by Sol Schindler
Because of Secretary Kerry’s perseverance and industry we shall soon see three international conferences underway, all attempting to pacify different corners of the Middle East. Those of us who have run laps around those corners these last few years may wish him well and hold our skepticism in check. But it would be marvelous indeed if he were proven absolutely right and this writer, for example, absolutely wrong. We would all marvel and applaud. But to return to reality, the odds are greatly against any of the three conferences coming to a successful conclusion.
The most ill-fated appears to be the one between the Israelis and the Palestinians. What, one wonders, can they possibly say to each other that has not already been said during the past sixty-five years of on and off again negotiations? The Israelis want to be recognized as a Jewish state. The Palestinians refuse. There are, of course, dozens of other issues they can disagree on, but the existential issue, the one that dams up any exchange of ideas or the flow of negotiations is the existence and character of the Jewish state. It appears that until this issue is resolved there can be no peace.
It is true that two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, have recognized Israel and established diplomatic relations with it. In Egypt’s case Anwar Sadat realized early on, perhaps with a little assistance from Secretary Kissinger, that Russian arms alone could not bring the Sinai back to Egypt. He realized also that to get the Israelis to do something they might be reluctant to do it would be helpful to do something they would appreciate. Since most of the world already recognized Israel it seemed inevitable that the Arab countries would do so also. Egypt thus recognized Israel and received its conquered province back without the bloodshed yet another war would entail.
Jordan, despite or possibly because a good portion of its population comes from Palestine, has never had good relations with the P.L.O. They even had a short war in 1970 as the Jordanians beat off the PLO’s attempt to take over the country. Thus when Egypt, the largest Arab country and their most powerful neighbor recognized Israel, a country they had often had constructive dealings with (in the afore mentioned 1970 war it was Israeli threats that prevented a Syrian invasion), they followed suit. But that is as far as current diplomatic relations go. Most of the Arab world does not recognize Israel and the Palestinians feel strengthened by this seemingly eternal enmity.
Although the current situation is such that the Arabs seem most concerned with sectarian warfare, Sunni versus Shia as in Syria and Iraq, the hatred of Israel is deeply imbedded, and after decades of constant propaganda probably more so today than ever before. Nevertheless not everything is political. Market forces exist that may yet draw recalcitrant players into some kind of a constructive framework.
The Leviathan gas field was discovered in November, 2010 about 81 miles west of the Israeli port, Haifa. Exploration and subsequent exploitation is being conducted by a partnership of one American firm, Noble Energy, and three Israeli firms, Avner Oil & Gas, Derek Drilling, and Ratio Oil Exploration. Exploratory drilling has already taken place and is continuing with encouraging results, while the beginning of commercial production is expected within two years. The first sale, however, has already been announced. The Palestine Power Generation Company has agreed to buy 4.75 billion cubic meters of gas ($1.2 billion) over a twenty year period for use in a power plant it is building near Jena. The Leviathan is a fairly extensive resource and further massive sales are contemplated throughout the region. The Israelis and Noble Energy are happy to see a return on their years of investment and labor, and the Palestinians are equally happy to receive competitively priced natural gas. Here we see a natural standard for moves for peace: an economic agreement which is mutually profitable, which increases the number of well paid local jobs, and which no one wants to endanger because of the possible loss of much needed profits and jobs. Electric bills will be lower across the board and because of this relative cheapness of energy it is conceivable, though not inevitable, that some new manufacturing projects may emerge. There is still sufficient Palestinian capital, not to mention entrepreneurial skill, to make such things possible. Most Palestinians live in or near poverty, however. If responsible, dignified employment becomes available, most would leap at the unforeseen opportunity, carrying with them of course their biases and prejudices but leaving behind ideas of martyrdom and bloodshed. The wish to construct a stable family home with a foreseeable prosperous future for one’s children becomes paramount.
If Palestinians and Israelis can come together to discuss possible mutual profits from current market conditions that is a step forward for peace. The more such meetings, the greater likelihood for a final peace based not on destructive political slogans but the empirical realization that peace is the precursor to prosperity, and that prosperity grows more fruitfully when both sides are engaged.