Dear friends. My paper is addressed to my peace-loving friends around the world, people who are sad to witness the ongoing war and violence. I am reaching out to you so we can, together with all like-minded people, find everlasting peace.
This is addressed to every ambassador of peace around the world, stemming from our wish to give our children a safe and secure future.
Subject: The Gaza attacks and 75 years of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict … How to stop the bloodshed?
The escalation in Gaza and Israel has reached a scary place, where it is becoming a bloodbath on both sides. Palestinians and Israelis have incurred a large number of civilian losses, with the death toll in the thousands on both sides and the injured in several multiples. It is heartbreaking to watch. Finding a permanent solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a must. This needs to be put at the top of the list of priorities of the world’s superpowers. A multitude of organizations have long been working for this purpose.
However, despite tremendous efforts exerted since the 1990s, no real solution has reached fruition and peace has been elusive. There is an unofficial consensus worldwide that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through a two-state solution. But with the unequal balance of power between Israel and Palestine, with Israel’s growing influence in the world, chiefly with the neighboring Arab countries, and the ever-growing influence of Iran among the Palestinian factions, there is a rising feeling that this solution is no longer viable.
Besides, many challenges stand in the way of achieving a practical and peaceful coexistence in the near future. At the top of these are access to Jerusalem and its holy sites, as well as the connection between the West Bank and Gaza.
The challenges are numerous, but where there is a will, there is a way. Provided that both sides are willing and genuinely committed to living in peace, a solution will be found. We cannot afford for it not to be found.
For decades, I have been working with international organizations, such as the Carter Centre, UNRWA and others, in an effort to promote peace between the two sides. Like many around the world, we want peace. We want our children in Israel and Palestine to have a safe and secure future. This is what the youth of the two nations want: to live peacefully and to prosper.
Peace in the Middle East demands a long-term solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, the urgency of current events necessitates quick action and short-term solutions. These solutions will complement each other and address the political and economic aspects.
Looking at the horrifying situation, the general sentiment around the world is undoubtedly biased toward the Israelis. All of Europe, the United States, and the West are calling for the defeat of Hamas.
True, Hamas initiated the attacks, but the Israeli government has launched what appears to be a genocide, not sparing any soul — innocent or not — that stands in the way. What is happening is not justice or self-defense. It is an act of vengeance that will only lead to more deaths. Despite their deep-rooted differences, this will unify all armed Palestinian parties against Israel.
People on both sides want blood. But is it wise to keep feeding the beast by devoting much-needed resources, time and energy in pursuit of vengeance?
Let us not forget that the current Israeli government has, unfortunately, fostered the feeling of hate among Palestinians toward Israeli civilians through some of its ministers. For example, various right-wing extremist groups staged a provocative visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque on the anniversary of the so-called Second Temple Destruction last July.
I am the first to condemn Hamas’ actions, but does Israel not realize that, through its continued aggression toward the Palestinian people, it is alienating its Arab allies and forcing their hand? Israel’s Arab partners in peace cannot accept its actions against innocent Palestinians for long. And it is our responsibility, as lovers of peace and promoters of coexistence, to act before it is too late.
Through the years, I have met several Israelis from different walks of life; some of my friends are Israeli. I know they always spread peace, knowledge and wealth.
Together, we have a responsibility to act and put a stop to this madness. We may not be politicians or military people, but — as businesspeople — we have the power to influence decisions and ensure a more practical and wise approach to finding solutions. I am hereby proposing a few solutions that I believe will calm matters and place the peace process on the right track.
We need to act now. We need to offer peace and comfort to the mothers, the concerned peaceful fathers, the traumatized children, the elderly, etc.
In terms of short-term political solutions, I would suggest three priorities. First is medical and first aid. The most urgent action needed is to allow medical aid to reach hospitals. Let them have electricity, let them have medicines and supplies, let them have food and water.
Urgent humanitarian aid, including medical aid, first aid, food, water and fuel, has to be allowed to cross into the Gaza Strip. We should also allow the establishment of national field hospitals from all over the world. Further, we must determine the channels through which this aid will be provided, like Doctors Without Borders and other related organizations. And an air-land corridor for urgent humanitarian cases has to be established.
A second solution is to call for the sacking and prosecution of extremist, hate-promoting government ministers. They need to be held accountable for what has happened. Show the world, including the Palestinians, that the Israeli people are fair and righteous and are willing to convict all culprits, even in the hardest of times. These politicians have fostered a feeling of hate and no one should be allowed to get away with this. Israelis should show the world that they stand for what is right and that they genuinely want peace-loving governments.
If that is not possible, then call for early elections to give the Israeli people the right to decide who represents them after the massacres. The newly elected government can then call for an international peace conference, including inviting the Palestinians, to pave the way to peace.
Third is to call for the formation of an executive committee made up of reliable and fair organizations. It should be tasked with: conducting deep investigations into the different Palestinian parties’ loyalties and finding out if their actions serve a foreign agenda; auditing Palestinian leaders’ new-found wealth and identifying what was stolen from the Palestinian people; and organizing and overseeing the election of a new Palestinian government to put Palestine on the path toward reconstruction and peace.
These elections should allow for the participation of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora to reduce the influence of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and to reach a more balanced result. The newly elected Palestinian government must accept the call for an international peace conference.
Meanwhile, there are two short-term economic solutions that I would suggest. First is the creation of a fund to rebuild Gaza under the supervision of an international peacekeeping force, similar to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, but with a more active and advantageous role. It would help Gazans return to their homes and allow them to work and prosper.
If the Israeli people take this action, they will prove to the world their true intentions toward Gazan civilians. Let families return to their homes safely, help them rebuild and allow them a connection to the outside world. To make this fund sustainable and prosperous, you may invite Palestinians living abroad and other businesspeople to donate and support it. But this should be an Israeli initiative led by influential and prominent Israelis around the world.
The fund will specify the resources that will be provided and how. In this regard, it is better to be initiated by Arabs and Israelis, with the two sides included for security reasons.
The fund will be the only entity receiving donations from all regional and international entities. It will determine the reconstruction program, its priorities and its goals. The companies that operate in the reconstruction program will be regional and most of the employees that will be hired to execute the rebuilding process will be Palestinian. This will ensure an effective and rapid reconstruction process.
The second economic solution is to give the Palestinians jobs — allow them to work and prosper. We want people to forget about terrorism. Keep them busy with work, growth and development. Under international supervision, and until the new government is mature and trustworthy, allow them to study and build projects, support scientists and artists, educators, etc.
This is about turning the Palestinian economy into a manufacturing-based economy, in addition to it being agriculture-based. The Palestinian economy currently relies heavily on agriculture, which constitutes most of its gross domestic product.
Thus, land not only has moral value and historical importance, but it is also the only economic outlet and, consequently, the conflict intensifies around it. To alleviate this, industrial and service job opportunities must be created outside the agricultural sector, mainly in the industrial sector. These must be concentrated in the field of manufacturing and high technology, using international and regional investments.
One channel through which these short-term solutions can be achieved is through business people’s diplomacy, which can help to build trust and understanding between countries, leading to increased cooperation and fewer conflicts. This can be achieved through Arab business and public figures who have strong connections with Israelis.
My friends, what is every Israeli and Palestinian dreaming of? Peace, safety and security for their families. Let us work together to make this lifelong dream of theirs a reality.
- Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is founding chairman of the Al Habtoor Group and chairman of Dubai National Insurance and Reinsurance Company. He was previously a member of the Federal National Council, a member of the Board of Directors of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, chairman of the Commercial Bank of Dubai, a member of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the only non-American member of the World Board of Governors of the American United Services Organization, and vice chairman of the Al Jalila Foundation’s Board of Trustees.