Sir Ron­ald’s plan for peace

The prom­i­nent ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and backer of Gor­don Brown urges eco­nomic sup­port the Pales­tini­ans as a route to sta­bil­ity

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - FROM JEFF BARAK, JERUSALEM

PROM­I­NENT GOR­DON Brown sup­porter Sir Ron­ald Co­hen has no in­ten­tion of fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Lord Levy, Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair’s en­voy to the Mid­dle East and a ma­jor Labour Party fundraiser.

“I’m not in­ter­ested in hav­ing an of­fi­cial po­si­tion,” Sir Ron­ald told the JC on Sun­day. “I’m not try­ing to be an en­voy.”

Sir Ron­ald, the for­mer chair­man of Apax, one of the world’s lead­ing private eq­uity in­vest­ment groups, was in Jerusalem to de­liver a lec­ture on the role of eco­nomic ini­tia­tives in peace­mak­ing. De­scrib­ing him­self as “a so­cial en­tre­pre­neur”, Sir Ron­ald said that he did not “view my­self as try­ing to take on the same type of chal­lenge as Michael Levy did.

“I’m try­ing to use my busi­ness knowl­edge and ac­cess to cap­i­tal mar­kets in or­der to help re­solve the Is­raeliPales­tinian con­flict… Busi­ness must make its voice heard. When pol­i­tics gets stuck, busi­ness can help get politi­cians back to­gether,” he said.

In his lec­ture to the Is­rael Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, Sir Ron­ald said that it was clear that pol­i­tics alone would not bring Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace, and that eco­nomic driv­ers were needed to push the two sides for­ward.

“The im­por­tance of eco­nomics in con­flict res­o­lu­tion is that it sets aside the ques­tion of mo­tive, griev­ance, of his­tor­i­cal rights and wrongs, and fo­cuses in­stead on the ques­tion of the eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity… The busi­ness com­mu­nity has the power to in­flu­ence the process and can re­move some of the most se­ri­ous eco­nomic griev­ances.”

Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans could learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence of North­ern Ire­land where, he said, private-sec­tor eco­nomic mea­sures, par­tic­u­larly in re­duc­ing Catholic un­em­ploy­ment, were a ma­jor fac­tor be­hind mit­i­gat­ing po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence and ad­vanc­ing the cause of peace.

Sir Ron­ald, the chair­man of the Port­land Trust, said that Is­rael needed to have twin ob­jec­tives: it had to en­sure the se­cu­rity of its cit­i­zens while at the same time al­low the Pales­tinian econ­omy to de­velop by pro­vid­ing free­dom of move­ment for Pales­tinian work­ers and prod­ucts.

The aim, he said, should be for the Pales­tinian econ­omy to grow by an an­nual 10 per cent for 10 years.

“Prime Min­is­ter Olmert buys the eco­nomic ar­gu­ment,” Sir Ron­ald said. “The Prime Min­is­ter is open to this approach and I’ve had a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions with him. The ques­tion is how you deal with the se­cu­rity is­sue” in terms of re­duc­ing the num­ber of check­points in the West Bank.

In 2003, the Port­land Trust con­ducted a study of the Pales­tinian econ­omy at the re­quest of the UK gov­ern­ment. “The Pales­tini­ans could sur­prise us all in terms of their eco­nomic abil­ity,” Sir Ron­ald said, not­ing that Pales­tinian so­ci­ety had a very high lit­er­acy rate and that two-thirds of the pop­u­la­tion were em­ployed in the private sec­tor.

“Busi­ness peo­ple,” he con­tin­ued, “want to put the con­flict be­hind them. Noth­ing will come from a painful stale­mate… Private-sec­tor em­ploy­ees do not have job se­cu­rity, un­like gov­ern­ment work­ers.

“It there­fore makes sense to de­velop the Pales­tinian private sec­tor so as to make peo­ple less likely to want ter­ror.”

Not­ing that Pales­tinian banks lent only 20 per cent of their funds to the private sec­tor due to the risks in­volved, the Port­land Trust has worked with EU and Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions to pro­vide more than £100 mil­lion of loan guar­an­tees to Pales­tinian banks so that they will ex­tend their credit to small and medium-sized busi­nesses in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries. The Port­land Trust is also de­vel­op­ing a mi­cro­fi­nance sec­tor for loans un­der £3,000 for very small busi­nesses.

In in­tro­duc­ing Sir Ron­ald’s lec­ture, Is­rael’s Vice Pre­mier Shi­mon Peres noted that “in the Mid­dle East, there was too much diplo­macy and strat­egy and not enough econ­omy”. He pointed out that China changed “not be­cause it had been in­vaded by an army but be­cause it de­cided on the free mar­ket.

“We have to move on a dou­ble-track pol­icy, one po­lit­i­cal with the Pales­tini­ans, which I’m not sure how far it will go,” said Mr Peres, “and a so­cial, eco­nomic track, in­de­pen­dent of the po­lit­i­cal one.”

Sir Ron­ald Co­hen ad­dress­ing the Is­raeli Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions

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