Disputes between Palestinians and Israelis might be considered an ever-present fixture in discussions at the ASIL Annual Meeting, in one form or another. Given the frequent breaches in peace and the epic questions of international law that are implicated in any potential solution, it is understandably a topic of perpetual interest at almost any gathering of international lawyers, diplomats, and law students and law scholars. This year, however, that seemingly familiar category had a decidedly different twist. A new series launched by the ASIL Program Committee at the 2012 Annual Meeting, entitled "ASIL IDEAS," selected as one of its inaugural topics the soon-to-be-launched Jerusalem Arbitration Center, or JAC. The purpose of the ASIL IDEAS series is to provide a platform for forward-thinking individuals to share their innovative ideas. The JAC is just such an innovative idea, conceived and on the eve of implementation by its forward-thinking founders.
The underlying economic and practical need for the JAC is palpable and pressing. Despite political conflicts, every year Israelis and Palestinians engage in an estimated US$4 billion in trade. Israel is by far Palestine's largest trading partner and, according to some estimates, Palestine is Israel's second-largest trading partner after the United States. As with any commercial transactions, disputes sometimes arise out of these exchanges. In those disputes, Israelis can bring claims in Israeli courts, and Palestinians can bring claims in Palestinian courts. But neither party wants (or in some instances is able) to participate in proceedings in the courts of the other party's jurisdiction. Moreover, in both directions, enforcement can be difficult, if not impossible. The JAC is designed to solve these problems.
International arbitration has a long history of providing fair, neutral, and reliable dispute resolution for parties from different cultural and legal traditions. In the absence of arbitration, particularly those between Palestinians and Israelis, international commercial exchanges are inevitably hampered by self-help, cumbersome and expensive financing, or piecemeal contractual arrangements. The JAC could provide a better alternative for Israeli-Palestinian exchanges by eliminating expensive work-arounds and increasing the amounts invested in profitable exchanges.
In this respect, the JAC is premised on mutual self-interest. Against this backdrop, the structure of the Jerusalem Arbitration Center is designed to be a symbol of the equality and empowerment that it seeks to ensure through its arbitral processes. Its legal form will be a joint venture, with ownership shared equally between the International Chamber of Commerce of Israel (ICC Israel) and the new ICC Palestine, which was specially created for the purpose of participating in the JAC. It also enjoys support from the ICC in Paris. In addition to the prestige of its name, the ICC in Paris has promised to provide essential guidance and international support in everything from selecting the board of the JAC, to management of an arbitral institution, to establishing its internal accounting system.
The joint venture agreement and arbitral rules are being developed jointly by Palestinians and Israelis, with input from the ICC in Paris. Administration of the JAC will also be divided equally among Palestinian and Israelis, with several international figures on its board and in some of its internal administrative positions. While the JAC itself will be headquartered in Jerusalem, there are plans to build contact centers in Ramallah and Tel Aviv, the respective homes of the ICC Palestine and the ICC Israel. Even if the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority disagree on many things, they have both committed support to establishment of the JAC.
As a practical matter, there have been and are many significant challenges for the JAC. For this reason, it is especially interesting to learn some personal background about those individuals who presented the JAC at the ASIL Annual Meeting and who have been working tirelessly, and often against the odds, to make the JAC a reality. …