Tall order for an investing screen

A few years ago, an editing job that I held gave me a chance to tour the West Bank and Gaza on an orientation mission.

One striking aspect of the latter place, in particular: the amount of what planners call "infrastructure."

Along with Gaza's jackhammered roads and its refugee camp stood signs of capital investment: saplings planted along the median of a newly paved street, the construction of an airport. (There were even billboards for a new "national" airline.)

That progress may still stand. Gaza City has so far been spared the military pounding inflicted on the West Bank. But if a Palestinian state eventually emerges, one of its priorities will be to attract outside money to pay for renovations.

The US will keep chipping in. Washington knows that aid and trade can influence behavior. Help a struggling people gain a measure of prosperity, goes one argument, and you might ease the desperation that can give rise to terrorist acts.

Other foreign contributors will likely be regional powers with deep cultural ties to the Palestinians. A few of those will be on Washington's list of terrorism "sponsors."

Does it matter? The US already does business with proclaimed nemesis Iraq, among others.

Careful tradeoffs must be made. And if that task is complicated for governments, it is staggering for small investors.

A new tool that is intended to help emerged this month: a "screen" designed to steer investors away from firms with ties to terror.

That may be a tall order in a world of interconnected companies.

"Social screens" Â- arbitrary by definition Â- appear successful at filtering out firms that profit from tobacco or gambling. Today's lead story looks at how well they can handle an area with more nuances.

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