By air, land and sea
By Shimon Peres
About two weeks ago, the Israeli government made an important and
precedent-setting decision to declare the Peace Valley project a
"national project" with all the implications of such a decision:
advancement in the government's list of priorities, a shortening of
bureaucratic procedures and overall government enlistment to
implement it. Such is the culmination of an effort to change
viewpoints, to overcome prejudices and to operate by modern means to
bring about a genuine diplomatic change in the region.
Every important event that has taken place since World War II was
implemented by means of modern economics, which promotes the use of
science and technology instead of simple adherence to territory.
This major revolution, which changes long-standing practices, is
taking place and continuing before our eyes. The world is changing,
and its point of gravity is moving from diplomacy and strategy to
science and technology, which are not limited to a specific area and
are not controlled by governments.
In the face of the
weakness of governments, the global non-governmental sector is
becoming stronger. The transition from a territorial economy to an
economy of science and technology does not change borders, but it
does change relationships. The global companies create their own
capital, and have adopted a culture of risk-taking and of exploiting
new opportunities. Since they have no army or police force, they
operate through the force of competition. Even countries that fear
the penetration of foreign countries, or a foreign army, welcome
investments by non-governmental companies, while the companies are
seeking new opportunities.
The Middle East has relied greatly on strategy and diplomacy, and
has not taken sufficient advantage of economics. Had we invested
properly in the construction of a modern regional economy, we could
have reduced poverty and formed practical trusting relations with
our neighbors. And so, although the Middle East is rich in
possibilities and opportunities, possible changes have yet to take
place here. The Peace Valley plan offers an initial and fascinating
part of a vision to promote peace, regional stability in the Middle
East and social advancement by means of economic cooperation, both
regional and global.
Relations, not borders
The diplomatic track deals with borders, whereas the economic track
deals with relations. It is easier to reach an agreement about
relations than about borders. Good economic relations will at the
end of the day make it easier to reach an agreement about borders.
The Peace Valley plan is the first attempt to adopt the modern
outlook: to use global levers, to take chances, to deal with the
future, to develop new markets and to be open to new relationships.
The project will be based on funding by extra-governmental factors
that are interested in developing new markets and new technologies.
The Peace Valley plan covers the route of the African Rift, which
stretches along 520 kilometers of the Israel-Jordan border, from the
Red Sea in the South to the Yarmuk River in the North. Of them, 420
kilometers are shared with Jordan, with which we enjoy peaceful
relations. Ten percent of the route passes along the future border
with the Palestinians, who are in need of economic encouragement as
well as financial assistance.
The Peace Valley vision is arousing a great deal of interest, and
already now economic initiatives based on private investment and the
support of institutions and countries are beginning to sprout. The
economic initiatives will promote regional development, providing a
wide array of advantages for countries in the region and their
The first projects will include the digging of the Peace Conduit,
which will channel water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea; joint
development of agriculture and tourism; the construction of a joint
Israeli-Jordanian airport; the creation of a rail link between
Jordan and Israel; the construction of an industrial zone in Jenin
and an agro-industrial region in the Jericho-Damya area with the
assistance of the German and Japanese governments; and the
construction and development of technological incubators.
The Dead Sea-Red Sea Canal. The Dead Sea is undergoing serious
upheaval. It is losing its water and the sinkholes are threatening
tourism in the region. This is too great a problem for one country,
and therefore there is a need for cooperation between countries that
share a sea, and global involvement interested in preventing
ecological dangers and promoting peace.
Economic-business ventures will be set up along the Red Sea-Dead Sea
Canal, including man-made lakes, energy-producing installations,
modern agriculture, desalination facilities and hotels and tourist
sites on both sides of the border.
Compensating for a loss of water
The canal project will turn the Arava into a blossoming garden and a
center of attraction for tourists from all over the world. It will
also compensate the Dead Sea for the loss of its water, and will
create desalinated water for our Negev on the western side and for
Jordanian agriculture on the eastern side. It will greatly
strengthen Israeli-Jordanian relations and will help the
Palestinians generate economic growth.
A joint airport. A joint airport for Israel and Jordan will foster
future touristic cooperation between the two countries. It will have
a Jordanian terminal for passengers traveling to Jordan and an
Israeli terminal for passengers traveling to Eilat. Coordinated
activity at a renovated airport will lead to streamlining and
savings, more air traffic security and an improvement in service.
The construction of the joint airport will make it possible to
develop Eilat, freeing areas for construction in high-class areas of
the city. It is preferable to invest in a developed city and an
existing airport than to build another airport that will cost
hundreds of millions of dollars - money that could be invested in
A rail and transportation link. The plan takes into account a rail
and transportation link between Jordan and Israel, which will
shorten distances, reduce costs and develop new transportation from
Europe and America to the Middle East. The Europeans are also
proposing a future installation of two railroad lines that will link
the Middle East and Europe. It is possible to add a northern line
between Irbid in Jordan and Haifa in Israel, and a southern line in
the direction of the Red Sea, which will link Aqaba, the Red Sea and
the Ashdod Port in one railway network. These lines are likely to
create integration of the Middle East and Europe and to lead to
An industrial zone in Jenin. The West Bank is crying out for jobs.
The financial assistance of the donor nations has not achieved its
goal. The major unemployment and the poverty line in the areas of
the Palestinian Authority demand serious attention by Israel, as
well. In the area of northern Samaria there is potential for an
industrial zone. The German government has agreed to allocate about
$30 million to build such a zone, and other countries are willing to
encourage their private firms to transfer branches to the area. The
communities of the Jezreel Valley are also showing an interest. In
the zone, industry dealing in textiles, wood and food products can
be set up, with a network of logistical services to support this
industry constructed on the Israeli side. Such an industrial zone
can create thousands of jobs for the entire area. As happened in the
industrial zone in Jordan.
Agricultural-industrial development in Jericho. The Jericho area can
serve as an agricultural center for the entire Middle East. The
Japanese government has decided to assist in the development of
industrial agriculture in Jericho, to include a high-tech industrial
agricultural park, along with an airport on the Jordanian side,
which will be capable if delivering agricultural produce to the
entire region. This project will enable the West Bank to send
produce to markets all over the Middle East, and raise the standard
of living in the West Bank.
The Peace Valley therefore opens the door to new opportunities. It
is likely to be a bridge among three partners that are required both
by nature and by peace to cooperate. It will take time, it will
encounter difficulties, but every major initiative creates a major
quarrel both with nature and human nature. The Peace Valley is an
exceptional opportunity for a change in the atmosphere, for an
improvement in relations, for a joint experience.
The Peace Valley is the beginning of economic hope, which will serve
the diplomatic negotiations that will take place at the same time.
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians have already agreed to this
project. The United States, the European countries and Japan have
declared their support for it. This is the first economic agreement
among the three partners, and the first that will be supported
through global involvement. The Peace Valley project can promote the
peace process, and it can get underway immediately.