The Peace Business (Extract)

By RALPH AMELAN
September 28, 2008 11:25
4 minute read.

 
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Extract from an article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Can Israel's economic movers and shakers remake the political future of the country? The straight answer to the seemingly attractive thesis proposed by the book title is "No, they won't." It's not that Bernard Avishai's fiercely argued contentions are foolish; they are, after all, grounded in his long experience in both the practical and academic business world (he worked as a management consultant in the private sector and is currently a consulting editor at the Harvard Business Review). But they seem to be already part of a fading dream. Well, two fading dreams actually, if you include the author's youthful beliefs about the true purpose of the State of Israel. "It seemed," writes the author, "that an entire people had done spontaneously what every human being should do deliberately - defend one's life, touch one's roots, spread progress, show magnanimity." He is writing of the atmosphere he found in Israel immediately after the Six Day War, but these words roughly summarize the goals of the Zionist fathers early in the 20th century. The society they built, from Tel Aviv's clean, modern White City to the socialist kibbutzim, reached its apogee in the heady days of 1967. But Avishai argues that this dream had been derailed well before then. The seeds of the troubles (as he sees them) that have beset Israel since 1967 were sown by the Zionist fathers themselves. The author in particular cites the "annexationist" settlement ethos that Gush Emunim inherited from the revolutionary Jewish national movement of the pre-state era, and David Ben-Gurion's deal with the ultra-Orthodox which derailed a proposed constitution that would have guaranteed equal rights to Israeli Arabs, The result today, claims Avishai, is that Israel's democratic character is subverted both by the institutions designed to establish the state and by a growing ultra-Orthodox population interested only in emphasizing the Jewish religious aspects of the country. Here Avishai has a point. He recounts the resulting economic, legal and psychological barriers hemming in Israeli Arabs and notes that these have meant that the state cannot command the loyalty of over a million of its citizens. Moreover, they are regarded with a mixture of suspicion and hostility by the Jewish majority. Their frustration, the author argues, threatens Israel's integrity and future, and imperils the prospects for a long overdue peace treaty with the Palestinians. His solution is to redraw the definition of the Israeli state, using globalization as the impetus. Noting that Israeli businessmen are increasingly connected to the European Union and the wider world as commercial life becomes supranational, Avishai asserts that European countries will not tolerate the existing status of Israeli Arabs. Therefore the citizens of Israel will need to be defined by the language they have in common, Hebrew, rather than by their differing religions or ethnicity. He notes that culturally, many young Israeli Arabs already embrace Hebrew. Israeli-Arab academic Aziz Haidar notes that the language "has an effect nevertheless on the shape of a person's mind." The author maintains that the establishment of equal civil rights for Jews and Arabs in a Hebrew republic will entail an equalization of economic opportunities, as well as giving wider scope to Palestinian entrepreneurs. The business community, not the traditional, ineffective peace camp of academics, students and left-wing parties will thus, in effect, become the motive force pushing for peace and equality. This thesis is buttressed with interviews with Israel's movers and shakers, as well as leading lights from the worlds of literature and academe. Avishai assembles an impressive range of interlocutors, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Using skills honed by years of reporting on Israel for such prestigious publications as The New York Review of Books and Harper's Magazine, he converses with them intelligently and sympathetically. Some of these conversations yield fascinating insights. "I need Hebrew to write about freedom. There are words that are precious to me that I know only in Hebrew," says Israeli-Arab writer Sayed Kashua. Netanyahu, himself a hero of the business sector, is less than enamored of the idea that the country's economic needs will force a peace settlement. "The real trigger of the Israeli technological explosion is an effective army which we've needed - will always need - to survive." Avishai is also impressive at explaining how Israeli enterprise and innovation works and the conditions they need for further growth. Here, his expertise is displayed to telling effect. He notes, accurately, that if Israel does not become a place where educated young Israelis want to live, major foreign companies will not set up operations here for want of a workforce, thus limiting Israel's integration into a prosperous world economy. Extract from an article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.

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