Sunday, February 15, 2004

Look Who's Talking: Gary Heiman

GARY HEIMAN, Businessman, political observer

Gary Heiman is invested in the Middle East. The president and chief executive officer of Reading's Standard Textile Co. is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. He was born in America, but lived in Israel for 17 years and served in the country's Special Forces military unit. On the business side, Standard Textile operates two plants in Israel and two in Jordan. Heiman, 52, recently returned from the region with the Israel Policy Forum, which supports an active U.S. role in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.

WHAT LED YOU to become involved in the Israel Policy Forum?

I've been involved in the IPF since about 1995 or 1996. ... They were greatly involved with both the Israelis and the Palestinians with the peace process.

ON YOUR TRAVELS to the Middle East, do you see any signs that are encouraging for the peace process?

A: What I see now is the reverberations of not just the Gulf War in Iraq, but what's been going on in the region for 80 years. On the one hand, they (Palestinians) understand that they, together with Israel, could fashion not just a better Israel and Palestine, but a better Middle East. They're saying, "we need a leadership that will lead us to a better life and a better future.' From the Israeli perspective, it boils down to one issue: Does Israel really have a credible partner for peace? I know the feeling in Israel is that the Palestinian Authority, in general, and Yasser Arafat, in particular, are not an entity with which Israel can do business.

IF YOU WERE PRESIDENT of the United States, what's the first step you would take in the Middle East?

I really think President Bush laid it out, where he told the Palestinians that they have to create credible and responsible leadership. If they do that, the U.S. will assist them, and they'll have their own state.

HOW HARD IS IT to do business in the Middle East?

It's not difficult at all. Has the economy suffered since the outbreak of the Intifada? Of course. But the economy is strong, and our business has grown enormously over the last three years. We opened our second plant (in Jordan) three months after the Intifada started ... In the Palestinian areas, it's been a disaster, because no one will go there ... it's too dangerous.

AS A BUSINESS OWNER, do you have to take sides?

No, not really. My Palestinian partners, can't say it openly, but they know exactly what the problem is. Their position is, 'Gary, you and I need to concentrate on building business, because that creates jobs and that creates a better future.'

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