Doing business – tangible peacemaking

Anyone interested in conflict resolution works to bring the sides together, people-to people, not just leadership teams negotiating.

Palestinian man walks through the market (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian man walks through the market
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The anti-Israel crowd is all gung-ho on assaulting Israel’s legitimacy. They propose advancing this through imposing sanctions, calling for divestment and implementing boycotts. Indicting Israelis for all sorts of supposed wrongs would be the ultimate thrill, turning the individual Israeli into all of Israel, facilitating the next round of assault. Isolation achieved, the undermining of the very legitimacy of Israel, they argue, is feasible.
The Arab world should consider what, if any, is the dilemma in engaging Israeli companies in business. In the telecommunications sector, for example, where Israel is a significant player, were the Arab world to encourage Israeli companies to bid on tenders they would get better pricing and service from Israel’s competitors across the globe. In the meantime they’re getting milked.
Around eight percent of the cost of every product can be attributed to the freight forwarding component. Across the Arab world they import, from far-away places, products which Israel can ship overnight by truck. Israel could reduce their cost by a number of percentage points. The same is true in the opposite direction.
I first visited Kuwait in 1995 and have traveled and worked fairly extensively in the Arab world, including living in it for a few years. The first real money I made was in business there on behalf of Israeli companies.
Arabs profited as well: clients’ owners, managers and technicians; partners, agents, distributors, others. That’s the way of business.
Business travel includes spending time at restaurants, coffee shops, shisha bars and night life. Conversation inevitably diverges from the business deal at hand, wandering off into politics, family, literature and, of course, sport.
We came to know and understand, to befriend each other beyond business relationships.
THOSE WHO propagate isolating and boycotting Israel don’t know what they’re talking about. Or perhaps they see the pursuit of conflict as their real objective.
Anyone interested in conflict resolution works to bring the sides together, people-to-people, not just leadership teams negotiating. Nurturing business between the sides is making peace in the most real, tangible sense.
It’s time to stop playing sport (as an analogy for a less savory activity?) and start doing business.
In sport one side has to lose while in business, when done correctly, all parties win.
Where better a place to found a relationship than in an activity in which everyone wins? For those of us interested in conflict resolution, we should aspire to a situation where enough people on both sides of the Arab-Israel conflict are heavily enough invested in business together such that the process of understanding, which leads to reconciliation, becomes irreversible.
For those interested in burning bridges, rather than building them, the route of boycotts is attractive. The Arab world and Palestinians in particular should understand that these people will never forgive them when we do reconcile, which we will.
A rational approach leads to a simple conclusion: There is no dilemma. Nurturing business between Israel and the Arab world is real peacemaking.
The writer is an Israeli diplomat posted back home in Jerusalem.