THE COHEN STRATEGY
On his economic approach:
“Politics alone will not bring peace. We need economic drivers to push the two sides towards peace.
“From my business career, I have seen the power of entrepreneurship and market forces and how they can be harnessed for the good of society. I am not alone in this belief.
“Many politicians, diplomats and NGOs are beginning to understand the relevance of economics in conflict situations and are adopting economic approaches alongside political and diplomatic efforts.
“The importance of economics in conflict resolution is that it sets aside the question of motive, of grievance, of historical rights and wrongs, and focuses instead on the question of the economic opportunity: what conditions— economic conditions in particular — have made the conflict possible?”
On the example of peacemaking in Northern Ireland:
“Conventional wisdom believed that the Northern Irish conflict was intractable; that there was no way out of the painful stalemate the two sides had found themselves in.
“But at the point of ‘painful stalemate’, both sides began to doubt they would ever achieve their aims through violence.
“This realisation was the beginning of a sincere — and ultimately successful — peace process… Economic measures mitigated political violence and advanced the cause of peace… Even when the outlines of a settlement are known, it is critical for leaders to stay engaged with the peace process over decades... Initiatives from the private sector can make a critical difference.
“Indeed, sometimes it is precisely individuals and groups from the private sector that can take certain steps which political constraints make impossible for politicians.”
On overcoming the stalemate:
“After 100 years of Arab-Israeli conflict, we have reached a point of painful stalemate. Israel’s foremost concern — with good reason — remains security, and the logic of this preoccupation requires that Israel respond robustly to terrorism.
“Palestinians, on the other hand, have perhaps felt they can endure present suffering, whatever the humanitarian cost, for the sake of satisfying absolute aspirations in the long term…
“The Portland Trust believes that the two sides should adopt a twin approach — progress on the political and the economic front simultaneously.”
On his Portland Trust projects:
“Efforts include supporting a microfinance programme; developing a vehicle to deliver and coordinate major transport infrastructure in the region; promoting the design of a private pension system for Palestinians; examining the housing needs and the construction demands in the Palestinian Territories… and in partnership with the Peres Centre for Peace, looking to establish a joint Palestinian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce, when the time is right.
“The conflict continues to have a profound economic impact on Israelis as well. For the past year, we have been working with the Koret Israel Economic Development Funds to establish a microfinance loan guarantee scheme for the Galilee.”
On the way forward:
“With the resolution of deep historical grievances unlikely in the near future, it is time to turn our attention to the conditions, especially the economic conditions, that have allowed this conflict to continue. Northern Ireland has shown that the private sector has a major role to play… The private sector can exercise influence, mobilise investment and promote moderation.
“The time has come to strengthen the Israeli and Palestinian private sectors and for the international business community to give them encouragement and support.”