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A tailwind for peace

Israeli and Palestinian business leaders believe peace is worth the risk and are working to keep the process alive

Almost two years ago, the World Economic Forum launched the Breaking the Impasse Initiative, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs who wanted their political leaders to renew negotiations and decisively move towards peace. What started as a private discussion has grown into a public initiative of more than 300 top business leaders who contributed to the relaunch of talks last summer under US Secretary of State John Kerry and have supported the official process ever since through the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos and on the ground in Israel and Palestine.

Given this week’s uncertainty and renewed skepticism about the peace process, I consider it urgent to share key insights from our work, as I believe they show that there is a strong constituency for peace in Israel, Palestine and internationally. This constituency can serve as a “cushion” for political leaders to fall back on and to make some of the difficult compromises required for success.

First, we have seen that the peace agenda is not owned by a particular political or social group. In the Israeli context, we have integrated leaders with both right-of-center and left-of-center affiliations, secular and religious. Equally, in the Palestinian context, the support has cut across the political and societal spectrum and we have had strong engagement from both the Palestinian and Jewish Diasporas. The peace agenda is a mainstream agenda.

Second, we have learned that established leaders are willing to take considerable risks for peace. After all, the initiative started at a time when there were no official negotiations and the business leaders involved were doing so at their personal initiative and without a mandate from their governments. Moreover, as of January 2014, the initiative’s members in Israel and Palestine have been running public campaigns in support of the US-led process. Given this, there must be something “real” about peace if it’s worth the risk for such a wide array of stakeholders.

Third, it’s clear that communication is everything. The solutions to the conflict are well known, but oftentimes what is missing is the willingness to make the tough decisions needed to see them through. This willingness can only stem from wider societal understanding of the issues at hand, of the implications of not achieving a negotiated solution soon and of the interests and concerns of each side. Through both our dialogue in Davos and the dozens of workshops and private meetings that have been held, we have seen top Palestinian and Israeli – as well as European and American – CEOs transform into powerful spokespersons for peace within their societies, turning many sceptics into proponents and enabling common ground to emerge in diverse settings.

Finally, both Palestinian and Israeli stakeholders not only greatly appreciate US leadership, but also see it as absolutely vital for success. Therefore, members of the initiative are directly supporting the efforts of Secretary Kerry and are reaching out to US lawmakers and the business community to make it clear that there is a joint Palestinian-Israeli interest in continued US engagement.

At a time of great uncertainty in the Middle East, the imperative of Israeli-Palestinian peace could not be greater. There is a strong constituency in Israel and Palestine today to help the leaders overcome this week’s impasse and make peace a reality.

About the Author
Professor Klaus Schwab is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, an independent, impartial, not-for-profit Foundation committed to improving the state of the world. He holds two doctoral degrees, one in mechanical engineering and one in economics and social sciences. He spent a year at Harvard University and went on to be the youngest professor at the University of Geneva. He has received numerous international and national honours.