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MEEF - Middle East Projects News & Analyses - previous page

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 inhabitants.

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 city development.

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 economic momentum.

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.



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