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October 26, 2020 7:06 am

Israel Must Look Beyond the Coronavirus Crisis

avatar by Oded Revivi / JNS.org

Opinion

Apartments are seen in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, Aug. 18, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

JNS.org – The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that “noise kills thought.”

We are in a period with much coronavirus-related noise. Yet as the world remains focused on fighting the pandemic, we would be compounding the tragedy by not effectively preparing and planning for what comes next.

Regardless of where you are in the world, much of that conversation focuses on protocols designed to keep the public healthy, restarting the economy and modifying regulations that arouse the public’s confidence. In other words, the emphasis is on trying to arrive at the “new normal.”

In Israel, however, there is another issue that is never far removed from our minds: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And while we are Zooming and quarantining — or even baking sourdough bread — much has transpired on that front that never really broke through the noise. Nevertheless, regional developments over the past few months have created an immense opportunity that must be seized.

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The Abraham Accords were actually the one thing that did manage to break through the noise — at least temporarily. Yet too many believe that it was just the latest publicity stunt of a reality-TV star turned president trying to win reelection. While the treaty is applauded by many, most did not appreciate how it will affect not only the three signatories — Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — but what impact it will have on the entire Middle East and beyond.

For one thing, the Gulf state (in addition to Sudan, the most recent country to agree to normalization with Israel, and Oman, reportedly soon to follow suit) are publicly looking at Israel through an entirely different perspective. Critics of the accord complained that it did not address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though this may be true in a direct sense, the peace agreements will dramatically recalibrate the diplomatic approach towards resolving the conflict.

Just last week, Israel advanced a record amount of residential construction throughout Judea and Samaria. And while the typical anti-Israel NGOs condemned the news, the expected amplification by international actors didn’t really materialize, as Israel’s Gulf allies silently endorsed it.

European and other critics of Israel are recognizing that it will only become more difficult to condemn the Jewish state without the support of Israel’s new-found allies. And they are looking to strengthen their ties with Israel, not create immediate conflict.

Even Israel’s historic public deliberations on applying sovereignty to Judea and Samaria did not terminate the Abraham Accords. Significantly, the reported agreement that Israel would delay such application was not included in any of the formal normalization agreements. And as these countries are introduced to an Israel without the filter of the Palestinian Authority, they are more likely to view Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria as positive, especially if it can follow US President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan that they have embraced.

This is why we can expect that Israel will soon be advancing plans to develop industrial parks in Judea and Samaria where Israelis and Palestinians will be able to work side by side (as tens of thousands already do). This is likely to be greeted with even stronger affirmation among Israel’s new allies, who have prioritized economic coexistence as a pretense to diplomatic breakthroughs.

Israel’s efforts to increase economic opportunity based on coexistence is likely to attract investors from these Gulf states, and enable Israel to enhance infrastructure development, and eliminate the feeling among many Palestinians that they have no realistic path towards prosperity. It may be a slightly different future from the one that Palestinians had anticipated, but it will take shape as they adjust to the reality that their future is tied more to Israel and the Gulf than to the PA leadership that has dominated their lives for so long.

For some time now, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has refused to accept funds collected by the Israel Tax Authority. Donor countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, have significantly reduced aid to the Palestinians. The PA Finance Ministry recently announced that international aid has shrunk by no less than 81%.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in recent months has met with senior PA officials, sponsored reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, and transferred funds to the PA. Erdoğan’s Turkey is fully supportive of Hamas and its extremist positions. The emerging reality is that our Palestinian neighbors, who remain in economic distress, are now receiving funds from a highly radical and impulsive autocrat. Once the COVID-19 crisis has ended, the above could lead to a third intifada.

The State of Israel must decide that it will not let the “noise” of the coronavirus “kill its thought” and determine its actions. Israel must attract international investors from our new friends in the Gulf, as well as from the United States and other allies, to develop industrial areas that will enhance and connect the Israeli-Palestinian economies.

If we want security, peace, good neighborly relations and a secure future for Israel, then we must invest in Judea and Samaria. It is time to build an economic axis that will put bread on the tables of ordinary Palestinians, who will choose to put down their guns and go to work.

Regardless of what happens on Election Day in the United States, there is a genuine opportunity to build on the momentum of the Abraham Accords and on the American administration’s maximum pressure on Iran and the PA. If we don’t, disaster may lie ahead. Israel thus has no choice but to rise above the noise of COVID-19 and plan how best to leverage the opportunities provided by Trump’s policies.

The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

Oded Revivi is the mayor of Efrat and the former chief foreign envoy of the Judea and Samaria Council.

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