Peace through contracts?
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A University of Iowa law professor has been named a Member of the Court of the Jerusalem Arbitration Center (JAC), a new legal forum for Israelis and Palestinians to settle commercial disputes.
Maya Steinitz, associate professor in the College of Law, has been an advisor to the JAC in the start-up years preceding its launch on Nov. 18. She says the vision underlying the JAC, like that of the parent organization, the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), is the idea of “merchants of peace,” promoting peaceful co-existence through commerce.
“The center will have Israelis and Palestinians coming together as peers to settle disputes peacefully and without political considerations,” says Steinitz, who will be one of only two women on the court. “It’s dispute resolution at its best and can serve as a model for cooperation in other areas of conflict.”
Steinitz says the issue is economically significant because trade between Israelis and Palestinians is estimated at around $5 billion annually. Unfortunately, Steinitz said that various legal and political reasons render access to Israeli and Palestinian courts a difficult and often impractical solution for commercial disputes. Those difficulties in resolving commercial disputes inhibit trade.
So if an Israeli shopkeeper contracts with a Palestinian farmer to provide produce for his market and a disagreement arises, Steinitz says there is, practically speaking, nowhere for them to go for a legal resolution. She says it’s hard to build a cohesive regional economy that benefits both sides when something as rudimentary to business operations as contract dispute resolution is all but impossible.
The JAC has been established under the auspices of the ICC to provide that missing forum. The center’s arbitration tribunals will hear disputes and their awards will be legally binding. The center is located in East Jerusalem and parties can also select other venues for hearings if they so choose. It can hear cases via videoconferencing, too, reducing the need for travel and cutting costs.
She says each case will be heard either by a sole international (that is, neither Israeli nor Palestinian) arbitrator or by a three-arbitrator panel—one Israeli, one Palestinian, and a third agreed to by both parties chosen from a list of ICC-approved international arbitrators. Since the tribunals’ decisions are legally binding, both sides’ legal systems will enforce them as well as the courts of other countries.
The JAC’s founders hope the center will encourage more links between Israeli and Palestinian business owners, leading to even more trade and commerce to build up the regional economy.
“Economic development is key to prosperous coexistence,” she says.
The JAC’s East Jerusalem location is also symbolic in its way, she says, as the area is claimed as a capital by both the Israelis and Palestinians and its sovereignty has been a bone of contention for both sides for decades. But she said the principals all agreed to locate the JAC headquarters there with little controversy.
“Instead of arguing over where it’s going to be and what it means, the founders are being very pragmatic about it,” she said. “Whatever the political solution will be, Israelis and Palestinians have to keep sharing an economy and this is a way to make that work.”