- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

NEW YORK One of the strongest messages to come out of the World Economic Forum this week is that the private sector is increasingly looking for its role in solving the world's political and social problems, and even taking on some responsibilities once shouldered exclusively by states.
At the conclusion of the WEF last night, an assortment of business, religious and labor leaders, academics, nongovernmental organizations and government officials said they were trying to find an appropriate role for business in a rapidly changing, sometimes borderless world.
"We would like to make social entrepreneurship a goal," said WEF founder Klaus Schwab.
But some businessmen are even more ambitious. Take, for example, the Middle East.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are barely able to sit down together, but private-sector leaders say that successful business partnerships could set an example in cooperation and mutual benefit.
"Business people have a responsibility, a social responsibility, to bring people back to the negotiating table," said Walid Nejjab, director of the East-Jerusalem-based Palestinian Electricity Co.
"Politicians build walls; businessmen build bridges," concurred Dan Gillerman, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce. Speaking at a press conference here yesterday, he joked, "Maybe they should privatize the peace process and let us deal with it."
The two are principals in a new business forum for Palestinian and Israeli business leaders designed to foster cooperation.
The two acknowledged that there are no substantial joint ventures yet, as there are between Israeli companies and firms from Egypt and Jordan.
Mr. Gillerman said the time for major partnerships with Palestinian firms is still in the future, but the earliest collaborations would likely be in "small people-to-people projects" in agriculture, textiles, retail and tourism.
"At first, we just need to prove to skeptics that we can do it," he said.
This years's WEF meeting held for the first time in three decades outside an isolated Swiss resort was relatively peaceful. A heavy police presence and the specter of September 11 dampened the anti-globalization protests that have overshadowed previous international conferences.
The New York Police Department reported making nearly 200 arrests over the last five days, almost all for relatively minor charges of tresspassing and unlawful assembly.
Thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully on Saturday demanding workers' rights, human rights, environmental respect and an end to war. The same umbrella groups on Sunday conducted a "snake dance" to snarl traffic in the East Village.
Sunday evening, environmental and animal rights activists staged a more aggressive display of public disobedience, snarling traffic and spilling paint in the mink coat-wearing East 70s. Microsoft founder Bill Gates whose private foundation has given away about $23 billion said the demonstrations are "a healthy thing."
"We need a discussion about whether the rich world is giving back what it should in the developing world. I think there is a legitimate question whether we are."
The outrage of the streets has clearly shaped the agenda inside the meeting halls and discussion at glittering dinners and receptions.
P.B. Watts, chairman of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, said that corporate citizenship is not a luxury, but that it is up to individual companies to decide how to be socially engaged. For example, he said, Shell "gives back" to communities in which it operates, particularly in Africa.


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