from the 2016-2018 Triennial Report
We present this report during one of the most sensitive times in the U.S.- Palestine bilateral relationship, not to mention a time of great transformation in the respective histories of each nation. In the U.S., the administration is consciously turning the economy inward. Palestine’s economy, on the other hand, is nearing collapse due to the direct impact of decades of Israeli military occupation, but also because the U.S. administration seeks to punish Palestinians for rejecting its policies by withholding financial support. The Trump administration has also severed ties with Palestinians—formerly allies— closing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, D.C., dismissing its diplomat, moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and, most dramatically, merging the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem (which was established in 1844) with the internationally-disputed relocated U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. It has also effectively—and ominously—green-lighted the annexation of land by declaring the occupied Golan Heights to be under Israeli sovereignty.
Despite this crisis, AVPE is more determined than ever to contribute to cooperative Palestinian/Israeli relationships that create hope and a future of freedom and economic independence for Palestinians. We strongly believe that a growing Palestinian economy will make both Palestinians and Israelis more secure.
This report relates AVPE’s strategic redirection based on experience garnered since its founding in 2014. The years of 2016, 2017 and 2018 were a period of analyzing what works, doubling down on successful formulas, hiring staff, and emphasizing knowledge transfer.
We are grateful to the more than 100 individuals and three organizations whose donations made the work and accomplishments of AVPE possible during this period.
We entered 2016 with a portfolio of more than 20 Palestinian companies who were interested in exporting products or services to America. In the last half of 2015 and the first half of 2016, the board worked to find U.S. partners for these Palestinian companies. In July of 2016, the directors met in Chicago to assess our progress and fine-tune our business model. That resulted in a new model, one that emphasizes targeted bridging services.
2016 was a year of learning: we refined our business model, put the organization on firm financial footing, and dedicated paid human resources to our vision.
We had discovered that American enterprises were unable to stay engaged with Palestinian companies through phone calls, emails, and on-line conferences. We needed committed staff in Palestine to build and maintain relationships with businesses and business organizations. In 2017, we added a part-time operations person in Palestine, Reema AbuShaheen, to do this crucial work—work that we were unable to do from thousands of miles away in America.
In April 2017, AVPE’s president, Ed Thompson, spent three weeks in Palestine, coordinating with AVPE’s chair Sam Bahour, Reema AbuShaheen, and Nisreen Musleh, one of our Palestinian directors, to refine our business model and test out ideas with Palestinians in the local business community.
In July 2017, the board approved the new business model and developed materials to market our services to Palestinian companies. Our re-vised model now focuses on fulfilling precise re-quests from those persons or companies wishing to connect to American or Palestinian markets. This revised approach better reflects the incremental nature of building trust and relationships in order to enter new markets. We also signed agreements with several business organizations and presented our services to their members, seeking to attract them to do business in the U.S.
Toward the end of 2017, the Trump administration made decisions with drastic implications for Palestinians. Even though we have never received any government funding, AVPE was unable to get traction in an atmosphere where Palestinians were quite angry at the U.S. Few saw doing business in the U.S. as viable or desirable.
We doubled down on our efforts and began a hiring search for a U.S.-based operations person. AVPE’s president again visited Palestine in January 2018 for one week promoting the organization in Hebron and meeting with other businesses and business organizations in the West Bank.
By April of 2018, AVPE had hired Layla A. Kaiksow as part-time America Operations Officer. We were fortunate to find an American with Arabic language skills, raised in Madison, Wisconsin, who had also lived for 12 years in the West Bank.
By the end of 2018, AVPE had generated a dozen projects to build bridges between American and Palestinian business people. We worked with a class at DePaul University to develop a new website that was brought online in the summer of 2018. On three separate visits, Layla began forming relationships with many of the friends, donors, and volunteers of AVPE in the Chicago area.
In 2019, we hit the ground running, having honed our new field-tested model. The political challenges only reinforce for us that our work can be instrumental in changing the reality on the ground to one that is transformative, constructive, and offers hope for a better future.
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