As new dramas unfold on a seemingly daily basis in the run-up to Israel’s April 9 elections, the economic, social and security policy positions of the candidates and parties are gradually being revealed.
The Labor Party has publicized its “Paths to Separation” program, for instance, whereby a demilitarized Palestinian state would be established and all construction outside existing settlement blocs stopped. Such a program would, at best, bring the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis to a dead halt. The Blue and White Party also publicized its intent to “separate from the Palestinians,” and while it stated its opposition to a second disengagement or unilateral withdrawal, the clear implication was that in the context of an agreement, withdrawals and evacuations were definitely on the table. In other words, should it come to power, tens of thousands of Israelis may be uprooted from their homes.
It would seem that the heads of the various parties, especially those to the center or left, are dreaming grand political dreams based mainly on what they wish were true. Their political platforms as publicized are liable to lead the Jewish nation to disaster. From further painful expulsions to increased risk of war to more terrorist attacks and deaths, the price of such dreams will be paid by the Israeli citizen, and by the settlement communities of Judea and Samaria.
Israel has not yet fully recovered from the economic and social damage wrought by the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, and is still paying the price for the billions invested in building fences, in the Iron Dome air-defense system, and the costs of the expulsion itself, in the form of compensation for settlers, etc. The State of Israel cannot bear the cost of any more political misadventures.
It’s time to explain to all party heads that what both Israel and the Arabs need is economic and social peace. There is a need for practical economic understandings and agreements that result from collaboration and shared interests. Such collaborations, which already occur on a daily basis, will perhaps not earn anyone a Nobel Prize—or culminate in international headlines or handshakes on the White House lawn—but will lead to economic prosperity and social well-being.
The Barkan Industrial Park near Ariel is an outstanding model for collaboration between Jews and Arabs, and is the wellspring of local employment for both populations. A similar industrial area in Har Hevron is currently in the planning stages, and flourishing businesses and factories are expected to be established there to benefit the residents of Har Hevron and the Negev. The planned industrial area has already attracted extensive interest from business executives worldwide. Politics and political matters are not on the agenda, and do not hinder such collaboration in any way. Increasing the availability of employment via such industrial areas will save tens of thousands of Arabs the difficulty and bureaucratic headache involved in commuting to jobs in Israel proper, allowing them to earn a decent living close to home.
As someone who is well-acquainted with the Arab population and in contact with Palestinians on a daily basis, I can safely state that their distress is not national, but rather socio-economic. What really interests the residents of the area is their health, their livelihood and achieving a life of security, normalization and quiet. This need, they feel, is not sufficiently met by the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, the Arab population is disconnected from its leadership and demonstrates a total lack of confidence in it.
The need of the hour is to expand collaborations to include health, education and other necessary areas as well—not through international initiatives, but through Israeli ones. Once Israel learns to view the settlement communities in Judea and Samaria as an asset and not a liability, as an impetus for change and not a roadblock, it will discover that they are not an obstacle to peace, but rather a bridge to achieving economic and social peace.
Yochai Dimri is chairman of Har Hevron Regional Council.