On Point: What Can Solve the Palestinian Problem? Money!

by Austin Bay
May 8, 2002

For the moment, let's slink around the Israeli-Palestinian warprocess and peace process, and get to what ultimately makes or breakslong-term political solutions: the money process

The money process -- productive, collaborative economic activityamong Israel, Jordan and, yes, Palestine -- was always strategically key toforging a durable peace.

Material betterment of the Palestinians was an understood (ifunderstated) aim of Camp David. The "betterment" process, daily economiccollaboration between Israelis and Palestinians, would necessitate direct,positive personal contacts. These contacts would begin to seed a sense ofcommon future. A sense of common future was the door to escaping a bitter,divided past.

I'm not ignoring another process also at play, the need forjustice. At the moment, however, there is little prospect for making headwayon that issue. The hardened notions of justice born by a Palestinian suicidebomber or an Israeli settler are not amenable to debate. These notions areburdens of that bitter and divided past.

A very famous resident of this embattled region, Jesus ofNazareth, told us, "Man does not live by bread alone." No, we aren't merecreatures of the market. Meeting material needs doesn't assure happiness.Christ also preached a gospel of forgiveness, a good way to improve thecommon future and attain justice -- albeit His best future was a kingdom notof this world.

But we humans have to live in this world. On a planetincreasingly linked by instant communications, people are asked to reconcilethe irreconcilable, to cushion the collision of competing myths and ideas.The idea of "reborn Israel" with biblically ordained land rights meeting anIslamist's sense of Allah-ordained "Muslim supremacy" is one such collision.

War is an ancient means of attempting to reconcile theirreconcilable. America's very much at war. A friend of mine passed on therecent comments of a U.S. Marine back from Afghanistan. The Marine saidformer Taliban fighters were "no problem," but the boys in Al Qaeda --forget it. "There's no reasoning with 'em."

"Marginalizing extremists" is key to reaching compromise inevery political scrap. Rejectionists like Al Qaeda members refuse to makedeals. True, certitude of convictions can signify moral strength, but that'sso rare. Show me the moral strength in cutting a flight attendant's throat.The Al Qaedaites' fuel is desire for domination, ego instead of God.

Would that bread spoke to them.

But bread does speak to the vast majority of human beings.Making more bread, sharing it, trading it, even selling it speaks with evengreater power.

Several years ago in Amman, an adviser to King Hussein and Idiscussed the money process over a long, not for attribution cup of tea."Economic improvement is the key to escaping our bad situation," he said.And by bad situation he didn't mean simply Jordan and Palestine, but what hesaw as the pan-Arab economic failure. "Fine, we keep political structures asthey are, but open the borders to trade, to business. Economicliberalization. If we make life better economically for people, that laysthe basis for change. In time, the confrontation with Israel will fade."

I argued that Arab autocrats fear such change. In Syria, theAssad clan uses both military might and economic corruption to maintainpower. "Damascus won't do it," I said. "Too risky."

"I hear differently from inside Syria," he replied. "I tell you,economic improvement is the only real hope. (Among Palestinians), economichealth will restore dignity."

I know the war process will continue to grind. More blood's beenspilled. Hard core believers delight in their hardness. Iraq, Syria and Iranencourage Israeli and Palestinian bloodshed for their own purposes. Thosedestructive purposes must be confronted.

But even in this dark time, the money process must not beignored.

If Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah and Israel's Ariel Sharon areserious about peace, maybe they should step back from the map and go to theteller's cage. One kickstart to a real peace process would be theestablishment of a new Saudi-Israeli regional development bank. They mightalso discuss ways to protect businesspeople in the region from politicalextortion. They might discuss loaning $25,000 to entrepreneurs instead ofgiving it to the families of suicide bombers.

It may be a distant future, but a real, resilient peace willfollow the money.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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