Vogel: Jerusalem

Dec 19, 2017

I’ve traveled to Israel since 1970 and taught in business programs in both Tel Aviv and Palestine. During the last four decades, many of us have seen dreams of peace soar and then plummet. So I’m with those who’d welcome a new and different approach. But President Trump’s notion of a bold new solution is like a fire chief deciding that since water's been ineffective in fighting this forest fire, let’s try gasoline.

Trump’s largely symbolic gesture, has emboldened and strengthened the radical groups in both Israel and Palestine, and as a columnist in the Times of Israel has written, “We tremble as we listen to the hourly news.”

The concern is that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem at this time not only weakens the U.S. position in the Middle East but undermines some initiatives that are happening below the radar and might actually work.

There are no simple solutions, but Israel’s relationship with several Arab countries has improved in recent years, particularly with Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. The leaders of these Arab countries have been reaching out to the Palestinians and the Israelis in unprecedented ways.

This initiative could lead to a win-win scenario because Israelis might be willing to take some risks in order to gain rich new markets, and the Palestinians might be willing to take some risks because these Arab countries are so critical to their future. However, by taking this controversial position on Jerusalem, the United States forces these Arab leaders to align exclusively with the Palestinians.

Also below the radar, some Israeli and Palestinian companies have managed to forge important ties. For example, in a remarkable and courageous move, the Israeli company Mellanox outsourced development for some of its high-speed data equipment to software engineers in Palestine, creating 100 high tech jobs.

In a similar way, the Israeli venture capital firm Sadara Ventures is investing in companies and start-ups in the Palestinian tech sector. With 3,000 engineers graduating from colleges each year in the West Bank, Palestine hopes to follow Israel’s example and become a tech hub.

Instead of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, I believe that the United States and the world would be better served by joining in this effort to build a stronger economy in Palestine.