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Head of Israeli-Palestinian Business Group to Leave Role

The founding head of the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ofir Gendelman, is leaving his post this month to become the first official chief spokesman to the Arab world for the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.

Gendelman will be replaced by Avi Nudelman, a former lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces. Most recently, Nudelman was head of the Israeli Liaison Office to the Jordanian Army.

The creation of the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce helped stimulate an almost immediate increase in trade between Israel and businesses in the West Bank. In 2007, total trade between Israel and the Palestinians was valued at $1.8 billion. A year after the IPCC's launch in 2008, that number nearly doubled to $3.5 billion.

"The fact that trade has increased so much so quickly is proof there is room for cooperation between us," Gendelman said. He noted that he was proud of the IPCC's achievements, but would one day "like to see a reciprocation including a Palestinian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce because right now the push is only coming from one side."

Next to the United States, the Palestinian Authority is Israel's second largest trading partner. Trade relations with the Palestinians has been a focal point of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration.

In his new role, Gendelman will be responsible for all official interviews with Arab media outlets, including Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia. Gendelman is a fluent speaker of Arabic.

Together with members of Israel's business community, Gendelman founded the IPCC to help move Palestinian goods into Israel faster. The Chamber of Commerce also forged business ties between Israeli and Palestinian merchants, from sectors including construction supplies, building materials and produce, all key components of Israeli-Palestinian trade.

The iniatiation of the IPCC is often credited with helping boost gross domestic product in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Despite the global economic slowdown, GDP in the PA rose 8 percent last year and some economists are looking for a similar jump this year.