Reexamining economic peace

When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu proposed his economic peace plan in 2009, it didn’t go quite the way he hoped it would.

June 12, 2013 21:25
4 minute read.
 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) greets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Netanyahu, Abbas 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu proposed his economic peace plan in 2009, it didn’t go quite the way he hoped it would. The same goes for US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent offer of $4 billion to the Palestinians in private investments.

The Palestinian Authority was disagreeable and did not come to play ball. And therein lies the problem: the PA.

The PA has a vested interest in keeping the Palestinians oppressed. The Palestinians are the largest per capita recipients of aid in the world; they even have their own UN agency. Yet PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ net worth alone is estimated to be around $100 million, and it is well documented that Yasser Arafat embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars. In other words, corruption in Palestinian leadership is and has always been rife, and there is little incentive to improve economic conditions.

This is why Israel, and the world, must work together on creating an independent Palestinian state led by the moderates within Palestinian society. The question is, how do you empower the moderates in an area where your options seem to be violent, corrupt or both? In response to those who oppose a Palestinian state to begin with: Yes, there is the fact that there once was no such thing as a “Palestinian” – it’s a “people” that only really became known as a people in response to Israel. Then there is the fact that there has never been a state of Palestine – ever. And then there is the fact that the Arabs have rejected peace offers repeatedly from the partition plan up until today, for one reason or another.

There is also the fact that the Palestinians and Israelis were supposed to teach peace instead of hatred after Oslo, and the Palestinians have refused to do so. There is the fact that the Palestinian leadership has refused assistance from Israel (and other countries) to resettle Palestinians from refugee camps, and there’s the fact that Palestinian leaders have endorsed and sponsored horrendous acts of terrorism. There is also the fact that the Palestinians have elected parties that have refused to negotiate and have given Israel rockets and bombs in response to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

There are many, many legitimate arguments for why Israel should never surrender any land to the Palestinians. But not all Palestinians are the same, and given the atrocious way in which the Arab world has treated the Palestinians, using them as pawns, the best path for them (and for Israel) is an independent, democratic and free state of Palestine.

Despite the fact that there has never been a “state” of Palestine, many Palestinian families have been in this area for hundreds of years. Many Palestinians don’t teach their children hatred of Jews, or the West. Many Palestinians reject the damaging decisions of their government(s) and oppose violence against Israel.

Many Palestinians are stuck with no viable alternative in government because they are left with the incompetence and corruption of Abbas and Fatah (who also have a history of violence), or the radically violent groups like Hamas – and, I would guess, many Palestinians are scared to speak out because of the stranglehold of groups like Hamas on the political sphere.

Finally, while I do agree that the term “Palestinian” was popularized because of resistance to Israel, there would also be no “Americans” today if not for the resistance against the British. Should the moderate Palestinians be punished because of the egregious leadership of their government? The answer is no, and it is for that reason that Israel, and the United States, and the world, need to help the Palestinian people determine a path to peace that involves empowering the moderate Palestinians. This can only be done through the free market – similar to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s economic peace plan, but without the primary focus on interdependency.

The goal of free market capitalism isn’t to establish trade relations with Israel, but to build up the Palestinian economy in and of itself in order to give those serious about peace an opportunity to rise in society. Cooperation with Israel would just be a side benefit.

We saw in 2009, and again last month, that “economic peace” fails when negotiated through the PA (perhaps because they know it could weaken their grip on exploitation of the Palestinian cause). What will make economic peace successful is finding a way to invest in private companies that will expand the free market in the Palestinian territories.

This has already begun with technology start-ups in Ramallah, but there must be more international cooperation that directly invests in the entrepreneurial activities of Palestinians.

The liberalization of the economy in the Palestinian territories will empower the people and teach them the value of personal responsibility and cooperation.

This, and only this, is what can bring moderates who truly want peace to power. Major providers of aid to the Palestinians, especially the United States and Israel, must determine a way to ensure that the aid previously squandered by corrupt officials of the PA is in fact going to build up infrastructure and help the Palestinians help themselves.

This – not refugee status, Jerusalem, or right of return – is the path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Today, the Palestinian people do exist, and it’s in everyone’s best interests to see that those people have the best possible chance to succeed and build a freer and more prosperous society.

The writer is a blogger and freelance writer, and an MA candidate at Tel Aviv University.

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