment rather than the business empowerment, despite the fact that in retrospect everyone understands that this is a wonderful commercial project that can generate high profits. However, the Arab businessmen joined this project due to societal and communal reasons rather than for business-related reasons. At the beginning I did not think we would be able to convince them, but together we succeeded in implementing this project. Today everyone is pleased that I convinced them to join the project.

  • When did you begin working on projects that cross the Green Line?

    We began just after the signing of the Oslo agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel. We thought it would be natural that we expand to include joint economic projects between Israel and Palestine. First, from a geographic perspective, we thought it would be natural that this region would foster the development of many joint ventures. These projects would also help facilitate negotiations with elements in the other Arab countries. We thought that through the joint ventures of Jews and Israeli Arabs with the Palestinian Authority there was an opportunity for Israeli Arabs to integrate into the Israeli economy and into the mainstream. Ultimately Israeli Arabs and Palestinians are the same people, and thus it is possible for them to coordinate a joint deal. Here also we worked on two levels. We encouraged joint ventures between Israelis and Palestinians. We were among those who pushed the idea to establish a joint industrial zone in Karni1 in Gaza, factories which were Israeli and Palestinian investments, and created places of work for Palestinians. It was part of our belief that a long-term peace cannot be sustained if Palestinians live in poverty while Israelis are rich. It cannot exist, it is just impossible. The same reasons that we thought of within the State of Israel: to raise the economic development in the Arab sector, and to create partnership and integration in every day life, not coexistence. I don't believe in coexistence because in the State of Israel we need to aspire to create one Israeli society with two components - the Jewish community and the Arab community - but they are one Israeli society. We also tried to advance joint agricultural ventures between Israelis and Palestinians. To this day we believe that there must be open borders between the State of Israel and Palestine. We believe that joint ventures must be created. This is important from an economic perspective. These joint ventures can help build this area, Israel-Palestine, as a central element in the Middle East. In addition, this can solidify the peace. It can also help in building faith between the State of Israel and the rest of the Arab world. Arab countries look at how Israel today relates to its Arab citizens and to the Palestinians in the Palestinian Authority. If we can succeed in building one economy here, I believe we will be able to foster economic cooperation throughout the region.

    • 1. Refers to the events at Deir Yassin, a village near Jerusalem, on April 9, 1948 (one month before the declaration of independence by the State of Israel). Facts about the killings are disputed. What is well known is that the Irgun and Stern Gang, two radical Zionist militias, attacked the village on the early morning of April 9, 1948. Accounts of an attack or massacre vary both between Palestinians and Israelis and within each community. Disagreement exists primarily on two points. First, sources cite anywhere from 100-250 Arabs killed, although all agree that women and children were among the victims. The Irgun and Stern Gang themselves reported the highest numbers, although some contend it was in order to bolster their own popularity. Second, varying accounts dispute whether Deir Yassin harbored any Arab militants and snipers, and if so, how many. It is clear, however, that the operation was severe enough to contribute greatly to an already-present pervasive fear, motivating many Palestinians in surrounding areas to flee their homes. For a more complete account see http://ariga.com/peacewatch/dycg.htm

  • How are you working to accomplish your goals now?

    Currently, economic cooperation is difficult because of security reasons, but we do not give up. We are more focused on building the human infrastructure of business or economic leaders in the Middle East. This is the framework of more educational, cultural projects. We have an MBA program at Haifa University, which is called BBB, Building Business Bridges.1 There are 30 students that participate in this program, 10 Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority, 10 Jews from Israel and 10 Arabs from Israel. The goal of the program is not to receive an MBA because an MBA you can receive from any university. Rather, the goal is in addition to an MBA that the participants will develop a cultural awareness of all of the participants in the program. Therefore, the students study during the day at the university and at night they stay at a hotel in Haifa to learn about each other's customs, each other's culture, the political conflict. They begin to have a dialogue. The achievements of this program are outstanding. Thirty students, Jews and Arabs, live together and begin to build ideas. They say that this place can become the Garden of Eden. We must build a common Middle East business leadership. They believe they will be the foundation. We also believe that they will be the foundation because they serve as a good example. Today they can convey to the Jewish people in Israel, to the Arabs in Israel and to the Palestinians that it is possible to live together, that we can understand each other. Despite the difference, it is possible to respect each other and still understand that others are different but that I can live with them, I can learn with them, and I can establish businesses with them and everyone will profit from that. And I think that if we succeed in conveying this message to the Palestinian and Israeli leaders we can break down the barriers and help foster trust and the creation of a true and righteous peace in the region.

    • 1. For information on the Building Business Bridges MBA program see http://www.cjaed.org.il/BBBbrochure.doc.

  • What is the hardest thing about establishing personal and professional relationships between Palestinians and Israelis in the joint business program?

    The hardest, from our perspective, are psychological matters and not matter-of-fact issues. From a business perspective, we have proved that one plus one, in this situation, Palestine and Israel, equals much more than two. They equal three or maybe more than three. From a strategic and business perspectives, as soon as there's peace here, it will be possible to open the region to foreign investments. This will raise the region and people will be able to live in prosperity. The difficulty stems more from psychological reasons, from concern, from fear, from hatred and from the uncertainty about whether other people are willing to accept me as a partner in this region. This is what must be broken, the stigma. The stereotypes must be broken and it must be proven that we can overcome the psychological barriers and live together and that we can earn a lot of money together. However, we must build a healthy and safe environment for everyone. If we succeed in giving the sense that both people can have security, and if we succeed in convincing the two sides that ultimately Jews and Palestinian are children of Father Abraham, we can live together. We are both Semites. We can advance business together and also advance culture, sports, society, and build a common future that is better for everyone from all perspectives.

  • You are a businessman. You probably didn't think of yourself as a psychologist.

    I am a businessman and I seek to advance business projects, but a long time ago I arrived at the conclusion that it is impossible to succeed in business projects if we do not simultaneously address the psychological and societal aspects. With regard to Arabs and Jews, in the beginning of my activities, in 1993, I approached Jewish businessmen and told them it was worthwhile for them to invest in Arab villages and towns. The Jews said, "Can we enter Arab villages and they won't through stones at us?" And the Arabs said "You want us to give our land to Jewish partners?" When we began those projects and showed them that we are all partners in this country, it became clear that the devil is not so evil. And thus we must operate on two levels: psychological/societal/political and business. It is impossible to focus solely on the business track. And it is impossible to focus only on the societal level. The approach that integrates the two tracks is the appropriate formula to succeed in building business and societal partnerships. It is impossible to build economic cooperation without societal cooperation or societal cooperation without economic cooperation.

  • With all the absence of trust today, is it possible to convince people to work together, to invest together?

    There is definitely an absence of trust, but I am happy to say that businessmen on both sides still believe this is the only solution - to build a joint economy. This attitude helps us a great deal. For example, on the same day that the meeting in Geneva took place to promote the Geneva Initiative, we had a meeting in Herzliya at the Sharon Hotel, which 80 Israeli and Palestinian businessmen attended. We discussed what is the role of businessmen, how can they influence the politicians, the political leaders, so they will have to solve the political conflict in order to build the economy and to strengthen the State of Israel and Palestine. Despite the difficult situation, the difficult political and security situation, these businessmen believe they can cooperate and so there is no reason that economic development cannot occur. Everyone believes it is our fate to live together or to die together. Everyone prefers to live together and not to die.

  • As an Arab Israeli, do you have a specific role in this process?

    As an Arab Israeli, I have several roles. First, to convince my fellow Arabs that it is good to integrate into the Israeli economy. It contributes to strengthening the society and also to the partnership with the Jews. I must convince the Jews that it is also worthwhile for them, that we must move toward economic partnership, and through economic cooperation we can create cultural and societal cooperation. Today we are promoting an industrial zone between Rosh Ha'Ayin1 and Kafr Kassem. These two communities are located in a very strategic place for investments. I say that if people will go into this project, ultimately there will be big revenues for both municipalities, for Rosh Ha'Ayin and also for Kufr Kassem. Thus, with this money they get from the joint industrial zone, the municipalities can provide better cultural, educational, and sport services, and also meetings for youth that can help the two communities understand the need to live together and think about their common future, which is a good and a beneficial idea for both communities. I share the Palestinian culture, since I belong politically and culturally to the Palestinian community. However, I also have the Israeli culture because I am part of the State of Israel and it's important for me to build it. I can serve as the natural bridge between the Jewish society in Israel and Palestinian society in Palestine. I can serve as the bridge that can really help foster economic cooperation and also foster peace on the political level. These are two educated communities. These are two multicultural communities because they both come from a Diaspora throughout the world. Therefore, these communities can greatly contribute to the economic development in the whole of the Middle East and they [the Israeli and Palestinian communities] will enjoy it. By building the Middle East economy they can become the leading economy in this region and serve as an example, perhaps even more successful than the European Common Market.

    • 1. An Israeli town to the east of Tel Aviv close to the West Bank.

  • Do you have children?

    I have six children.

  • What do they do and what do they think about your goals?

    They support me. Sometimes we have a serious argument whether or not it can happen. But they believe ultimately that cooperation is the true idea that can facilitate building a fair and just society. They still think that, on the political level, there is a problem because they do not feel that the Israeli governments treat the Arab population equally. The policies of the Israeli governments are discriminatory, particularly towards the young Arabs. One of my children is a lawyer and has an office in Beer Sheva with six other lawyers - three Jews and three Arabs - and through their work they also develop a social and cultural life. He visits the families of his colleagues; they are good friends. His colleagues and their families come to our home. I have one daughter who completed her masters' degree in communications. She has Jewish friends, she is welcome in their homes and they are welcome in hers. They have thought about how together they can contribute, with regard to Jewish and Arab young children, to develop programs where the children can meet, discuss, and speak. However, I think we are still missing the political backing, the budget, the equality, the justice, the feeling of true democracy. And then we could work harder for equality and justice for the sake of achieving peace between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.

  • Which comes first, relations between Jews and Arabs within Israel or the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

    In my opinion, first there must be relations between Jews and Arabs, the equality and justice must come first. Why? Because the moment that there is true equality in the State of Israel and true cooperation, the Arab population can be a stronger agent in achieving peace. That's the first thing. Second, because of the way the State of Israel treats its own citizens, it will be possible to convince the Palestinians that Israel truly wants peace and justice. This will help to cultivate a sense of trust with Palestinian people. They will think, "Israel is treating our brothers, who are citizens of the State of Israel, in a fair manner" so they must have arrived at the conclusion that they want a true peace with the whole range of the Palestinian people. I think the first step, just as the Orr Commission, which discussed the events of October 2000, recommended, that confidence-building measures must be implemented immediately to turn over a new leaf and build good relations with the Arab population and between the Arab and Jewish populations. It is not enough for this to happen between the two populations, or between Arab and Israeli businessmen. Good relations must also be built with the authorities, the state, the government. This, I think, must happen immediately. This will ease the way for the State of Israel and the Palestinian people to achieve a true and just peace for the two peoples in this region.

  • Do you still live in Baka?

    I still live in Baka el-Gharbiye. Some of my children live with me; one lives in Beer Sheva, one in Haifa. I still live in Baka el-Gharbiye.

  • How do the people of Baka relate to your ideas about establishing joint businesses?

    Look, I already said this in my meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last Tuesday. I think that at least eighty percent of the Arab-Israeli population thinks that the connection must be strengthened, thinks that they must integrate into Israeli society. They view themselves, from a citizenship perspective, from a business perspective, as part of the State. And they view themselves as the natural link for advancing peace with the Palestinian people. They support me; they encourage me and turn to me. All of our meetings are successful. It's a fact that businessmen I turn to believe in me and they know that I am working in their interests, the interests of the Arab population and the State of Israel and that there is no contradiction between these. They encourage me to continue my activities. They think this is a holy path that one must invest a lot of energy in.

  • How does the conflict affect your life?

    Look the conflict impacts my personal life in a harsh manner. I'm in Baka el-Gharbiye and it is located on the seam line, just on the Green Line. My mother is from a village that is over the Green Line. So my family is located on the other side of the wall and it is difficult for me to keep up natural and normal contact with them. Even if a relative dies I cannot always participate in the mourning - if they live on the other side of the Green Line. And likewise, it is hard for my relatives, my cousins, to come and participate in my happy events or, mourning, God forbid. The conflict is not easy; it is difficult for me on a personal level. I think that this is what has obliged me to become very active in achieving peace-- in order to fulfill my obligations to my country, the State of Israel, to my family, to my people, the Palestinians. I also encourage all those that I know to be active in the process of building trust, building peace so we can create one economy, open borders and trust that together that two independent countries, Israel and Palestine, can be examples to the whole world of how it is possible to develop an economy, how they together can be good examples to other people of the world.

  • Do you not have a doubt that this process is not moving fast enough?

    By nature I am an optimist; I know that this is not easy. There were periods when I thought it [a peace agreement] was close, and there were periods that I thought it was sort of far away. But I never despaired. Until this day I believe that it must come. The question of whether it will happen in a while or soon is a matter of perspective. I believe with full and complete faith that within ten years there will be peace in this region. Nothing else can happen. There will be peace. There will be two countries here. They will begin to plan and work together and in twenty years Israel and Palestine will be a central source regarding world economic development. From a perspective of human capital, the concentration of capabilities in these two countries is the best in the world. Despite the fact that the two countries are small, they have the human abilities to develop the world. The Palestinians are scattered throughout the world, and among them are those who helped develop the Gulf States. The Israelis are scattered over the world and among them are those that helped to facilitate the economic development of many countries. If we can integrate the abilities of these two peoples it would be a wonderful integration. I have not doubt this is the solution and it cannot be otherwise. I do not see a black future, I do not see that these peoples will destroy each other, but rather within twenty years they will build an economy that will be glorious, but not just glorious—it will also contribute to all of humanity.

  • How does the wall affect your work?

    The wall does not help. And this wall, in my opinion, can cause a delay of a year or two, though they are beginning to realize... but I think we can still overcome this wall issue. I sense that in the two peoples, even if not with the current political leaderships, the majority of Jews and Palestinians are beginning to believe that it is decreed that they will live together. And if they are going to live together, then they should live together under good conditions. There's no escape from that. The extremists of the two peoples will only the marginalized.

  • Do you travel to Palestine? Do you attend meetings in Palestine?

    I tell you, it is not easy. It is not easy. On Thursday, I was in Ramallah. In order to get to Ramallah I had to arrange for an entrance permit from the Israeli army and this is not easy. We also help those who want to visit us and the students participating in our program who need to enter Israel, we help them get into Israel. Sometimes we meet in Jerusalem. Sometimes we meet abroad. But, once again, I hope, in my optimism concerning this place, that in a short period we will be able to hold meetings on a more frequent basis to advance our common interests. There is cooperation between the countries. This is also cooperation on the idea level. We have established an entity that is known as the Israeli-Palestinian Business Forum. It convenes meetings between powerful Israeli and Palestinian businessmen. They discuss how they can develop joint ventures. However, they also discuss strategic projects, big joint ventures, and they discuss how to influence the political leaders to follow their path and about the heavy price the Israeli people and Palestinian people are paying because of the awful current situation. And explain how it is worthwhile for the two peoples to establish peace and, that it is not just good for business, but much blood will be saved from the two sides. The righteous and true and long-term peace.

  • Do you see signs of hope?

    I said in the activities that I meet with them and they are wide and influential. There is a belief on the two sides that concessions must be made, confidence-building measures must be implemented, and that this bloody conflict must be ended, that we must enter into negotiations to achieve a true peace. I can absolutely say that despite the fact that on the face of it the situation is difficult, I see signs that people are fed up with the conflict and want to establish peace, want to build peace.

  • Which international society do you think has the biggest influence?

    Today, in my opinion, the Americans have the biggest influence on the nature of things. But I think that all the international bodies must get involved, the United Nations, Europe, also the Arab countries that believe in peace because that will contribute to the building of the atmosphere, to the building of the economy and to ensure that this peace will be a lasting one. Absolutely, the two sides have a common interest to build trusting relations with the Americans, the administration and people, and also with the Europeans and the Arab countries. The Arab countries that support peace - like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Arab Emirates, Qatar-- are interested in entering the peace process and in reconciliation with Israel. And I think the State of Israel has an opportunity today to integrate into the Middle East. Israel needs to take advantage of this opportunity. And countries like the US, Europe and Egypt can help the State of Israel to integrate and help the State of Palestine to exist and build its institutions and its economy and, in the future, build with Israel a strong economy that will allow them to export to the entire world.

  • What are the biggest misunderstandings of the international community concerning the situation here?

    This is complicated. I think that the international communities did not try to influence the leaders - i.e. Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority and Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel - to stop playing games of ego and honor and to think more about their interest and long term confidence-building measures. I think the international communities are influenced by the extremist behavior, whether the Palestinian terrorists or the Israeli extremists, all of whom made a coalition to neutralize peace-making measures. I think that service must be provided to the majority of the Palestinian and Israeli societies, those who want peace and believe in it, before they lose hope and begin to believe that force, military measures and death are the only way to solve the conflict. Then it will be too late. And I don't want to think about this, because like I said earlier I am in principle an optimist and I think international communities must help us to arrive at the conclusion that peace is the only solution and the only way.

  • What does the word "peace" mean to you?

    Peace means to me two independent countries, the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, within borders, which most people in the two regions agree to, the 1967 borders. Peace means to me that between these two countries there will be open borders, allowing economic and social activities. Peace means to me that it is possible to establish many areas of joint economic activity between the two countries for the sake of creating sources and places of employment for both peoples. Peace means to me that in Palestinian universities and Israeli universities Palestinian and Israeli students can learn together and in the process also develop common cultures. Peace means to me the life here will be quiet for all. Israelis can live in quiet and Palestinians can live in quiet. And both peoples can together think about building a market - culturally and economically - that will serve as a positive example to the rest of the world. And true peace means to me that Israel and Palestine can help resolve other conflicts in other places of the world. That's the peace that I want. End.