From Oslo to Bahrain

Zooming out of the conflict.

A PALESTINIAN PROTESTS the Bahrain summit (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Being innovative about conflict resolution must go beyond waiting for lightning to strike. As in algebra and life, we usually have to transform problems in order to solve them. We can use our extensive knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to reframe and solve the problem, but we have to think out of the box.
In the introduction to the Bahrain workshop document, the authors acknowledge drawing from past private sector proposals, government planning documents, and academic studies. One example was the Kerry Plan before it was prematurely abandoned prior to the 2014 Gaza War. It focused on developing the Palestinian private economy as an ingredient for economic independence. It proposed a $4 billion plan on projects that would increase the Palestinian GDP by 50% over three years and cut unemployment from 21% to 8%.
The Kushner-Greenblatt economic proposal in Bahrain far exceeds doubling down on the Kerry plan without adopting the single undertaking approach that “nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed,” which led the peace process to repeated dead ends and further rounds of violence. Instead, at Bahrain they proposed an ambitious $50b. investment program funding 179 regional infrastructure projects over the next 10 years (long after Trump leaves office under any scenario). About $27.5b. of that $50b. is earmarked for the West Bank and Gaza, and $28.8b. for Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, although that exceeds the $50b. number by some $6b.
There are numerous good reasons to more than double the Palestinian GDP, create a million new jobs, and reduce poverty and unemployment (now 30% in the West Bank and 50% in Gaza) as a precondition, rather than a result for final-status negotiations. Even if the Palestinians refuse to get on board now, Israel, Jordan and Egypt should proceed with regional projects of mutual interest that could later interconnect with the Palestinian economy as boundaries began to dissolve, intransigence recedes, and a new horizon emerges for technology-led growth in the region.
It’s been 52 years since the Six Day War and 25 years since the Oslo peace process began. The litany of failures to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict highlight that boulevard of broken hearts and dreams. A quick review is in order: There were six now long-abandoned Oslo agreements (Declaration of Principles, 1993; Paris Economic Protocol, 1994; Gaza Strip and Jericho Agreements, 1994; Interim agreement, 1995; Wye Agreement, 1998; and Sharm el Sheikh Memorandum, 1999). Then came the failed Camp David Summit (2000), Clinton Parameters (2000), Taba Summit (2001), Elon Peace Plan (2002), Bush Road Map (2003), Sharm Summit (2005), Franco-Italian-Spanish Middle East Peace proposals (2006), and the Kerry Plan (2014), among others.
Within the Palestinian community, conflict seems baked into all the failed Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreements (2007, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2017) marking the pre-State Palestinian Authority as a failed one so far. De facto, Gaza became a separate administrative area with the Hamas takeover a decade ago.
THE WEST Bank PA has minimal, if any, authority in Gaza. The Palestinians remain sandwiched by the occupation, Fatah-Hamas internecine warfare and the increasingly authoritarian rule of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, now nearly 15 years into a four-year elected term.
Political haggling alone distracts everyone from the urgent fiscal, trade, environmental, business and infrastructure opportunities that could drastically improve the quality of life from Amman to Cairo and all points in between. By mid-century, this alliance of hundreds of cities will coalesce into an emerging corridor of urbanization and include the corresponding desert hinterland. This densely interconnected region’s farthest distance tops out at approximately the distance between Chicago and New York City. The high concentration of people, money, service, trade and production will create a strong backbone of nearly 200 million residents by mid-century. The center of this emerging regional alliance of cities extends from Cairo to Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and Ramallah to Amman to Istanbul.
By skipping from the present paralysis and working backwards from this not-too-distant future, we can see how an alternative future can emerge. This strategy of regional cooperation and integration differs from past cultural maps and narratives that – as we’ve learned from Jerusalem philosopher Moshe Halbertal – overlap and compete to exclude each other. In its place, new social, technological and environmental maps zoom out to build upon inclusive solutions between new global growth poles linking Asia, Africa and Europe through this part of the Eastern Mediterranean. An economic process would incentivize (rather than incite) the population to support negotiated solutions while providing a political horizon enabling workable territorial compromises that could accommodate the two nations between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
During the Oslo period, the operating premise was that a bilateral Palestinian-Israeli peace would precipitate regional peace from inside the conflict outwards. Now, the reverse seems more likely: A regional process could unlock an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Since Oslo, the geopolitical map changed considerably, with Iran’s current goal being to establish of a contiguous line of pro-Iranian entities between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean Sea by supporting proxies in major conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and the PA.
It’s not surprising that the Bahrain workshop focused on a regional multilateral process with economic priorities that could well unlock this current dead end through job creation and capital formation. The opportunity is to create what economists call new path dependencies that can dissolve conflict by enabling outcomes bridging new economic geographies of growth. History matters, but it’s not immutable. Deploying technologies of connectivity would accelerate trade, energy, water, food and agriculture, transportation, digital health, tourism, communications and shared security interests. Ultimately, the past decades proved that only by structuring shared economic interests can political solutions succeed.
The writer is senior director of Milken Innovation Center-Jerusalem Institute and a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem School of Business.