(photo credit: Courtesy)
In June 2012, at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Palestinian and Israeli businessmen decided it was time to gather their communities together to support a two-state solution.
“Only a viable political solution can allow for the realization of the economic potential and thus significantly advance the well-being of both Palestinians and Israelis and help establish security and stability on both sides,” the Breaking the Impasse group’s mission statement reads.
The breakdown of the most recent negotiations between Israel and the PLO has put BTI, which has more than 300 prominent members from the business communities on both sides of the conflict, in a bind.
On the one hand, the group was always intended to be “apolitical,” in that it did not endorse a specific political party or approach to ending the conflict, simply urging a two-state solution by any peaceful means necessary.
On the other hand, it was easier to maintain an ambiguous position when the group was founded, and there had been little movement on the diplomatic front.
Today, with nine months of talks stuck in a ditch and the advent of the unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, BTI faces new obstacles on how to move forward.
“You can’t ignore the Hamas and Fatah deal. It changes the rules of the games,” BTI activist Gad Propper, director and former CEO of Osem Investments, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“I don’t know about others, but my personal opinion is that peace is something you make with enemies, not with friends. Hamas is an enemy, so it’s okay, you have the first condition for moving on. But the other thing is that Hamas has to change some things so that we can talk to them: one is stopping terror, and two is recognizing Israel,” Propper said.
“If these things will happen, then ahlan wasahlen [“welcome”]. If it doesn’t happen, then there’s no room to conduct negotiations if they’re part of the [Palestinian Authority] government.”
In recent months, the group has sponsored an ad campaign expressing support for negotiations. “Without an agreement, we will not be able to preserve the Jewish-democratic nature of Israel,” read one. “Bibi [Binyamin Netanyahu], it is in your hands!” the billboards urged.
Another BTI activist, Catalyst Funds founder Edouard Cukierman, believes the group must make clear there is popular support for a peace deal without getting into the nitty gritty details.
“The idea is that we shouldn’t get into the details,” he said, but added that “it’s hard for me personally to support negotiation with people who don’t recognize our right to exist.”
On the other hand, he said, unity between Fatah and Hamas could increase the chances that the Palestinian government can deliver on its promises.
“There may also be another process so that when there’s an agreement, Hamas will recognize Israel, and then agree to the previous [Israel-PLO] agreements.
But we’ll leave the politicians to make their plan,” Cukierman said.
One way BTI hopes to help entice the political leaders into compromise is by laying the groundwork to ensure that a peace deal will have positive economic effects.
The group has hosted meetings between business leaders from the two sides at international forums, and gotten international partners involved to build infrastructure that could reinforce economic ties.
“We have all sorts of plans for the day after, in joint water programs, in infrastructure, in education, in tourism – all sorts of initiatives,” said Cukierman.
“People will enjoy the economic success very quickly.”
Even with the difficulty of Hamas, both Cukierman and Propper believe that eventually there must be a diplomatic solution.
“We have to stick to this goal of two states for two peoples and peace, and not get stuck in the process as though that’s the goal,” said Propper. “I’m skeptical about the near future, but eventually.
We’re in a timeout right now – I hope there will be another half.”