Olive Oil without Borders, a project by the Near East Foundation in partnership with Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, is a multi-year initiative to foster cross-border, grassroots economic cooperation and to build relationships of trust, mutual understanding, and shared financial interest among 2,000 Palestinians and Israelis in the olive oil industry. SU is a key partner in this groundbreaking project that creates opportunities and systemic change for economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, according to a letter from NEF president Charles Benjamin. Other project partners include the Palestinian Center for Agricultural Research and Development (PCARD) in Nablus, West Bank and the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, Israel.
In its first year, the project has had a significant impact in the region. Hundreds of farmers, olive mill operators and distributors have participated; 400 tons of olive oil have been traded across borders among participants; and the first ever joint policy commission between the Palestinian and Israeli Olive Oil Council has been organized. These outcomes are consistent with NEF’s goal of helping to shape the way that policymakers view potential pathways for peace.
Catherine Gerard, director of Maxwell’s Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration, and Dr. Bruce Dayton, Associate Director of the Moynihan Institute, have been important advisors on this project, according to Benjamin, which is the first such collaboration between NEF and the Maxwell School. Benjamin said, “Their input has been critical to achieving what I see as a very high level of success – both for our institutions and for the road forward in areas of entrenched conflict. We are grateful for their contributions to the project.”
Gerard and Dayton are planning to visit the West Bank in March, and NEF also has the resources for a graduate student to spend time in the field. These visits are intended to take stock of the first year of project activities and to help strategize for the coming year, with an eye on achieving reconciliation through economic activities. NEF has also been shortlisted for a second multi-year grant for cross-border economic cooperation between Israel and Palestine, which would extend its work with agribusiness with a focus on the critical youth demographic of the area. The organization is also planning similar collaborations for Darfur and Mali.
For more information about the NEF’s olive oil campaign, visit their website.