On Point

What Can Solve the Palestinian Problem? Money!

by Austin Bay

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

The money process -- productive, collaborative economic activity among Israel, Jordan and, yes, Palestine -- was always strategically key to forging a durable peace.

Material betterment of the Palestinians was an understood (if understated) aim of Camp David. The "betterment" process, daily economic collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians, would necessitate direct, positive personal contacts. These contacts would begin to seed a sense of common 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 for justice. At the moment, however, there is little prospect for making headway on that issue. The hardened notions of justice born by a Palestinian suicide bomber or an Israeli settler are not amenable to debate. These notions are burdens of that bitter and divided past.

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

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

War is an ancient means of attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable. America's very much at war. A friend of mine passed on the recent comments of a U.S. Marine back from Afghanistan. The Marine said former 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 in every political scrap. Rejectionists like Al Qaeda members refuse to make deals. True, certitude of convictions can signify moral strength, but that's so 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 even greater power.

Several years ago in Amman, an adviser to King Hussein and I discussed 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 he saw as the pan-Arab economic failure. "Fine, we keep political structures as they are, but open the borders to trade, to business. Economic liberalization. If we make life better economically for people, that lays the basis for change. In time, the confrontation with Israel will fade."

I argued that Arab autocrats fear such change. In Syria, the Assad clan uses both military might and economic corruption to maintain power. "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), economic health will restore dignity."

I know the war process will continue to grind. More blood's been spilled. Hard core believers delight in their hardness. Iraq, Syria and Iran encourage Israeli and Palestinian bloodshed for their own purposes. Those destructive purposes must be confronted.

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

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

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

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