If you follow the pundits, then you’re aware that Corona and the Ukraine conflict have basically rung the death knell of Globalization, as countries realize that they have to be more self-sufficient, at least regarding critical resources. In actuality, these commentators (scholars too!) have it only half right – and Israel is a good example of how and why.
Globalization has indeed been found wanting. True, it has led to massive growth in trade, significant decline in world poverty, and for many years substantial decreases in prices across the board – until the past year or so. But when a world crisis hits (e.g., Coronavirus pandemic), and especially if that’s piggybacked on top of another disaster (the Ukraine conflict), worldwide supply chains are rent asunder and serious economic damage ensues.
However, reverting to total national self-sufficiency is not the answer either. No country today can efficiently supply its people with all essential goods and services – especially not smaller ones (population or territory) like Israel. So what’s the answer?
In a word: Regionalism. This is not a new idea or phenomenon. NAFTA (the U.S., Canada and Mexico) has been around for a few decades; the European Union for even longer. Southeast Asia has had SEATO; Africa, the OAU; South America has the OAS (political) and MERCOSUR (economic); the Caribbean countries: CARICOM; and most recently Australia, joining several Far Eastern countries (e.g., Korea, Japan, Singapore etc.) within the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement).
Where’s Israel in all this? The recent Abraham accords with several Gulf States (Sudan and Morocco probably to follow) is its version of regional integration. Although Egypt and Jordan are not officially part of this, the former, especially, has recently begun warming its trade ties with Israel as well. This regional outreach is noteworthy because until now Israel has had to look afar territorially to join (or be unofficially part of) some other regional organization (e.g., the European Union). For the first time in its relatively young history, Israel has established official economic ties close to home – or at least within what’s considered the same “region”.
The advantages of such Regionalism are clear. First, logistically trade is with nearby neighbors. Second, in most cases the countries involved are similar in their culture or political structure – and if not, then one of the connection’s goals is to have them move towards each other politically, even if only at a glacial pace. Third, territorial proximity almost always means common challenges – whether ecological (e.g., massive flooding) or a political threat nearby (e.g., China).
These can be seen in the Israeli case. Yes, politically Israel is quite different than the Gulf States, but they are slowly “opening up” their systems. Trade-wise and tourism: it’s a mere three hours to the Gulf States – a lot closer than Germany and certainly the U.S. Threats? One need merely mention “Iran”; as the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.
None of this is to say that national sovereignty has to be sacrificed on the altar of greater Regionalism. True, Europe’s original trade treaty (the EEC) was knowingly the first step to greater political integration (the EU) – but that was after two disastrous world wars on the European continent. Israel certainly is not considering giving up sovereignty – and neither are its treaty neighbors. Yet, such regional treaties are generally followed by a significant reduction in political tension. For some (think 13 “independent” British colonies in America), “regionalism” (the initial Articles of Confederation) can lead further on to political consolidation; for most others, it simply enables nation-states to function with fewer external threats and greater economic efficiency.
In the final analysis, Israel’s recent inroads into greater regional integration might look like a novum on the world stage (Arabs and Jews acting more than civilly to each other!!), but in reality it is all part of a much larger, positive trend on the broader world stage.