In June of 1947, then US Secretary of State George Marshall proposed a plan to fund the rebuilding of devastated war-torn Europe based upon an international plan of recovery and rebuilding. The European Union and the Europe of today, with all its ups and downs is the result. The European century of two world wars and tens of millions of military and civilian dead is an image of the past. With all of its current economic challenges, Europe is a relatively peaceful, prosperous and open continent of multiple languages, cultures and religions.
The Israeli-Palestinian future seems to be forever locked in an intractable debate between the unrealistic desire by some (on both sides) for one bi-national state on the one hand and an elusive desire by others (on both sides, but on different terms) for a two-state/two-nation solution on the other. As the clock ticks and neither side moves towards even partial achievement of one or the other outcome, the result is growing unrest, resultant violence and inevitable further estrangement. What is to be done?
I think we need to develop at least a third approach (and hopefully others as well), one that will encourage compromise by increasing the investment in the future by all people living in the region, particularly the Palestinian people on the West Bank and possibly even in Gaza. Marshall’s simple yet brilliant equation of economic opportunity and the more peaceful outcome it could and would engender can be applied as well to the tragic situation on the ground in the Middle East.
Before the inevitable easy dismissal of the development of a Marshall Plan for the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the growing poverty sector within Israel itself, consider what might happen if the residents of those areas had a major infusion of well-paid employment opportunities for the adults, high level free educational institutions for their children, women’s economic empowerment zones, major tourism development, industrial investment, new high quality housing, state-of-the-art water technology, free high-speed internet, and on and on.
Too expensive you say? Consider the cost of the weapons now deployed and produced regularly for use in the growing quagmire of the broader Middle East. For once, give Israel/Palestine a chance to demonstrate to the world that it can become a flowering center of opportunity and growth instead of one of constant bloodshed and bloodletting large and small.
Maimonides, the great Jewish Philosopher (who wrote his major works in Arabic), taught that the highest form of righteousness is to enable another person to become self-sufficient through your gift or loan. A 19th century writer said it more succinctly: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Poor people, with no possible hope for a better future will always be susceptible to extreme and often violent solutions to their misery. Giving the Palestinian people hope and economic prosperity will increase their investment in maintaining a peaceful life for their families. The removal of violence as the tool of political engagement can become the most powerful tool in enabling compromise to dissolve some of the distrust and begin to diminish some of the hatred that currently overtakes every effort at some form of reconciliation.
The Palestinian/Israeli Arab/Jewish divide is neither the most violent nor the most irreconcilable conflict of the past 100 or even 1000 years. If the Jewish people has been capable of rebuilding its relationship with Germany that took six million of our lives, we are certainly capable of forgiving and getting on with business with the Palestinians who have in total killed far less of our people than we kill of each other on the Israeli roads and highways every few years. The Palestinian people have less experience in this domain. So they appear unable to forgive or forget. But it is temporary. Give them a reason to get beyond the slogans and we will be able to build, together, a Middle East of majesty, achievement, justice, equality and peace.
“What is to be done?” is an historically BIG question. Let us begin to articulate, plan and try another way.