Legend has it the ancient philosopher Socrates decreed “all wars are fought for money.” That isn’t always the case in the Middle East. But money sure does sit at the crux of wars like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Finance is itself an invisible battlefield in the Holy Land.
According to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), around 40 percent of working-age Palestinians under 30 were unemployed in early 2016. “It’s either a ticking time bomb or an amazing opportunity,” Palestinian mogul Bashar Masri told International Business Times.
Meanwhile, the Israeli economy is in the middle of a high-tech boom, including one of the world’s strongest fintech sectors. The Trump administration reportedly pressured Israel into offering Palestinians more economic “benefits,” just as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a passionate anti-occupation speech at the United Nations gathering in New York. However, there’s a lot more to peacemaking than a vague Israeli promise to improve electrical infrastructure and boost the economy.
So International Business Times sat down with Masri to talk about the fledgling Palestinian financial sector. The road to sustainable peace may lie in financial technology. “We’re a nation in the making,” Masri said. “If the occupation ends, we will become the hottest place to invest in the world.”
As of today, there still isn’t a single Palestinian state. Hamas, the Islamic political organization considered a terrorist group by the United States and Israel, rules the coastal Gaza Strip. The rival Fatah movement controls the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Israel, a sovereign nation sandwiched in between the two, controls most of the region’s important electrical and digital infrastructures.
For example, tech-savvy Israel monitors Palestinian telecommunication companies, which still can’t offer 3G services in the West Bank regardless of political promises on paper. “If you want to do mobile banking, you can’t here. Because there’s no 3G,” Masri said. “That’s a big obstacle. Huge obstacle. But it’s less difficult than moving agricultural or industrial goods [past Israeli checkpoints]…finance is not export…