This year’s Israeli-Palestinian Joint Poll found only a slim majority of Israelis (53%) and Palestinians (52%) support the two-state solution. However, when offered additional incentives in the two-state agreement, many who opposed said they would change their minds. One notable example was Israeli-Palestinian economic ventures.
Roughly a quarter of the Israelis (25%) and Palestinians (27%) who opposed the two-state solution said they would change their minds and back an agreement if it included “joint Israeli-Palestinian economic ventures.” Of course, economic cooperation is nothing new in Middle East peace efforts. The reason why this statistic caught my eye though is because it comes at a time when people on the ground are promoting economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians specifically over natural resources.
Thanks to EcoPeace’s lobbying efforts last month, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan agreed on a water deal that would see a redistribution of water from Israel to the Palestinian Territories. Economic cooperation over specific, natural, and scarce resources can be particularly effective in lowering the incentives for war, as it makes the parties dependent on each other to preserve them. One classic example of when economic cooperation over particular resources lowered incentives for war goes back to post-WWII Europe.
Due to the human and economic devastation caused by the world wars, the Europeans wanted to find a way to ensure there would be no war for years to come and allow them to rehabilitate. Then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman suggested creating a mechanism between the European states to cooperate over coal and steel, the key resources needed for war at the time, in order to make war “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.” As a result, 6 European states signed and established what was known as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. It would eventually grow and become what is known today as the European Union, holding together the modern harmony in the region.
A similar approach and mechanism can be useful in regards to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Water, gas, and other scarce natural resources to Israelis and Palestinians may be what coal and steel were to the Europeans back then. The Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives’ (IPCRI) report Two States One Space explains how the European Coal and Steel Community can be a model for Israelis and Palestinians: “The EU’s history could offer important insights. First, its early integration started with strategic and war-related industries, with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which aimed at mark war ‘not only unthinkable but materially impossible…’Consultation with international experts suggested a water and energy sector might be the equivalent to coal and steel in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thus requiring careful attention and adequate design of appropriate mechanisms.”
A mechanism allowing Israelis and Palestinians to further cooperate over natural resources would come with the benefits of previous economic cooperation as well. An economic union on natural resources would require agricultural skills. Palestinian labor workers have proven to be key assets in Israel’s agricultural sector, as the Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group of former military generals, have emphasized the need for more work permits to allow Palestinians into Israel.
Furthermore, allowing Palestinians to work in the Israeli labor market has also proven to be the most effective method in genuinely improving Palestinian attitudes towards Israel. For instance, in his academic article “Attitudes of Palestinians Towards Normalization with Israel,” Palestinian Sociologist Mahmoud Mi’ari explains Palestinian students’ views on cultural normalization with Israel based on their social class. Palestinian students from the working class have shown the most support for cultural normalization with Israel due to their greater contact with Israel and appreciation of the benefits they receive from the Israeli labor market.
Therefore, given that Palestinians can bring their agricultural skills to Israel and working with Israelis allows Palestinians to see Israel through a different lens, what better way to promote peace and improve their relations than by establishing a joint economic venture over the scarce natural resources they both depend on and would thus make war materially impossible?
Whether it is before or part of a peace agreement, the Israelis and Palestinian parties must agree on establishing a mechanism for Israelis and Palestinians modeled after the European Coal and Steel Community. Doing so will not only lead to improved people to people relations, but also eliminate the incentives and material feasibility for future violent conflicts.