20 May 2019

NOTE FROM NORM: This is not your father’s Middle East peace plan

In the late 1980’s American car buyers were introduced to the slogan “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” to convince a new generation of car buyers to purchase recently redesigned automobiles.

Today we are learning of an approach that the Trump Administration is bringing to efforts to secure peace in the Middle East.

Rather than focusing, first, on the political issues that divide the Middle East, the Trump Administration is hoping to focus on the economics of the region – an economic “workshop” – as reported on CNN – that will encourage investing capital in the West Bank, Gaza and throughout the region, according to the CNN report.

Intended to take place in Manama, Bahrain June 25-26 it will bring together finance ministers, global and regional business leaders and is being led by Jared Kushner, Senior White House Advisor and White House Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt.

As Kushner outlines this is a new approach to seeing if common ground can be found to stop the Middle East from being the historical power keg it has been for far too many generations.

In a statement to CNN, Kushner states,  “The Palestinian people, along with all people in the Middle East, deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives…People are letting their grandfathers’ conflict destroy their children’s futures. This will present an exciting, realistic and viable pathway forward that does not currently exist.”

It’s a grand vision, to be sure.  And, if successful, may be the catalyst that is needed to create a lasting peace for the region.

It is believed that the planned conversations will focus on four major components:

  • Infrastructure
  • Industry
  • Empowering and investing in people
  • Governance reforms

Truth be told, this isn’t your father’s peace plan.

And, for the first time in a long time, it’s important that it not be your father’s peace plan.

Or, your grandfather’s peace plan.

It’s time we look at the fundamental problems facing the region that have nothing to do with religion or the fights and indignations of generations of Middle East politicians and generals and activists.

As Mayor of St. Paul I often said that the best health care plan was a job – the best welfare reform plan was a job – the best opportunity for a child’s future was his or her parent having a job.

For the Middle East, the best peace plan may indeed be a job.

In other for that to happen the environment must be ready and prepared for investment of capital.

For that to happen you must bring people to the table who understand the value of capital investment and where and how it can make an immediate impact and how it can be sustainable.

It’s the old chicken and egg and cart and horse dilemma – what has to come first:  peace before capital or capital before peace.

We’ve seen what decades of demanding peace before capital has wrought:  An uneasy peace broken time and time again by spasms of violence and discord and further decline in the standing of living of young Palestinians and Arabs.

CNN reports that the workshop will “…studiously avoid the many political issues that have made peace so elusive for so long: issues such as whether the Palestinians will get their own state, the status of Jerusalem, measures Israel takes in the name of security, and what should happen with Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Israel around the time of the state’s creation in 1948.”

To underscore the emphasis on economic solutions, and not political solutions first, CNN reports, “Finance ministers, but not foreign ministers, will be invited along with delegations of business leaders.”

In the end, Arab leaders, particularly Palestinian leaders, will need to come to the table for any plan to work.  Many in the Middle East have already said they are open to seeing where this approach can go.

Others, mainly the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, have already said that they reject the idea that political issues should take a backseat to economic issues when trying to find peace in the Middle East.

But as one official connected to the “workshop” concept says, “Think about how much money is spent on bullets right now…If it could be spent on infrastructure and human capital, think about how much better the region could be.”

This is not your father’s Middle East peace plan.

And, it’s about time.