In September 1993, before Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin traveled to the signing ceremony of the interim agreement with Arafat in Washington, bulletin boards in Israel were decorated with a glaring blue poster reading, "Only he who dares wins."
The poster called on Rabin and Peres not to delay the signing and to reach as soon as possible what at the time appeared to be at arm's length: A peace agreement with the Palestinians. This go ahead greeting to Rabin was signed by owners and CEOs of Israel's biggest companies, who are today derogatorily called "tycoons." The signatures were collected by businessman Benny Gaon.
That was the start of the public affair between the Israeli business community and the political Left. Businesspeople personally and financially supported the activity of organizations and associations operating under the banner of reconciliation with the Palestinians and an agreement based on two states for two people. Enthusiastically, they participated in Israeli-Palestinian economic conferences and believed that doing business will bring peace closer.
The second intifada diminished the hopes, but the disengagement from Gaza awakened them and reunited the business community under the dovish flag once again. Not for good: In recent years the alliance between the dovish camp and the business camp was dissolved. The Left put the war on economic corporations at the top of its agenda, and the latter sank into a business survival struggle.
Until now. On Sunday, it seems, leaders of the business sector finally realized that they cannot afford to stand aloof and see the last chance for an agreement going down the drain. They overcame their fears of reactions from different kinds of populists, and signed a manifesto calling on the Israeli government to "reach a peace agreement urgently."
The 100 signatories will leave next week for a special day of discussions with the Palestinians in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. Although it will happen at the end of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, the event is at the invitation of the forum and under its sponsorship. This event is immeasurably more important than the glimmering gathering of the forum itself.
The thesis at the basis of the manifesto issued by the businesspeople is the opposite of the claim which has come out of Netanyahu's mouth more than once, both as prime minister and as finance minister, that Israel will prosper and grow even without a settlement with the Palestinians, and that our political situation has nothing to do with our economic situation.
This claim was adopted by quite a few people in the so-called "social" camp, and helped see the peace process as a nuisance and American obsession. The slogan "An entire generation demands peace" was replaced with "An entire generation demands cheap cottage cheese." Now the business community leaders are standing up and saying: Without an agreement, forget not only about cheap cottage cheese but also about a rising standard of living.
The group members include people who have voted for different parties and hold different opinions. They are united by a deep concern for Israel's future. The business sector is now awakening from the illusion of a growing economy without peace, at least partial and practical peace. When will other sectors awaken from this illusion? It's time to put the most important and crucial thing back at the top of the national and public list of priorities – a solution to the conflict.