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Tuesday night's drive-by murder of Israeli motorist Ido Zuldan was the Iranian funded al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades' contribution to the peace process in the run up to Annapolis. The extremist Palestinian group's message is clear. They reject any political process with Israel and the establishment of a free, democratic, demilitarized, and economically vibrant Palestinian state. Al-Aksa is not alone. Hamas, that today controls Gaza and could soon take over the West Bank according to Israeli intelligence estimates, is also dedicated to Israel's destruction.
This type of Palestinian rejectionism has not dampened the enthusiasm of Israel, the US, and Europe to push forward on the peace track with far reaching economic initiatives to help jump start the Palestinian economy. Quartet envoy Tony Blair has announced a major initiative that he has said recently could create thousands of jobs for unemployed Palestinians.
Israel's president Shimon Peres' recent historic visit to the Turkish Parliament last week is another case in point. Peres spent much energy on the three way agreement signed in Ankara last Tuesday by him, Turkish President Abdullah Gul and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to build an industrial park in the Southern West Bank near Hebron.
The thinking has been that showing the Palestinians economic success on the ground will moderate public support for Palestinian extremist groups. Peres told the Times of London recently, "If people see that in the peaceful West Bank there is stability and the standard of living is going up it will make them question Hamas."
Despite good intentions, however, Israel's less than stellar record in trying to deliver economic success to the Palestinians should be taken into account this time around before expectations are raised unrealistically. Since Oslo's inception in 1993, the often naive and undisciplined Israeli and international enthusiasm for these types of economic projects undertaken on behalf of the Palestinians has killed most of the projects while they were still on the drawing board. Other forms of joint "peace process" economic cooperation have frequently ended up enriching local business warlords and terror groups instead of benefiting the Palestinian middle and working classes.
FOR EXAMPLE, Israeli business magnate Stef Wertheimer's multi-million dollar project in the mid-1990's to develop an industrial park near Rafiah in Southern Gaza crashed and burned when Arafat's local financial warlords got involved demanding their share of the action. Other Israeli led initiatives between 1995 and 2000 to build industrial parks in West Bank cities such as Tulkarm and Kalkilya also failed as Israeli and international investors wanted the commercial centers located near the Green Line to enable more effective control and allow easier access to and from Israel. The Palestinians wanted the industrial zones located deep in the PA areas such as Nablus to maximize local Palestinian control.
The idea of Israeli and international investment and ownership and cheap Palestinian labor has been a fatal flaw. Aside from terror groups, the rejection by the Palestinian middle class of this master-servant business structure reinforces a Palestinian sense that Israel is creating a New Middle East by "conquering" the Palestinian economy and creating an economic "occupation" in the name of the peace process. This was one of the primary reasons that the 1994 economic summit at Casablanca, organized soon after Oslo's inception and highly touted by Israeli officials at the time, fell flat on its face.
Second, prospective Palestinian partners in past industrial developments and other economic initiatives have included local figures such as the "Mohammeds" - meaning Rashid and Dahlan, who have been popular among Israeli and European investors and donor states. However, their reputations for massively corrupt and monopolistic control of PA national projects precede them on the Palestinian street. What Dahlan, Rashid and many other Palestinian "entrepreneur-warlords" are seen to represent among Palestinians is in large part what ended up toppling the Fatah and bringing Hamas to power in the parliamentary elections of 2006.
FINALLY, Iranian backed Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Aksa Martyrs Brigade will not accede to Israeli and Western owned factories or businesses operating in the Palestinian areas. Hamas rejects Israel and its financial partners whom they see as plotting to get Palestinians back to work to entice them away from the armed struggle. Hamas and Fatah's destruction of the Erez and Karni industrial zones in Gaza illustrate their intentions.
This message should be understood by President Shimon Peres and the Turkish government as it moves forward in developing the proposed Palestinian industrial park in Tarkumiya near the Hebron hills. It is particularly true with regard to the Park's proposed location: the West Bank side of the proposed "safe passage" corridor from Gaza. Peres and Blair hope that the 500 acre commercial park will provide jobs to thousands of Palestinians from Gaza who would cut across Israel in safe passage convoys and arrive at work in the West Bank near the planned Hebron Hills site. However, safe passage provides equal opportunity for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups to enter the West Bank and engage in the type of attacks and sabotage that has characterized much of the past 15 years of bilateral peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Political and economic peace making with the Palestinians can not be driven by Israeli, US and European enthusiasm alone. The Palestinian middle class must build its own economy free of threats by Palestinian terror groups and financial control by local warlords. But Israel and the international community must stop undermining the real chance for Palestinian economic development by forcing economic projects on the Palestinians before they secure their own cities and towns and establish a framework for a safe viable civil society, based on an empowered and peaceful middle and professional class.
Otherwise efforts to deliver peace and economic prosperity will only empower radical groups, further entrench local warlords and increase terror against Israel.
The writer is director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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