Could Netanyahu’s Economic Peace Make a Comeback?

In lieu of a political solution, Benyamin Netanyahu has long argued priorities should be shifted to economics. Is it a workable solution?

Gedalyah Reback,

Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davo
Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davo
Flash 90

With the window open for new ideas on the Two State Solution, it is inevitable some attention might come back to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's ideas for "economic peace" with the Palestinians, which might be necessary regardless of the political situation on the ground. It was a staple of his 2009 campaign to return to the Prime Minister’s office, something that has not come to fruition since.

What efforts Netanyahu might have been considering are, at the very least, going to be on the backburner according to Gil Feiler of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

"It's not practical. During his first term joint ventures with Jordanians registered a high number of deals, but that was then," said Feiler.

The Palestinian Authority has had some modest initiatives for economic development, particularly the recent building of Rawabi, a sort of 'Palestinian Modi'in' designed as a modern suburb for over 40,000 residents. But Netanyahu isn't looking for major projects like this, rather trade and commerce.

"Even if Bibi wants this, the Palestinians are going to reject it. There is always this claim that he wants the 'physical occupation' replaced with an 'economic occupation.' It's all rubbish."

Right now, as Feiler points out, other political considerations are getting in the way of real Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation. The Palestinian Authority has issued decrees against the import of certain Israeli products. But even in the 1990s the Palestinians had plenty of opportunities to expand cooperation but rejected them.

Past initiatives related to economic peace programs include former President Shimon Peres’ Valley of Peace initiative that included the recently agreed Red-Dead canal project. There are still a number of reasons to believe that Palestinians themselves would embrace a broad effort to get them more integrated into the Israeli economy, based on 80% of Palestinians asked confirming they would certainly be happy with the opportunity to work in Israel in a Washington Institute survey last.

Assuming things become more open, it might be a difficult prospect ever getting the Palestinian Authority to cooperate for business dealings. Arutz Sheva asked Feiler if an effort to circumvent the Muqata was possible, reaching out directly to businessmen in Palestinian cities or perhaps the local leadership.

"It wouldn't work. It's not like in Israel; it's not really a democracy (under the Palestinian Authority). It would be a good idea politically if Bibi could do it and maybe there is some way, but he can't go around them," he said.

Another issue is that Netanyahu is alone in pushing economic relations ahead of a diplomatic agreement, while Feiler finds that only Netanyahu’s view makes sense in this regard because it just delays economic benefits for Palestinians. When asked what he thought would be an effective effort to engage Palestinians economically, Feiler recommended that Netanyahu could kill two birds with one stone by starting at home.

"It would have certain limits, but he should do much more in the Israeli Arab sector, show the world what he is doing and advocate that he wants to do the same in Palestinian areas."

This approach would be much more accessible, encouraging Jewish-Arab business dealings that could lay the groundwork for expanded Israeli-Palestinian cooperation later once the opportunity presented itself.

"This is especially true now after the controversy with the Arab voters."

It might be a public relations idea, but at the same time it would be a viable way to leverage connections among Israeli Arabs to encourage more Jewish and Israeli Arab business dealings across the Green Line. None of this would necessarily have to work along the lines of an inevitable Palestinian state.

"He can also maybe work in parts of East Jerusalem," something he could present not as an indication he is willing to split the city, but as an indirect message to Arabs in Judea and Samaria considering that many eastern Jerusalem Arabs still identify as Palestinian. "It would be symbolic, but it would be wise politically."

Whatever might come of these hypothetical scenarios, Feiler sees this all as tragic for the Palestinians, who are the ones losing out.

"It is to their disadvantage because Israel is much stronger economically. The majority of their imports and exports come through Israel worth billions of dollars. I think it's a great idea (to push) economic cooperation. But if anyone rejects it, it would be the Palestinians and not Bibi," he said.




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