The economy? No. It's the narrative, stupid

November 24, 2016 23:22

One of the most persistent themes in both the Israeli and the international approach to the Palestinian issue has been the notion that the road to peace has a strong economic dimension. According to this thinking, if the Palestinian economy and institutions of governance are developing and Palestinians are feeling more hopeful regarding their material future, the chances for a successful peace process increase, the prospects for a Palestinian state improve, foundations are laid for Palestinian-Israeli trust and, at a minimum, the danger of violence subsides.

This approach has failed. The time has come to reassess it.

To be sure, economic wellbeing is a good thing. Many Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, are extremely needy. Development and aid projects are vital and should continue. But not if the primary rationale is peace.

This conflict does not have economic roots and it is not fed by economic deprivation. It is political, with an increasingly strong element of religious extremism on both sides.

In July 2000, when I represented Prime Minister Ehud Barak in recruiting media support for a hoped-for breakthrough at Camp David, a key talking point was the need for funds for Palestinian desalination projects and refugee compensation.

This conflict is political, not economic

In 2002, after two intifadas, the international community pressured PA President Yasser Arafat to appoint a distinguished international economist, Salam Fayyad, as finance minister on the assumption that economic development and interaction with Israel would help advance a peace settlement. In 2007, too, the "Quartet" (a peacemaking initiative involving the US, EU, UN and Russia) delegated former British prime minister Tony Blair to promote economic development in the territories as a key ingredient of an eventual peace deal.

All these "economic peace" approaches grossly undervalue the Palestinian national drive: the political, ideological and - increasingly - Islamic currents that inform the Arab side of the conflict. This in turn points to a serious lacuna in strategic understanding on the part of both Israelis and third parties. The Palestinian intifadas in 1987 and 2000 took place at times of relative prosperity; and even the Palestinian revolt against the British Mandate in 1936 began at a time of economic progress.

Today, Israeli security authorities seek to bring more West Bank labourers into Israel, arguing that this will distance Palestinians from terrorism. As individual breadwinners, perhaps. But this approach has failed repeatedly at the societal level.

By all means, give the Palestinians aid. But let us not delude ourselves that this will facilitate a two-state solution.

For that to happen, we must first witness radical changes in both sides' leadership profiles, a mutual readiness to cease insisting on totally deadlocked narrative demands like recognition of a Jewish state and the right of return, and a much calmer Arab Middle East.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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