In a surprise opportunity for peace, a few hundred business leaders in Israel and Palestinian areas join up to demand their governments make a deal. Unlike other grass-roots efforts, this one has both clout and the courage of conscience.
In ending world conflicts, solutions often don’t start in the halls of government. Young people, religious figures, writers, or academics can galvanize popular momentum for peace. Could this now be the prototype for Israelis and Palestinians to finally achieve a two-state solution?
Last week, a few hundred top business leaders in Israel and the Palestinian territories announced an initiative to “send a message” to their respective governments to negotiate a peace deal. Unlike previous grass-roots efforts – such as joint schools, camps for children, or meetings of rabbis and imams – this one has scope and prestige. Together, the firms represent about a third of the area’s economy and employ tens of thousands of workers.
The Breaking the Impasse initiative was not an easy one to cement. Leaders held more than a dozen talks in secret over the past year. They met in places like Turkey or Switzerland to overcome differences. They had to convince enough business executives to summon the courage to face political heat – even possible threats – from extremists in Israel and the West Bank.
“We hear the voice of the extremists, but the majority is silent,” said Yossi Vardi, a famous Israeli investor in high-tech start-ups. “We believe that most of the people want to get an end to the conflict.”
Businesses often provide a bridge to peace. That was true for South Africa in the 1980s, and perhaps today between Taiwan and China or between North and South Korea. More than 20 years ago, the United States tried to get Arab and Israeli investors to work together. The best model is the postwar alliance between France and Germany to use economic union as a peace driver in Europe.