Mideast Peace Will Come From Strong Economic Relationships

Article Summary
It is time for Israel to examine a new approach as its neighbors become potentially more explosive, writes Israel Ziv. It's time to take China's cue and realize that purely military solutions do not work, but economic ones can.

Now that Gaza has been set aflame once again, Israel's southern towns and villages are one more time under fire, the Sinai Peninsula is turning into a replica of Lebanon and the future of Egypt is still unclear — now is the time to consider a totally new approach — an approach that would provide an effective response to the escalating problems plaguing us and possibly even quell the extremist passions that trigger the barrages of Grads launched from Gaza, the burning of Israeli flags at Tahrir Square and [protest] flotillas like the Marmara. It's about time we realize that purely military solutions can lead nowhere.

China and Afghanistan have recently signed an agreement under which China has pledged to provide comprehensive military support to Afghanistan following the American withdrawal and to step up its investments in the country by $20 billion. China shares a border with Afghanistan and has a significant security interest in its neighboring state: It is concerned over the presence of Islamist terror organizations in Afghanistan and worried about the potential collaboration between these groups and the strengthening Taliban.

China is a world power with a population of over one billion. Yet, the communist regime in Beijing is well aware that it cannot assure its reign merely by enforcing its ideology and bringing its military might into play. People, anywhere, want to have something to put on their plate and to be sure of their future. The Chinese regime has thus adopted a [domestic] policy that combines social-economic processes and limited liberalization and enables it to successfully navigate this huge ship.

The philosophy it implements on the home front, China applies in its foreign policy as well. It takes a pragmatic, economic approach, devoid of any ideology or political considerations, in its dealings in the foreign arena, steering itself wherever influence may be acquired and economic profit can be made.

The Western approach, led by the United States — that of using force and enforcing its democratic ideology — is questionable not only from the ethical point of view of its moral justification and the practical aspect of its effectiveness; it is essentially problematic as far as its impact on global stability is concerned. Intervention, even if originally justifiable, may soon reverse directions and rather than meeting with sympathy, provoke hate. And since any entry has its exit date, what's left behind is usually a much worse situation than the one that brought about the entry in the first place. Present-day disintegrated Iraq is a living example of this.

Israel, which considers itself a regional power, follows in the footsteps of the United States and, adopting the American approach, relies on its military might and deterrence power. Its main problem does not necessarily lie in the conflicting political approaches taken by its governments, as commonly assumed with regard to the Palestinian issue. After all, we have already realized that neither of the two approaches [vying for dominance in Israeli politics] has led to a true peace agreement. The major problem of Israel is its lack of a realistic long-term national strategy, one that looks beyond the current political tenure and that takes into account the possibility that the time may not be ripe yet for a comprehensive solution [to the Arab-Israeli conflict] and that reaching a true [peace] agreement may involve a long process of maturation that necessarily takes its time.

So what can be realized in the short run? First and foremost, an effort should be made to neutralize the prime cause [of strife] — the plight of poverty and bitterness on the other side, which play into the hands of the extremists. An interim phase may be defined, focused on "overcoming the despair" by means of "soft power" [a term to denote the ability to attract and persuade through dialogue and exchange, in contrast to "hard power", associated with military force, coercion and intimidation], the way it is done in Afghanistan. However, there is no need to go so far afield. We can find an apt example much closer to home: Abu Mazen has succeeded in establishing control in Judea and Samaria by catering to the well-being of the people, a strategy which has reinforced his leadership and, at the same time, helped in lessening the motivation to harm Israel and its citizens.

The number of smartphone surfers on the streets of Bethlehem is a clear indication of the local state of mind [in the West Bank]. The Gaza residents, who are in dire straits economically, with no hope in the offing, have nothing to lose. Their ever-growing plight is fueling, more than anything else, the increasing power of Hamas and the other terror organizations. The same holds true for our relations with Egypt: The two sides have failed to base the political peace on deep-rooted economic interests and that's why in the course of the presidential election campaign in Egypt, the nominees running for office could so easily flaunt the flag of cancelling the peace agreement to appease their electorate.

Israel has two options open to it: Maintaining the stalemate, which would inevitably lead to "Operation Cast Lead no. 2" and subsequently, to "Operation Cast Lead no 3" [carrying on the 2008–2009 Gaza War, dubbed in Israel Operation Cast Lead], or adopting an alternative strategy of economy first and only then, political agreement. Israel should acknowledge the rising power of economic influence and general welfare and take long-term actions to produce long-standing positive results for years to come.

The author is an IDF major general (res.) and a businessman.

Found in: ziv, west bank, west, soft power, palestine, israel, gaza strip, gaza, egypt, economy, china, afghanistan, abbas

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