Last week, a team of the Santa Monica-based RAND Corporation came to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority to present a new study, calculating the costs of different Israeli-Palestinian scenarios.
According to the study, in the case of a two-state solution, the Israeli economy would gain more than $120 billion over the next decade, while the Palestinians would gain $50 billion. However, with the Palestinian economy being much smaller, for the Palestinians this would mean an average per-capita income increase of about 36 percent.
A return to violence, by contrast, would cause the Israeli economy the loss of some $250 billion in foregone economic opportunities, while the Palestinian per-capita gross domestic product would fall by as much as 46 percent.
The study also examined the economic implications of other scenarios: coordinated and unilateral Israeli withdrawal, and nonviolent Palestinian resistance. An innovative “Cost of Conflict Calculator” allows the users of the study to change assumptions in order to investigate a full range of scenarios.
C. Ross Anthony, co-leader of the study and director of RAND’s Israeli-Palestinian Initiative, said that, “We hope our analysis and tools can help Israelis, Palestinians and the international community understand more clearly how present trends are evolving and recognize the costs and benefits of alternatives to the current destructive cycle of action, reaction and inaction.”
The RAND study is dedicated to the late David K. Richards, who sponsored it with his wife, Carol. Richards, an investment manager and philanthropist, once before funded a unique research project on what it would take to make an independent Palestinian state viable. And 50 years ago, at Harvard, he rowed for three undefeated years on the varsity lightweight crew team, which he captained in his senior year.
It is true that the volcanic Middle East is a far cry from the peaceful Harvard-Yale regatta. On the shores of the Thames River in Connecticut, where the boat race is held annually, the competing teams and their fans don’t shoot at each other.
Still, this RAND study is not an exercise in futility, another one of those examples of American naiveté that the locals in the Middle East love to ridicule. By equipping both Israelis and Palestinians with a cool, realistic assessment of how much they can gain from a peaceful settlement and how much they are losing from the lack of it, the RAND people have rendered one of the best American services to this region in decades. Now it’s up to us, Israelis and Palestinians, to decide what we are going to do with it.
Indeed, there are some rays of hope. Rumors keep repeatedly floating recently about Qatar trying to negotiate between Israel and Hamas for a long term Hudna (ceasefire). Of course, we know perfectly well what Hudna means in Islamic tradition: Signing a temporary ceasefire with your enemy when you are weak, only to break it when you’re strong again.
However, a Hudna of, say, five years, with a massive reconstruction of Gaza, might create a new situation where at the end of that period, Hamas might think twice before risking the gains of reconstruction and the potential spoils of the future. After all, in the words of Charles Ries, co-leader of the study and vice president, international, at RAND, “Israelis have far less and Palestinians far more economic incentive to move toward peace.”
Those hastening to dismiss this, arguing that Hamas is not rational, should take a look at the conduct of Hezbollah: Immediately after the Second Lebanon War (2006), Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah confessed that had he realized how harsh the Israeli response would be, he wouldn’t have initiated the abduction of the three Israeli soldiers, which triggered the war. And we had nine years of calm on Israel’s northern border, and still counting.
If the RAND study might one day serve as data base for a new Marshall Plan for the Middle East, here is my little contribution to how to gain support for it. The new Middle East Marshall Plan Authority should send every one of us a symbolic check on the sum we are going to gain from a peaceful settlement, to be framed and hanged on the wall as a constant reminder. If all other measures are doomed to fail, maybe this one will work.
(Uri Dromi is executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club. This article first appeared in the Miami Herald).