Nothing can more perfectly illustrate the heightened absurdity of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than the death of Israeli civilian Doron Ben-Shloosh, killed this past weekend by an Israeli guard at the Western Wall; tensions and fears now run at such a high level that Israeli security forces operate so neurotically its own citizens are in danger of becoming collateral damage. At the very least, it represents a narrative where the conflicting parties can be so indistinguishable that even a security guard can mistake a Jewish-Israeli civilian for a “Palestinian militant.” It goes without saying that many would assert Israeli forces have been mistaking plenty of other non-combatant demographics for ‘militants’ for some time now. Details are limited at the time, but it is perhaps illuminating that Ben-Shloosh appears to have been a homeless man.
One thing is certain, as the rest of the region strives for more and more representative governments, the American policy of rubber stamp approval for Israel must be shown the door; no longer is such a position strategically tenable. The rest of the regions’ shifting politics may also contribute factor to why many seem to speak of peace talks as a possibility with an expiration date, especially in regards to a two-state solution. Regardless of whether or not such framing is accurate, the urgent need for movement towards peace is ever more palpable, last November reminded us of that. This makes recent moves to reopen dialogue over the past couple months welcome news.
Late last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that plans for $4 billion in investment in the Palestinian Territories were in the works under the leadership of Tony Blair. As reported in Financial Times, the investment plan seeks to reduce unemployment to 8%, increase minimum wage 40%, and spur a three-year GDP growth of 50%. These are extremely ambitious numbers for a country where ‘economic stagnation’ may be too optimistic a description. Despite this, there is reason to be hopeful: where recent attempts to restart dialogue have rested on finding common ground for peace, subsequently failing, talks that are based in economic incentives may find greater success. Moreover, economic aid to Palestine irrespective of peace negotiations may help improve the country’s position at the diplomatic table.
Such hopes are bolstered by the emergence of a coalition of Palestinian and Israeli business leaders who have come together to push for a two-state solution; news of the group, “Breaking the Impasse,” was received well by both governments. The young initiative cuts right to a crucial, albeit crude fact about the situation: for most, conflict is bad for business. It is in the economic interest of both sides to come to a resolution. Even the most cynical of views understand that an impoverished Palestine means an unstable neighbour in the long term. Of course, there are strong military industrial elements within the region that continue to reap economic benefits from the drawn-out conflict. For the majority of business leaders, however, fighting, walls, disparity, and blockades only hinder commerce.
This compels one to take the initiative as earnest in their goals. However, the same cannot be said of the still vague $4 billion investment plan headed by Tony Blair. Notwithstanding the fact that Tony Blair has an awful track record for setting and meeting deadlines, it remains to be seen if the US will maintain course for investment, or do an about face at the first sign of objection by the Israeli government. If the latter, then the stalemate may be insurmountable for Breaking the Impasse alone. Despite carrying the support of many major business leaders, the aging monolith of US-Israeli relations must fall before any sort of peace becomes truly possible.
There are of course a slew of other concerns for both the initiative and the investment plan. Of greatest concern for the initiative is that they come to the table presuming a two-state solution. Despite the fact that the initiative arrived at this position bilaterally, the fact remains that various other elements on both sides reject this solution categorically. These elements will surely not remain quiet in the time to come. With this in mind, it is hard to say how long the business leaders involved would remain committed if faced with immediate business repercussions for being branded as disloyal or traitorous to their respective countries.
In consideration of the investment and direct economic incentives from the US, it remains to be seen whether or not Israel will be willing to play ball. Potential economic incentives may involve Israel reversing measures put in place punitively after Palestine successfully lobbied to be granted non-observer state status in the UN, the possibility of such action by Israel is dubious to say the least. Furthermore, with the investment plan still under development, it could be the case that any aid would come with unrealistic requirements for Palestine, including pre-talk concessions that haven’t been secured in the past. Yet, in the face of these obstacles, the developments should be seen as an opportunity; if nothing else, they can be a starting point that has the potential to keep the players at the table long enough to start real dialogue. Certainly there is little other movement on such high administrative levels. Between the use of economic incentives and business clout, it may be possible that money can succeed where diplomacy has failed.
Rasheed Hammouda is an Egyptian-American researcher based in London with a focus on MENA economics and contemporary philosophy.