Marshall Plan for the Middle East

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Marshall Plan for the Middle East

US President Joe Biden. (AFP)

US President Joe Biden is about to make what may be the most important journey of his presidency to date. He will visit the oil-rich Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, to reassure the Kingdom that it remains a strong ally and that the entire region remains vital to US strategic interests.
I believe this visit represents an even greater opportunity for the President to consider that could resolve one of the longest-running historical conflicts – one that is preventing stronger partnerships and long-term peace in the region. I am referring to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.
A growing number of Arab leaders say privately that they would like to take the same steps towards reconciliation with Israel that we saw with the Abraham Accords in 2020, but that they cannot do so until a solution is reached with the Palestinians . One official I met even went so far as to say he would be glad if he at least “sees a greater effort on the Israeli side.”
We have also heard public statements the likes of which have never been made in the past. In a powerful 2020 interview with Al Arabiya, veteran Saudi diplomat Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former ambassador to the US, spoke candidly about the mistakes Palestinian leaders have made over the years in not accepting Israel’s peace proposals.
A recent secret military summit in Egypt between US Central Command and Israeli and Arab militaries is another indication of changing attitudes due to the unifying Iranian threat.
It may seem counterintuitive given decades of failed peace efforts, but I believe this is exactly the right time to offer the Palestinians a new initiative – one they cannot refuse. What I propose is a “Marshall Plan” that would offer the next generation of Palestinians a future of wealth, prosperity and self-reliance rather than the bleak prospects of the past.
The original Marshall Plan, named after US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, laid the foundation for rebuilding a shattered Europe after World War II and has served as a model for healing other conflicts ever since. Because it could have been the most successful foreign policy initiative in history.
It accomplished many things at once. It has rebuilt and modernized war-ravaged European industry and restored confidence to an entire demoralized continent. But its most important benefit was that it helped pacify Europe, which in less than 40 years had weathered two world wars that killed more than 100 million people.

This is exactly the right time to offer the Palestinians a new initiative – one they cannot refuse.

Ronald S Lauder

If peace between Israelis and Palestinians seems intractable, we should consider that the strong, stable Europe we have known for the last seven decades was never a foregone conclusion after World War II.
Just as the Marshall Plan placed Europe on a solid financial footing, the Palestinian plan should focus on small business creation, housing, hotels, restaurants and job creation that would provide a bright future for the next generation.
Young entrepreneurs could be granted a set amount of money to start new businesses, which would be closely monitored. If they prove viable but need a financial boost after a year, another small infusion could be given. In other words, to provide the Palestinians with all the things that have made Israel and other countries financially viable, which would help create a new and prosperous Palestine.
I think within three to five years per capita wealth would double annually. The more prosperous a future Palestinian nation becomes, the more likely it is that it could be the viable, prosperous country it was meant to be – and every country in the region would benefit from that change.
Funding could be shared by the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, including Israel, which would be the main beneficiary along with the Palestinians.
Israel is one of the world’s leading high-tech incubators. Younger Palestinians know this and are keen to get involved in this sector. Palestinian parents would have to decide whether their hatred of Israel is so strong that they would rather see their children grow up in poverty and die “martyrs” – or share in a better economic future and fuller and happier lives with their Jewish neighbors have families.
In the past there has not always been proper accountability for the aid funds given to the Palestinians. The new plan would need to be overseen by an organization trusted by all sides, with an eye on where the money is going and how it is being used.
Many details still need to be worked out, as there will certainly be problems. But problems arose with the original Marshall Plan and had to be ironed out as it went along. Nothing ever goes quite smoothly, especially when it comes to long-standing and instinctive hatred; Immediately after 1945 there was enough hostilities between Britain, France and Germany to fill volumes. If these countries were able to focus on a better future together, then this is the model we can use today.
The Marshall Plan focused on bridge builders. I know there are bridge builders in the Middle East right now. I met her. I know they want to move forward.
In the end, the Marshall Plan not only helped Europe, but the whole world. Likewise, a new future for Palestinians and Israelis would have benefits far beyond the immediate region.
President Biden and his team have a moment with their upcoming visit to the Middle East to create the same kind of opportunity for peace in a troubled region that the Marshall Plan represented 75 years ago. It’s a moment that could change the world for the better.

• Ronald S. Lauder is President of the World Jewish Congress.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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