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Monday, July 22, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The recent “Peace to Prosperity” U.S.-led economic workshop in Bahrain illustrated that presidential adviser Jared Kushner is not the only one who believes an economic pathway is “the precondition to resolving a previously unsolvable political situation.” 

With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as its test case, the summit could represent a new frontier in diplomacy and international negotiations.


According to Mr. Kushner, the $50 billion proposal introduced at the summit would double the Palestinian GDP and create 1 million jobs. The plan features grants for projects like roads, border crossing cargo terminals, upgrades to the Gaza Strip’s power plant and job training. 

While skepticism continues to surround Mr. Kushner’s plan, it appears the proposal is beginning to win over hearts and minds. Though Arab countries condition normalizing relations with Israel on a withdrawal from the 1967 lines, some nations like Bahrain are moving away from this approach. 

In striking public comments for a leader whose country does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told Israeli media during the summit that “Israel is part of this heritage of this whole region historically. So, the Jewish people have a place amongst us. So, communication needs to be a prerequisite for solving all the dispute. We should talk.” 

Clearly, something is working here.

The Trump administration showed the world how it approaches peacemaking — the same way President Trump approaches real estate investing, using practical pathways to achieve practical outcomes. Much like his father-in-law, Mr. Kushner is often criticized for his lack of prior foreign policy experience, yet brought plenty of business experience to the White House. It showed in Bahrain and it could pay off more broadly on the Israeli-Palestinian track and beyond.

Both the Israelis and Palestinians would be well-served understanding their conflict not only in ideological terms but from a dollars-and-cents perspective.

Arguably, Israel’s strongest case against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is that boycotting the Jewish state worsens the well-being of the Palestinian people. In 2015, some 500 Palestinians lost their jobs when SodaStream moved its factory from disputed territory in the West Bank to the southern Israeli village of Lehavim due to BDS pressure. The impact of BDS on Palestinians’ livelihood can potentially be Israel’s most persuasive framing of the boycott issue internationally.

Yet Israel also needs a partner at the negotiating table, and by boycotting and protesting the Bahrain summit the Palestinians refused to seize an opportunity to move toward a more peaceful and prosperous future.

Indeed, the Palestinian GDP per capita is approximately $2,200 in Ramallah, and a recently published European External Action Service strategy document said the Palestinians’ economic situation is “bleak and declining.” 

Coming to the negotiating table in good faith with Israel will enable a brighter future for the Palestinian people. Forget religion or ideology for a moment — the Palestinians must only consider their own economic self-interest. As renowned Arab-Israeli video blogger Nuseir Yassin (Nas Daily) told me last month, “Money fixes most problems.”

A similar dynamic is playing out for Armenia and Azerbaijan, whose decades-long conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory has drained Armenia’s potential for prosperous development in Eurasia’s South Caucasus region.

Gallup’s Global Emotions 2019 report found that Armenians exhibit the greatest prevalence of anger in the world. A previous Gallup poll in 2017 showed that Armenia was among the top 10 countries whose citizens wanted to leave.

What is behind Yerevan’s morale crisis? 

In part, it stems from a seemingly hopeless conflict perpetuated by Armenia’s refusal to negotiate with Azerbaijan in good faith. For instance, the Armenian lobby in the United States rejects the Madrid Principles, mirroring Palestinian rejectionism. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told Armenian leaders on his recent visit to the region that a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which sees Armenia occupy 20 percent of internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory, could put Armenia on a path to modernity and prosperity. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has assured his people of that very outcome, but so far has failed to deliver on the promises of his “Velvet Revolution.”

Understanding their precarious economic situation, it is time for the Armenians to fully commit themselves to the peace process with Azerbaijan.

History has shown that economics can be a catalyst for peace. Take the resolution of the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict. The Ethiopians had an economic interest in peace due to new access to Eritrea’s ports. On the Eritrean side, the supply routes to Eritrea laid out in the peace deal gave the landlocked country a way to diversify its ports around the Horn of Africa. 

Landlocked Armenia could benefit from similar terms in a peace agreement with Azerbaijan.  

Peace is not forged instantaneously at a two-day summit. Yet in Bahrain, the United States provided a fresh strategy for negotiations that can be applied not only to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also for Nagorno-Karabakh and other conflicts worldwide.

• Maayan Hoffman is news editor and head of online content and strategy at The Jerusalem Post.


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