How innovation and tech can power the region to a brighter future
After nearly three years as President Trump’s Middle East envoy, working on the US-Israel relationship, Israel's relationship with its Arab neighbors, and a vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I left government service in October 2019.
When I left, someone who was involved in prior peace efforts gave me some advice. He said my involvement in the region would be like the Eagles song “Hotel California” — “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” That resonated deeply with me. The people and leaders throughout the region touched my heart and my soul. I decided to remain involved and move forward potential solutions to the improvement of lives in the region with my own small practical contribution.
President Trump’s vision for peace, set out in the Peace to Prosperity plan in January, is realistic, can actually be achieved and would improve the lives of millions of people. The actual diplomatic solution must be left to the leaders and politicians on both sides, with all its challenges, obstacles and pitfalls, but underpinning that vision is a realization that economic cooperation is a key to pave the way to closer contact that will nurture peace and display the significant benefits to all of a future deal.
The Middle East has recently gone through dramatic shifts. In confronting common threats and pursuing common interests, previously unimaginable opportunities and alliances are emerging. Israel and its Arab neighbors now share increasingly similar perceptions of the threats to their security. If peace can be achieved, the economic and security cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors can create a prosperous Middle East that is connected by a common desire for security and economic opportunity.
Until the Trump administration stepped in, engagement between Israel and its neighbors was often behind the scenes. People were reluctant to speak about it. Over the past three years, Arab countries have become increasingly open about their relationship and engagement with Israel.
Alongside the diplomatic and security issues, there are clear routes to economic cooperation. Israeli technology in areas such as water desalination and crop irrigation can be developed significantly. Startups in the Middle East and North Africa region, excluding Israel, raised $277 million in the first three months of 2020. In the same period, Israeli startups raised $2.74 billion.
OurCrowd, the equity crowdfunding platform in Jerusalem in which I am a partner, held a meeting in February with participants from every nation in the Arab League. Some Palestinians also took part, although I wish many more had accepted my invitation to attend. The time has come for a high-tech summit for everyone in the region. There is so much to be gained by this.
The anti-normalization and boycott philosophy designed to isolate Israel has failed. In the meantime, over the decades, Israel has thrived and the Palestinians have suffered. All sides stand to gain by working together. Cooperation will improve the lives of all in the region — Palestinians, Israelis and all their neighbors. The next generation throughout the region deserves a better future and I hope to play a role in getting them there.
I emerged from my three-year immersion in the Middle East hopeful about future cooperation, but also frustrated that it is taking so long to achieve. I am sad for the many Palestinians I met who seek a better life and are hopeful about finding it, but who know how challenging it is to achieve before the conflict is resolved.
If peace can be achieved, the economic and security cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors can create a prosperous Middle East that is connected by a common desire for security and economic opportunity.
Jason D. Greenblatt
I recall visiting Ramallah in 2015, just after Intel acquired the Israeli company Mobileye for more than $15 billion. I will never forget the young Palestinian tech entrepreneur who said to me: “Please Jason, help us Palestinians learn to build and sell our own Mobileyes.” Israel’s startup nation, its disproportionate amount of disruptive technologies and wealth, is a model for other countries to follow.
I have also seen the rapid development of Dubai and Abu Dhabi into high-tech hubs, where some of the latest technologies are being widely deployed and young entrepreneurs are blossoming with their own home-grown innovations. Saudi Arabia has its ambitious Vision 2030 with so many promising ideas. Qatar has its investment goals and aspirations. The region is poised for growth, energy and investment. The time to act is now.
This is why I have chosen to continue my contribution to the building of Middle East relationships and the improvement of lives by entering the sphere of high tech. I will continue building relationships between Israel and its neighbors in the region, to work on what once seemed impossible — building, together, an economic bridge of peace.
I want to fuel the rapid expansion of venture investing in the region, helping startups to solve urgent problems in medical, sustainable and cyber technology and linking them to the investors they need to bring their wonderful ideas to reality. The COVID-19 pandemic has only enhanced the need for these technologies and the cooperation I am seeking to build.
By working together on investments, innovation and technology, Israel and its neighbors can increase the prosperity of their citizens and power the region to a much brighter future. I am committed to helping create this Middle East 2.0. I hope many others throughout the region will join me.
My aim is to improve lives and help people thrive throughout the Middle East, to connect this region and unlock its incredible potential. Together, we can trigger this change and start to build a new future for all the peoples of the Middle East – and the benefit of the wider world.
- Jason D. Greenblatt was the White House’s Middle East Envoy for nearly three years in US President Donald Trump’s administration. He is now a partner at equity crowdfunding platform OurCrowd. Twitter: @GreenblattJD