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The Peres Center for Peace:The start of a new experience…

11 Sep

As many of you may well know I’ve started a 4-month internship at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. Founded by former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, the organisation attempts to encourage socio-economic cooperation and development between Israelis and Palestinians. I am working in the Business & Economics Department which at the moment is working on business-to-business cooperation projects across the divide as well as economic academic research and advocacy based on the principles of a 2-state solution – goals and projects which can seem entirely out-of-place in the current environment where reaching out to “the other” is often deemed a highly contentious act in itself.

It’s been a tough old first week, not least getting used to the 2 ½ hour commute between our home and their offices magically located on the seafront in Jaffa (the Arab part of Tel Aviv). Thankfully the work has been challenging and far from the menial administrative tasks you fear you might end up doing as intern. A mixture of editing, translating, writing newspaper opinion pieces, attending budgets meeting with the EU, as well as the odd business lunch with Israeli and Palestinian academics (discussing water rights in the West Bank) in a swanky East Jerusalem hotel thrown in for good measure – all of which has made the first week an interesting one.

Hopefully I’ll have some good stories and experiences to tell over the coming months. Until then I leave you with this rapidly re-written op-ed piece I was assigned to draft for two academics who are publishing a paper on the upcoming UN bid by the Palestinians. It’s basically about the economic potential of Palestine and the dire economic consequences that it would continue to face should meaningful negotiations remain….well non-existent. It’s a hard task translating a 50-page economics paper full with graphs, tables and lofty economic rhetoric into something relatively catchy and approachable for the general public. Anyway I gave it my best shot and tried to relate it to the ongoing social protests in Israel as means to engage the average Israeli.

Op-Ed: September as a Cross-Road

As much as we try to erect walls, physical and psychological, between ourselves, the future economic prosperity of both our nations remains intrinsically intertwined. The social protests in Israel may have tactically avoided the issue but if social justice is to be based on a fairer division of the economic pie, Israelis must recognize that the size of the economic pie depends on long-term peace between Israeli and Palestine.

Aspirations for social justice are not limited to the protestors on Rothschild Av. but extend to the occupied territories. Whilst on Rothschild Av. the protestors legitimately protested against the millionaire tycoons and decades of neoliberal policies, so Palestinians feel legitimately compelled to protest against the economically restrictive measures intrinsically interwoven into the status quo. Furthermore, the political impasse is endangering the two-state solution by deterring international aid – so long the life-line of the Palestinian economy. This in turn risks stirring up a highly dangerous situation where Palestinian political instability and a depressed economy couple with the frustrated aspirations for a Palestinian state.

Thus we approach September’s UN Palestinian bid with the hope that the “September Process” will revive the peace process. It is true that tensions are likely to be running high in the coming weeks. At the UN Israel is bracing itself for a diplomatic “tsunami” as the General Assembly is set to upgrade the Palestinian’s status. At home Israelis are bracing themselves for the possibility that peaceful Palestinian outpourings of celebration and/or demonstrations will spillover into violent confrontations with the IDF and settlers. However, these legitimate concerns in the short-term must not blind our long-term aspirations

For all the obstacles the occupation places on Palestinian economic activity the potential for a vibrant and sustainable economy remains within our reach. A new economic regime betweenIsraelandPalestine, with a free trade agreement at its core, would reignite the Palestinian economy, 11-12% annual growth over the next decade. A stable sovereignPalestinestate with a prosperous economy will be a dynamic economic partner forIsrael. Israeli companies will benefit from the Palestinian need for Israeli technological know-how and advanced industrial infrastructure and products. Equally Israeli consumers can expect to benefit from the introduction cost effective Palestinian products to the Israeli market. Finally, the prospect of a viable solution to the conflict will enhance stability in the region and in turn provide international investors the guarantees they need for boost investment in Israel.

The peace process (or lack of) need not be framed as an insidious battle to see which side can extract the largest concessions from the opposing party. Instead we should use the window of opportunity afforded to us by the September Process to refocus our negotiations on the win-win situation that can be achieved by economic cooperation and the economic prosperity it can sustain for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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