Arse about face and the Bahrain workshop

Primarily said in humor in what was once the British Commonwealth, the expression “arse about face” is often used jokingly in the pejorative sense to describe how not to do things. However, in a Middle East that for several generations now, has found little or no balance of normalcy, a measure of reversed perspective or “arse about face” may be welcome. As a start I would like to refer you to the interview on Israel’s Channel 11 (Kan). The interview is with one of Israel’s foremost analysts, researchers, an author and practitioner regarding the Israel Palestine conflict, Shaul Arieli. And until I viewed this interview in full, I as a self-described peace activist, have regarded the so called “Deal of the Century” with similar skepticism and frankly disdain. For those who may not understand the full Hebrew interview in the attached link, the argument presented by Arieli is widely accepted by most of those who seek a true resolution to this conflict, namely a two-state solution: One cannot address the current problem and conflict regarding Israel-Palestine without first finding the key to a political-diplomatic initiative that seeks clear direction and a meeting of common interests between the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Israel and the powers that influence each of the national interests at stake.

We know that Shimon Peres suggested a vision of a “New Middle East” at the time of the Oslo Accords, one where all parties would work together and find compromise and national expression through a set of agreements with clear tranches and milestones. This had the potential of creating a culmination of mutual interests producing wealth and peace for all countries in the region. It did not work. The extreme right in Israel call it the Oslo catastrophe. The left say Netanyahu buried Oslo. Rabin paid with his life and later Barak paid the price politically in the upheaval of the Second Intifada.

In general, the idea was, and has been until recently, to work systematically towards such a goal of peace, politically through negotiation. This has failed. The ultra-nationalist interests in Israel have pushed the country towards unmitigated settlement in the area destined for Palestine. Hamas and its fanatical Muslim “Holy War” approach have split Palestinian nationality into two major entities, both ideological and geographical. The Second Intifada brought the Palestinian economy to its knees together with the scars of murder and anger that linger on in Israel today. Mahmoud Abbas is in the final stages of his tenure: no one knows who may come next. Israel is in the midst of populist, nationalist blind madness, now considering annexation of most of the West Bank. Arieli – we cannot address the political issues via diplomacy at this stage! That channel has been closed by Trump, Netanyahu, a lame-duck octogenarian in Ramallah and Islamic fanatics in Gaza. Don’t you get it? Whining now about the diplomatic political channel is conceding to the very reality we find ourselves in.

While I am no supporter of Trump and I have no clue who Jared Kushner is and what exactly he is doing in Trump’s nepotic administration, I view the workshop that took place in Bahrain as potentially important and valuable. Why, you may ask? Well, frankly it is the only discussion in town and wisely, I believe, it focuses on an economic vision whereby the wealthy Arab states, the U.S., Israel and others work towards some clear goals to invigorate the Palestinian economy and take it out of the pathetic dependence it now has on Israel and surrounding countries who have for the most part given up on Palestinian self-sufficiency following the Second Intifada.

What are some of the key points raised and the takeaways still to be processed from this summit?

  • A  $50 billion dollar investment plan by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and wealthy Arab states to jump-start the Palestinian economy
  • A reality that puts Israel together with the Emirates and other powerful countries in the region. Though officials of Palestine and Israel were not present there, a profound presence of Israeli business leaders and personalities did attend this summit
  • This brings a message to both Israel and Palestine. For Mahmoud Abbas and the P.A.,“We are sick of your whining and complaining. You have made no headway and while much may be the fault of Israel, a great deal is your own lack of control, process, vision and practical acceptance of the Israel reality.” For Israel, the message is that without true conviction in searching for a sustainable vision for peace, we cannot help.
  • One of the ideas seriously entertained at Bahrain was the provision of a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza which would, together with funding offered, enable the growth of Gaza as a middle east Singapore and the development of the Palestinian economy with contiguous land integrity. This is a powerful message to both Israel and Palestine
  • While this idea has been raised before, for it to now emerge as a joint vision from within the Arab world says much. For Israel the implications are that settlement must stop and ideas of annexation are not tolerable under any circumstance. For Palestine, this means that the initiative is not a patronizing buyout. It clearly entails the vision of a unified Palestine with political and geographical integrity.

So, in a world where process is no longer serial but parallel, and dialogue is no longer one-on-one but rather multi-directional, and where solutions are agile-based not structurally engineered by preconceived dependencies, we may have something here to work on.

In its arse about face burlesque, Kushner’s summit has an oblique message that is very serious: If you want growth, peace and prosperity then unfettered pride and nationalism, whether by land-grab or by mindless terror, simply has no place in working towards a secure future.

Think about it. Or Kushner meyn toches.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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