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Joining Forces for Business: Rahman and Kramer Eye Olive Oil

Mohammad Rahman, a Texas businessman, and Leo Kramer of Washington, D.C., have joined forces to build an olive oil processing plant in the West Bank that will employ 150 Palestinians after construction is completed this fall.

The joint venture is one of seven announced Monday under the auspices of Builders for Peace, a private initiative set up last year to support the Middle East peace process.

A total of 10 American companies have pledged to develop businesses in the autonomous regions of Gaza and Jericho. The companies say they expect to employ over 3,600 Palestinians generating an estimated $168 million a year.

An agreement clearing the way for the ventures between the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the Palestinians and the American businesses was announced Monday at a ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Vice President Al Gore, heading the program at the Old Executive Office Building, hailed the programs as “the first in what we hope will be a series of profitable new business ventures.”

Noting the Jewish High Holidays, Gore said the holidays “allow us to reflect on the year that has passed,” and “cause us to look ahead and make resolutions about what we intend to do to create a future worthy of our children and grandchildren.”

Builders for Peace emerged under Gore’s leadership last September as a means to build bridges between the American Jewish and Arab communities to shore up private investments in the Palestinian territories.

‘COMMITTED TO THE LONG HAUL’

Co-chaired by James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, and former Congressman Mel Levine, Builders for Peace, with the help of loan guarantees from the Overseas Private Investment Corp., have “committed to the long haul,” Zogby said.

“These are the building blocks for the future,” Zogby said.

Levine said there are many more projects in the pipeline that he expects will come to fruition in the coming months.

Some participants will also receive technical assistance and help with feasibility studies from the United States Trade and Development Agency, the chairmen said.

Among the other projects launched at the ceremony are a $7 million venture by Astrum International to bottle spring water in Jericho and a $58 million construction deal to build motels in Gaza by GRdG of Virginia.

Other companies have committed themselves to building a furniture factory, a manufacturing plant for concrete, condominiums and a crude-oil processing plant.

Most of the projects are slated to begin before the first of the year.

About 100 people attended the ceremony, including Israeli Ambassador Itamar Rabinovich; Lester Pollack, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Other events held this week to commemorate the Sept. 13 signing of the Declaration of Principles included a luncheon featuring Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin and Nabil Sha’ath, minister of planning for the Palestinian Authority.

The luncheon was co-sponsored by the Arab American Institute and Americans for Peace Now.

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