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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

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Is economic development the only hope for peace?

Tags: Columnists Kelman
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Jay Kelman

Marriage counsellors have long noted that the No. 1 issue couples fight about is money. This is true not only for couples, but for individuals, and even nations, as well. We recently observed Tisha b’Av, with the Jerusalem Talmud noting that the Temple was destroyed due to an excessive love of money. This is the flip side of the explanation given in the Babylonian Talmud, that needless hatred caused the destruction. When there too much love of money, disputes, and even hatred, proliferate. In another passage, the Talmud expresses this idea by stating that Jerusalem was destroyed because people did not act “beyond the letter of the law.” When one demands every right that is legally theirs, society cannot endure. The Hebrew language itself expresses a similar idea. The word damim means both money and blood – too many people have had their blood spilled over money.

Much foreign policy is a reflection of economic interests. It is the rare political leader who can consistently place moral values ahead of economic interests. It is no secret that much of the Israeli Arab-Islamic conflict is tied to economics. Money has only allowed countries such as Qatar to wield undue influence, and there is little doubt that if Israel were an oil-rich country, the geo-political ramifications would be dramatic. That is why the recent discovery of major gas deposits in Israel is so important. It has the potential to have a dramatic impact, in mostly positive ways, the strategic importance of Israel. The success of Israel as a start-up nation has enabled it to become a world leader in so many fields.

This summer, we saw all to well the importance of technology not just economically, but in matters of life and death. We shudder to think of what might have happened if Israel – with much of the money coming from the United States – had not developed the Iron Dome missile defence system. With necessity being the mother of invention, it was reported this past week that Israel is testing a tunnel detection system that it hopes will be operational in about a year.

While it is sad that so much time, energy and resources have had to be devoted to protecting us from those who have less morality than animals, thankfully, so much of what was initially developed for military purposes has found many “civilian” applications – perhaps the most impactful example being the Internet. It is hard for many to imagine life without the Internet, something that was developed as a way for the Unites States military to communicate in the event communication devices were destroyed during the Cold War.

If economics is so often the route to war, it can also be the route to peace. Many noted that Hamas attacked Israel due to the group’s increasing isolation and economic situation, which left it unable to pay salaries. Of course, had Hamas invested the billions of dollars it has received in aid into growing the Gazan economy instead of into missiles and tunnels, life could have been so much better for Arab and Jew alike.

While I make no claims to political expertise, and while I would love to proven wrong, it seems all too obvious to me that there is little hope for a diplomatic solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The gaps are just too wide to bridge, as all attempts to find a diplomatic solution have demonstrated. Rather, if – and I know this is a huge if – the focus could be placed on economic development, something that has happened to a certain extent in “the West Bank” – perhaps many a Palestinian will begin to see the tragedy and futility of focusing on destroying Israel.

It often takes hitting rock bottom before one can begin to rebuild. Let us pray that this summer, we actually have hit rock bottom

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