New peace initiative shows economic prosperity

An Israeli think tank offers its solution.

December 12, 2016 23:51
4 minute read.
PANELISTS at yesterday’s Globes Israel Business conference in Tel Aviv listen to a presentation.

PANELISTS at yesterday’s Globes Israel Business conference in Tel Aviv listen to a presentation. . (photo credit: MICHAEL ZEFF)

The Israel Regional Initiative (IRI) group revealed economic research on Monday highlighting the potential economic benefits Israel would reap from a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The data on a hypothetical diplomatic arrangement that the IRI promotes were presented during a panel at the Globes Israel Business conference in Tel Aviv.

“Our initiative takes into consideration the overall Israeli security, economic and political interests and suggests how to advance and break the barrier with the Palestinians in a way that is mutually beneficial for all,” IRI cofounder and executive board member Koby Huberman told The Jerusalem Post.

“The bilateral way has failed. To secure true and prosperous peace we need to tie it to the interests of the Arab countries in the region.”

The 100-page study by IRI’s financial experts theorizes that, with the onset of a regional warm peace agreement, the worth of Israeli exports to Middle Eastern countries would amount to $20 billion a year, leading to an increase of 10.3% in Israeli GDP.

Under IRI’s scenario, Israel’s overall GDP would grow by close to 19% within a decade when combined with the effects of an increase in incoming tourism and foreign direct investment.

“These benefits were never presented in a quantitative way before,” said Huberman.

The IRI is a group of former senior security officials, prominent business people, diplomats, economics professors and entrepreneurs from all over the political map who describe themselves as an “unaffiliated quiet impact influence group.” It was founded in 2011 by Huberman, a successful businessman in the hi-tech sector; Yuval Rabin, son of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; former Shin Bet director Ya’acov Peri; and the late Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, a former IDF chief of staff.

According to Huberman, the IRI has been working for the last five years on shaping and promoting what they call a “regional package deal between Israel and key Arab states.” The IRI believes that such a deal would enable gradual separation from the Palestinians toward a two-state solution and establish both regional security cooperation and an economical plan to rehabilitate the Middle East.

“Five years ago we organized our group for the first time as a private initiative to draft an ‘answer’ of sorts to the Arab peace initiative. We called it the Israel Peace Initiative – that’s how we started,” Huberman told the Post.

Before the panel convened, an IRI representative told the Post that the members of the initiative have been working behind the scenes intensively to promote their initiative with Israeli decision makers.

In essence, the IRI and its package deal is an Israeli initiative calling to agree to the Arab – or Saudi – peace initiative and suggests how to manage this process in a way that will stabilize and benefit not only Israel, but the entire region, while leveraging the interests of key Arab states for Israel’s security from Palestinian terrorism.

During the presentation of the research data and the initiative, Huberman explained that one of the main problems in reaching a bilateral agreement with the Palestinians is the asymmetry between the concessions Israel is expected to make and the securities that the Palestinian Authority can provide or is trusted to provide.

Huberman explained that, “Israel and the Arab countries of the Middle East share more similar interests than many are willing to admit today. Iran is a common enemy, radical Islamist terrorism is threatening all of us in the same way, and all the countries in the region are threatened by economic chaos.

“Israel can leverage these similarities and these interests for its benefit and for all its security needs. We might have to make painful concessions to the Palestinians, but in return we will get so much more from the Arab states,” said Huberman in his presentation.

Huberman and the IRI analyze the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an economic and social perspective and explain how the issues of security and economy are inseparable.

“There is a clear security threat in the region: unemployment. If the Middle Eastern economy is not stabilized, we will soon encounter 100 million unemployed and desperate young men who are easily radicalized. This is true for Gaza and the West Bank as much as for Jordan and Saudi Arabia,” said Huberman.

The research and the initiative were presented during a panel titled, “Peace in the Middle East and Economic Prosperity – Which Comes First?” Huberman had an answer.

“We say unequivocally that first we need a political breakthrough with the Palestinians, and then the economical benefits we described will flow,” he said.

“That being said, there are certain things we need to do right now, regardless of a political agreement, to allow businessmen and investors from Israel and other countries to be able to meet and talk. On this just can’t wait for the politicians.”

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