But in July 2010, Netanyahu gave a speech in New York City hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. I attended that speech and noticed something the prime minister said in response to a question from the audience. “Everybody knows that there are Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that under any peace plan will remain where they are,” Netanyahu said. Uri Heilman of JTA noticed it too. “The implication of Netanyahu’s remark—that other neighborhoods of Jerusalem may not remain ‘where they are,’ becoming part of an eventual Palestinian state—was the first hint that the Israeli leader may be flexible on the subject of Jerusalem,” Heilman wrote.
So Netanyahu is three for three; he is to Rabin’s left on all major issues. Netanyahu, more importantly, is much more dedicated to making progress on the peace front than he is given credit for. In May, Daniel Doron, president of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, authored an article for The New Republic reminding policymakers that the last time the West Bank had a booming economy was also the last time there was anything close to peace. His contention was that the concept of “economic peace” is not only viable, but has a track record of actual success—unlike other tactics that have been tried.
Then Doron noted that Netanyahu had proposed a similar plan this time around, having learned from experience what works and what doesn’t. “But his plan fell on deaf ears among the political-solution addicts at Foggy Bottom, whose misguided faith in the PA mirrored their support for other dictatorial regimes across the region,” Doron lamented.
Perhaps history will catch up with Bibi’s opponents the way it always has. The Clinton administration ignored Netanyahu’s proposal for a land swap, and now it’s all the rage. The Obama administration dismissed “economic peace,” but Netanyahu has pressed forward with elements of it anyway, and the economy of the West Bank and Gaza saw GDP growth of 9 percent in 2010.
Here is the International Monetary Fund’s assessment of that growth: “In Gaza, the strong recovery was driven by the steady easing by the Government of Israel (GoI) since mid-2010 of restrictions on imports of consumer goods and inputs for public investment projects, following the tightening of controls in 2006. In the West Bank, growth continued to benefit from higher private sector confidence underpinned by good management and reforms by the Palestinian Authority (PA) supported by donor aid. It also benefited from measures to ease restrictions in early 2010, including the removal of internal obstacles and enhancing the capacity of crossing points with Israel.”
That’s a pretty explicit description of the degree to which Israel is responsible for improving the economic situation in the Palestinian territories. It’s not just removing checkpoints, either. According to a cable released in the WikiLeaks document dump, the State Department was told in November 2008 that if Netanyahu became prime minister, “Netanyahu’s vision would have Israel working with Jordan and foreign donors to inject large-scale investment in the West Bank to improve the daily lives of Palestinians.”
Binyamin Netanyahu has been the leading cheerleader for foreign investment into the West Bank. And, as the IMF statistics show, the combination of foreign donations and investment and the removal of checkpoints make up the majority of the reason for the Palestinian territories’ economic growth.
Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another fourteen years for the U.S. to support progress in the Palestinian territories.
Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.
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