Some 51 years ago, I sat on a mountain top overlooking the demilitarized zone in Vietnam talking with legendary Israeli General, Moshe Dayan. He had spent a week with my rifle company and was departing at first light the following day. In our conversation about the war, he said that “you cannot defeat an idea with bullets, only with a better idea.” That simple statement undergirded much of my military career, to include my tenure as Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Today, as a Board Member of the US-Israel Education Association (USIEA), a small recon-size non-profit, I find myself thinking about Dayan’s admonition and its applicability to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that serves as a cancer to the entire region. Simply put, USIEA recognizes that a new approach needs to be taken regarding a conflict that is based upon violence, antagonism and political stalemates. This is because the ideas that animate the two sides…a Palestinian yearning for independence and statehood and the Israeli desire for peace, recognition, and security…cannot and will not be extinguished by bullets and rockets.
It is for this reason that USIEA has highlighted a breakthrough initiative that is achieving startling success. Through the “Integrated Business Initiative,” 600 Israeli and Palestinian business leaders in the disputed West Bank (known biblically as Judea and Samaria) are coming together in unprecedented ways to form economic partnerships to benefit both sides.
The convener is the new Judea-Samaria Chamber of Commerce, co-led by Palestinian Sheikh Ashraf Jabari of Hebron and Israeli business leader Avi Zimmerman of Ariel. Sheikh Jabari and hundreds of Palestinian business leaders are debunking the Palestinian Authority’s anti-normalization policy towards Israel which impacts all business between Palestinians and Israelis. Sheikh Jabari and his fellow Palestinian business leaders recognize that this policy is restricting them economically and mortgaging the future of their families.
Last November, USIEA sponsored meetings on Capitol Hill where Sheikh Jabari and another Palestinian businessman, along with Zimmerman, presented this remarkable “grass roots” story to numerous Democratic and Republican attendees.
These meetings were preceded by a Congressional Trip sponsored by USIEA that took Members to the City of Ariel to see several integrated businesses and meet Israeli and Palestinian employees working side by side in friendship. This trip also included a meeting that took place in the home of Sheikh Jabari in the City of Hebron where Members had an opportunity to talk directly to both Palestinian and Israeli business leaders and hear, first hand, their desire to push integrated business forward and thus achieve peace and stability.
In analyzing the Trump Administration’s peace plan, a very thorough, well thought-out, and broad economic blueprint, it is important to recognize that the future success of this Plan never hinged on whether the Palestinian Authority came to the negotiating table. Sadly, we saw the PA reject the plan before it was even released. Considering this dynamic, introducing a new and innovative path forward, supported at the grass roots level by both Palestinian and Israeli businesses and by the US and Israeli Administrations, is a positive step to take. The Integrated Business Initiative fits perfectly within the framework of the peace plan.
Though he died nearly 30 years ago, I find myself thinking about General Dayan. His insights regarding US challenges in Vietnam were on target. His understanding of human nature was superb. Most importantly, he taught me the limits of war. What I am seeing today through USIEA’s Integrated Business Initiative, as validated by my own fact-finding trips into the West Bank and visits to Capitol Hill, is that when you can offer a people hope and access to a better life for themselves and their families…fundamental aspirations that all humans share…the possibilities are endless.
Thus the “better idea.”General Charles C. Krulak, US Marine Corps
(Ret.); 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps