Of the many regional dilemmas throughout the world, one of the most intractable is the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Much has been written, suggested, tried, and negotiated in an effort to bring the two sides together toward a lasting peace. But, of course, a long-term resolution of the conflict remains an elusive prospect.
Fortunately, due to the evolution of the Palestinian Authority, including the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, there is more reason for hope than there had been in years past. Even the success of Hamas in the democratically-held parliamentary elections is not, ultimately, a barrier to progress, as many Palestinians recognize the value of elected leadership, and want their government to get on with the business of well-functioning operations in the Palestinian Authority. Of course, the US response to the Hamas election in the middle-2000s placed the US in an awkward position, to say the least, by first calling for democratic elections, and then repudiating their result. Even so, there is a sufficient base of positive factors with which to move forward in crafting mutually beneficial initiatives.
President Obama has dramatically reinvigorated the peace process, with strong commitment, a focused team, and his direct involvement. In the early days of his presidency, his meetings with all factions, visit to the Middle East, and statements in support of the Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim, and Arabic peoples have demonstrated his direct leadership in this effort as an "honest broker". The serendipity of circumstance dictates that the time might be right to build bridges between the two peoples and a spirit of cooperation, together with constructive participation from the US, neighboring countries, and other donor nations.
Ideas / Solutions
The US government should stress that interdependence is one of the keys to both sides working together toward peaceful coexistence. It can help garner trust and create a climate in which cooperation is so beneficial that both populations would place themselves at a major disadvantage by not participating in the interdependence initiatives. These efforts can phase out conflicting objectives by constructing apparatus of shared long-term prosperity and by ushering in stability. There is ample room for mutually beneficial efforts and initiatives in which the two populations would have equal stakes in success.
First, one of the biggest needs of both nationalities is for large supplies of fresh drinking water. The arid lands that are presumed to be the territory of a future Palestinian State are especially short of fresh water, and water rights have been a sticking point in the negotiations over the years. Among the options, when there is a shortage of fresh water, is to make more of it.
The construction of desalinization plants is a very complex, expensive endeavor. Yet, in the Middle East, the technology is proven, the skilled labor is available, and there is certainly no shortage of salt water in the Mediterranean Sea. The biggest limiting factor is capital. Of the many opportunities for United States foreign assistance funds to go to a meaningful purpose, this should certainly be high on the list.
Building and operating a number of these plants could provide meaningful, well-paying jobs for large numbers of Palestinians, and the water that they would produce would alleviate the shortage in the region for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Reliance upon this new source of sustenance would demonstrably improve the quality of life for residents and facilitate agricultural production. Desalinization plants would be a pure example of interdependence bringing the two sides together in a joint venture with shared stakes in peaceful collaboration.
A second opportunity for cooperation would be the development of integrated joint ventures in the form of planned communities that include industrial parks, each of which focus on a particular type of technology, scientific research, product development, and/or manufacturing. The focus on a particular industry in each community would enable the participant companies to leverage each other's research, advances, and resources, resulting in synergistic benefits for all participants. For example, communities could focus entirely on industries such as the development of advanced wireless communications, digital content, renewable energy sources such as solar power and fuel cells, recycling technologies, toxic site cleanup and remediation techniques, biotech research, and research into high-yield agricultural varieties that grow in arid climates.
The planned communities would also feature environmentally friendly (e.g., solar powered) affordable housing, high-tech communications and technology infrastructure with fiber and wireless connectivity, community technology centers with computer access and training, health clinics, recreation facilities, basic consumer services, and schools and adult learning facilities. They would be developed with capital from both sides as well as from the US, and possibly even from neighboring countries, and would provide well-paying jobs to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Both sides would share the patents, products, licenses, and other revenue that would result from these industrial parks, in proportion to their investments. Again, interdependence would be a strong incentive to work and live together in such a desirable environment, and, working together would breed greater familiarity and comfort with each other.
A third initiative would be similar to the Family Cultural Exchange Clubs, described in another chapter as a way to combat racism in the United States. These FCECs, Palestinian-Israeli style, would go far in creating a comfort level between the peoples on a one-to-one, family-by-family basis. The FCEC model would be especially fitting in the integrated planned communities described above. Families that participate in the FCECs could even be given preferred status for employment in these planned industry-oriented communities, and could also be given housing subsidies or preferential loan rates on mortgages to purchase a home in the community.
A fourth initiative could be the establishment of schools, both for children and for the continuing vocational education of adults, that would be financed and operated jointly by Israeli and Palestinian interests, along with capital from the US and other foreign donors. A board, comprised equally of Palestinians and Israelis, with rotating leadership, would govern each of these institutions. The two communities would also be equally represented among the faculty and the students, as well as on the sports teams and other activities that represent the schools. The financing for these schools would be sought from local employers and industry groups that would benefit from the skilled labor force and employable youth who would matriculate from them. Private sector involvement and benefit would parallel that which is described in another chapter that discusses American firms sponsoring community technology centers in the US.
A fifth initiative would be the establishment of a regional economic development council, comprised of business leaders in the Palestinian territories and the surrounding Israeli neighborhoods. Together, they could determine which industries are ripe for promoting within the area -- based on needs, capabilities, and market opportunities -- and establish joint-ventures to begin to exploit those opportunities. The council could interface with government and tap marketing resources to create a climate for the infusion of capital into those industries, and collectively reach out to venture capital, banking, and other sources of funds to begin operations. The partnership would showcase collaboration between the two peoples and do so with tangible, meaningful effect.
These and other approaches toward interdependence can go far toward bridging the gap between Palestinians and Israelis, while giving them a shared, and equal, stake in the success of their efforts. Even where such efforts are taken just by the citizenry and private sector interests, without participation of their governments, it can make it untenable and even perilous for governments to resist this trend or act in any way which is inconsistent with it. Interdependence can vastly expand the number of people involved in relationships of mutual benefit, and, in so doing, over time, can turn the tide from combativeness to collegiality and partnership.
While it is not a panacea in itself, interdependence is a critical step toward peace, the absence of which would continue to leave the two populations without a substantial base on which to construct partnerships and a peaceful coexistence. The cost of non-cooperation would far exceed the cost of the initiatives.