After a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, an Arab-Israeli businessman imagines how a Saudi-brokered peace across the region could help solve economic problems for all.
TEL AVIV — During the last Feast Of the Sacrifice, I decided to fulfill the commandment and make a pilgrimage to Mecca. During the religious holiday, no fewer than three million people make the trip to the holy city in Saudi Arabia. Needless to say, the presence of so many pilgrims to our sacred place during this celebration is absolutely remarkable.
As we know, Saudi Arabia's economy is based mainly on the country's oil resources, and it still ranks as the world's No. 1 oil exporter. Furthermore, there is a highly developed gold industry and a significant religious tourism every year around the period of the Feast of the Sacrifice celebration, which brings tens of billions to the state's coffers.
As an economist and a marketer, it's hard not to wonder about how these forces influence the country, and the region.
So though I didn't delve too deeply into the details of Saudi economic policy, I couldn't ignore the differences between the economy there and the local economy in Israel. It also got me thinking about how social issues in Israel are connected to the stalled state of the Saudi Peace Initiative.
The initiative, also known as the Arab Peace Initiative, was launched more than a decade ago during the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, during one of the most tumultuous moments of the second intifada.
The outline of the initiative is quite simple: It calls on Israel to fully withdraw from all the Occupied Territories, where a Palestinian state is to be established with East Jerusalem as its capital. As for the Palestinian refugees, a solution accepted by all sides would be found, and in exchange Israel would benefit from a complete diplomatic and economic normalization of their relations with the Arab world, and the rest of the world in general.
Squeezing the middle class
The questions that came to mind on my journey: How does Israel's refusal of this initiative affect us today, in terms of the current state of the peace process and the cost of living?
If Israel had accepted the initiative, perhaps it wouldn't have to devote $2.1 billion today for its security budget. In fact, since 1973, Israel has not fought a single war against countries and armies, but only against organizations (such as Hezbollah and Hamas). Moreover, the chance that the Israeli army will have to fight against armies in the future is quite low indeed.
I am convinced that if Israel would ever accept the Saudi initiative, the country would enter a new era of open new markets where Israelis can play an even bigger role in the world. The Israeli government could invest in social services and foreign investments, and finally face its housing shortages rather than devoting energy and resources to the Palestinian issue and the eventual effects of an international boycott on Israeli products.
We can even use the relationship between Israel and Turkey as an example. Despite the very tense relationship, there are extremely strong economic ties between the two countries. Imagine a Middle East where competition would be greater, prices would drop, and peace in the region would lessen the chance of wars and make the soil more fertile for prosperity and well-being.
Without bold decisions, and a clear vision of a future economic policy, life in our part of the world will never be easy for ordinary people. Israel's middle class, Jews and Arabs alike, cannot forever bear the entire financial burden just in the name of the Zionist ideal.
*Mussa Hasadia is the General Manager of the Tel Aviv advertising agency Al-Bustani.