• Arabs and Israelis must seek converging interests: Margalit
  • Israeli-Palestinian talks shouldn’t just be land for peace

Converging business interests are more likely than any Utopian vision to motivate Middle East enemies to talk peace, the founder of one of Israel’s most successful venture capital funds said.

Erel Margalit, an opposition lawmaker seeking the leadership of Israel’s Labor party, on Sunday revealed his plan to boost the chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace by broadening it to include the whole region. The proposal was sent in Arabic to thousands of decision-makers and executives in the region, who he hopes “are ready to reject extremists and live in peace and security.”

The plan seeks to map interests Israel could achieve by giving up land for peace with the Palestinians, and regional projects that could be launched alongside a political agreement, similar to the 2002 Saudi peace initiative. The Saudi proposal offered a comprehensive regional accord to Israel if it withdraws from all land captured in the 1967 Middle East war and agrees to resolve the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for refugees.

“The Palestinians have very little to give us, that’s the truth,” Margalit said in a press release. “That is why we are talking about a broader move that includes a wide range of Israeli interests that until now have not been part of the dialogue and have been pushed aside.”

Stalled Talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in July that better relations with the wider Arab world could help Israel achieve peace with the Palestinians. Talks between the sides stalled two years ago, and world powers and Arab countries have said they see chances fading for a two-state solution to the crisis.

“Governments should stop thwarting the efforts to reach a settlement, step aside and let entrepreneurs, investors and negotiators bring in some real peace and security,” said Margalit, who in a May poll was one of the top three contenders for Labor Party leadership.

Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said it’s not clear how Margalit would be able to implement the plan without state approval.

“In the Arab world you won’t find businessmen going over the head of their governments,” Spyer said. “Not that these aren’t good ideas, but this is a political move rather than a substantive one.”

Regional Projects

Margalit’s suggested projects include a regional airport with two terminals, one in Israel and the other in Jordan, with access to Egypt and Saudi Arabia; a regional technology network; a regional water project; and cyber security cooperation.

“Meetings were held with hundreds of people in Europe and the U.S. and ties were forged with officials in Arab countries. The decision is not to wait for anyone, but to start doing,” Margalit said. “As in the world of business, interests need to converge, then a relationship is forged.”

Margalit’s Jerusalem Venture Partners has backed some of the country’s most successful companies, including Qlik Technologies Inc., Chromatis Networks Inc. and CyberArk Software Ltd.

“I had nine governments worldwide invest in my fund, which established over 100 companies in Israel. We will know how to implement this plan as well,” he said. “Like in business, whoever joins first will win big time.”

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