Imagine trying to sell goods or services without a reliable payment portal. This is the situation of talented entrepreneurs in the West Bank and Gaza who struggle to find work-arounds given that PayPal has not extended service to Palestinians even though it serves the Israeli settlers that live among them.
On August 23rd, the Palestinian IT sector and a coalition of over forty Palestinian businesses and other organizations signed an open letter to Dan Schulman, PayPal CEO, asking him to extend PayPal’s services to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Zahi Khouri, CEO of Palestine’s National Beverage Company and early-stage startup investor through the Ibtikar Fund, says of this effort, “All we want is equal access for our talented young people to bring their innovative products and ideas to the world.”
PayPal’s absence is problematic for the Palestinian economy because IT is one of the only sectors with the potential to grow under status quo conditions of the Israeli occupation. Given that IT products do not require many physical inputs or have to cross physical borders, they are less impacted by Israel’s severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods and people. The occupation also restricts Palestinian access to natural resources such as land and water, which has resulted in destabilizing unemployment rates of 17 percent in the West Bank and 41 percent in Gaza. According to Khouri, by entering the Palestinian market, “Paypal has the opportunity to make a real contribution to alleviating the disastrous unemployment rates in Palestine which are a major source of instability.”
In contrast to Palestinians, Israeli settlers living illegally (per international law and official U.S. policy) in the West Bank are fully integrated into the Israeli financial system and enjoy access to all of PayPal’s services. In their letter, Palestinian entrepreneurs remind Mr. Schulman of his courageous stand in North Carolina and argue that as part of PayPal’s commitment to equality, it must ensure that Palestinians and Israelis living among one another have equal access to its services regardless of religion or ethnicity. It is time, the entrepreneurs say, to add Palestine to the list of over 200 countries (including trouble spots like Somalia and Yemen) in which PayPal currently operates.
Palestinian-American management consultant Sam Bahour, agrees. In a recent op-ed Bahour wrote: “We would be doing ourselves, as Americans and Palestinians, a disservice by allowing any company to deny their service based on ethnicity, heritage, or because of Israeli pressure to enforce a clear suppression of the Palestinian economy via the limitations of occupation.”