We have many statesmen here who came from the defense establishment or from the central committees of the various parties. Few, if any, of these leaders came from the business world. The thinking pattern adopted by Israeli governments for dozens of years now is premised on the security narrative. Over the years, finance ministers had been trained to deal with the Israeli economy. Our top economic and political echelons (and regrettably our civilian leadership as well) barely addresses the adjacent Palestinian economy.
Those who honestly discuss peace cannot remove from the equation the immense standard of living gap between the two economies. Here, we have a flourishing economy that keeps growing and approaching Western levels. Only a few kilometers away we have the Third World, scarcity and poverty without hope for a reasonable, appropriate standard of living.
One of the more interesting insights of recent times is that a very modest beginning of improvement in the economic state of West Bank Palestinians, coupled with a rational leadership in Ramallah that views the economy as a major element, no less so than land and historic rights, produces (along with other elements, of course) relative quiet in the area.
Religious radicalization stems first and foremost from the loss of hope. And what kind of hope can a 10-member Gaza family have when it cannot make a living and is closed off on all directions without freedom of movement, basic conditions for acquiring education, and a functioning healthcare system?
Once the hope for a better life is lost, it is much easier to turn into a martyr. Economic development in the territories is an Israeli interest no less than a Palestinian one. Economic development will create more and more objectors to violence, as it would jeopardize their future.
Sensitivity instead of indifference
The relationship between Israeli businesspeople and their colleagues in moderate Arab states in the Persian Gulf, in North Africa and elsewhere will not go anywhere without a fundamental change in our ties with the Palestinians. No economic interest, as powerful as it may be, will convince a businessman from Dubai or Saudi Arabia to do business with Israelis, as long as the flames of the conflict are burning. Whether they like the Palestinians are not, they show solidarity with them.
One of the more successful recipes for doing business is the creation of partnerships with Palestinian businesspeople to jointly approach business figures in Arab states. When an Israeli and a Palestinian sit on the same side of the table opposite a Gulf state businessman, there’s a better chance to close a deal.
I know that it would be simplistic and naïve to think that the economy is everything. Clearly, diplomatic progress must accompany the economic efforts. It’s also clear that much depends on the Palestinians. However, as long as we show indifference to their economic state, which is so inferior, there will be no chance on the diplomatic front.
I greatly appreciate the work of states that donate to the Palestinians, the European Union and the United States. At the same time, we too should be there. Not paternalistically, the way we usually like to do it, but rather, with sensitivity and gentleness.
The economy is our chance, and there’s much we can do.
Idan Ofer is a businessman and among the signatories of the new peace initiative
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