Israel currently has a rare opportunity to move towards true economic regional cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the leading Arab states, chief among them Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A multilateral approach is needed to confront the many challenges the moderate and pragmatic nations in the region face, and to move the region in a more peaceful and prosperous direction.
The current realities of the Middle East, the rise of ISIS and other terrorist organizations and the drive by Iran for regional hegemony have forged a confluence of interests that cannot be ignored. No one nation, no matter how strong, can solve the region’s problems alone. A comprehensive regional approach, highlighted by public cooperation on mutually beneficial projects, can also serve to condition the environment for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front and to lay the groundwork for successful implementation of any future agreements.
Dialogue and greater understanding are needed between the parties, but dialogue is insufficient, we need action. Mutually beneficial projects undertaken together can begin the process of thawing relations and building trust so more serious challenges can be confronted together. Cooperative ventures will drive economic growth, create jobs and increase the overall standard of living in the region.
With concrete deliverables that individuals can see improving their lives, and the lives of their children, historic mistrust can begin to erode and greater understanding can develop from the ground up as well as the top down.
One example where a regional approach would be advantageous is in the area of water security. Israel has developed significant expertise in water management and conservation. In arid areas, or in areas with sufficient water, but substandard water treatment technology, the impact on the environment and public health can be devastating.
Through regional cooperation there are opportunities for Israel and its neighbors to improve the standard of living across a water starved region, and beyond, while simultaneously opening new conversations. This is just one of many areas where regional cooperation can start to make a real difference in the lives of the people of the region on a small scale, in the hopes of far greater breakthroughs over time.
The notion that the nations of the region can work together is not purely aspirational. There are several examples of Israel working together with Egypt and Jordan on mutually beneficial projects – including the Red Sea-Dead Sea Project and multiple Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs). These projects have delivered economic development and jobs for all three countries with the promise of even greater benefits over time. The goal is to replicate this type of cooperation on a larger scale and to have more and more nations participate and benefit.
Because of the nature of the region, most projects require a partnership with the international community. The European Union and the United States have already partnered with Israel, Egypt and Jordan on QIZs and the Red Sea-Dead Sea project and China has shown its desire to play a leading role in international economic cooperation though the Belt and Road Initiative. As we expand regional cooperation, we hope to engage more partners across the world, including Japan, India, Australia, Brazil and any other nation interested in helping us build a better Middle East.
The nations of the world can provide crucial political support, help facilitate conversations and bridge the gaps where needed. With the help of the international community, it is possible to generate good will and move forward with joint efforts that will benefit great numbers of people across the region and around the world.
Minister for Regional Cooperation,