A New Vision for Middle East Peace?

The prize could be great: a stable, prosperous Middle East with a sovereign and viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure Israel at the heart of it.

—British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in advance of his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority

After Jerusalem on Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron will travel to Bethlehem on Thursday to meet with Palestinian leaders including PA President Mahmoud Abbas. He will, of course, express Britain’s long-standing support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. But he is also expected to take the opportunity to unveil a plan to aid the development of Palestinian businesses. Britain’s close relations to the Gulf and Cameron’s own repeated trips there mean the prime minister is well placed to help the Palestinians realize the promise of future prosperity.

Sitting with Cameron on the plane from London were the following (and as the UK Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard says, if this isn’t a business delegation I don’t know what is): Trade Minister Lord Livingston; Xavier Rolet, group CEO of London Stock Exchange; Clive Dorsman, chief technology officer at Talk Talk; Steve Ressitt, CEO Europe of Balfour Beatty; Henrietta Conrad, chairman of Princess Productions–Shine TV; Patrick Vallance, president of pharmaceuticals R&D at GSK; Dr. Alan Belfield, group board director and chairman of Arup’s UK and Middle East division; Dominic Rose, head of strategy at ASOS; Ziko Abram, founder of Kiwi Power; Maurice Helfgott, chairman of MyOptique; Yoni Assia, CEO of eToro; Joanna Shields, chief executive of Tech city; Lord Stone of Blackheath, director of Moon Valley Enterprises; Nicola Cobbold, CEO of Portland Trust; Saul Klein of Index Ventures and UK business ambassador for Israel Tech; Antoine Mattar, co-chair of the Palestinian Britain Business Council; Hugo Bieber, CEO of UK Israel Business; and Liam Maxwell, the British government’s chief technology officer.

In his Knesset speech on Wednesday Cameron asked his audience in Israel (and in Ramallah) to imagine. “Imagine what this land would be like if a two-state solution was actually achieved. Think of all the aspects of life that would change … On prosperity, the possibilities of peace are extraordinary. This is a region where demographics are demanding 40 million jobs in the next decade, to keep pace with the rising expectations of young people.”

Cameron went on: “So imagine the engine of Israel’s economy fully unleashed to work in the region—and to meet the needs that are common to all ... Imagine Israel’s technology working hand-in-glove with those making strides with renewables—securing the future needs of their peoples for a time when their economies can no longer rely on carbon … Imagine the agreements ready to be signed off with every major trading bloc in the world.”

By inviting the Palestinians to look forward to the fruits of peace, Cameron is harmonizing with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who used his Davos speech this year to reframe the conflict. “We often spend so much time talking about what both parties stand to lose without peace that we actually sometimes forget to talk enough about what they stand to gain from peace.” He went on: “Palestinians stand to gain, above all else, an independent, viable, contiguous state, their own place among the community of nations … together, the Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine can develop into an international hub for technology, for trade, tourism—tourism, unbelievably tourism, the holy sites of the world, of the major three religions.”

Cameron is also in lock step with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Speaking to the recent AIPAC conference in Washington, Bibi struck a new tone. Even the left-wing Haaretz newspaper took note. “For the first time in a major speech, Netanyahu used ‘leftist’ language and stressed ‘the fruits of peace’ that Israel will enjoy if it reaches an agreement with the Palestinians. For a moment one could have thought that it was Shimon Peres at the podium or, God forbid, John Kerry.”

And there are voices in Cameron’s Conservative Party urging this sensible approach. Mike Freer, MP, writes on the eve of the trip that “David Cameron should be fulsome about the benefits of success for both sides. It is a mistake to focus on what each side has to give up. Not enough time is spent telling both Israelis and Palestinians what they stand to gain.”

True, economics can’t trump politics. And yet … oh boy, could this long peace process do with a big injection of what I will call “bourgeois” attitudes. It needs a willingness to put aside the Grand Narratives of victimhood and resentment. It needs a willingness on both sides to look forward to a prosaic, peaceful, and prosperous future for future generations. Maybe we have sneered at that kind of sentiment for too long. It is a sensibility too often missing from the “peace process,” on both sides. 

When the current round of negotiations were launched last July, Israel’s lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said something very important while standing next to her Palestinian partner, Saeb Erekat: “I can assure you that in these negotiations it is not our intention to argue about the past but to make decisions for the future.” On Thursday David Cameron is likely to suggest, gently, as a friend, in a very English way, that a similar approach from Mahmoud Abbas would be most welcome.

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