Israeli and Palestinian business leaders to unveil new peace bid

‘Breaking the Impasse’ initiative unites 200 key figures whose firms together represent some 30% of Israeli and Palestinian GDP

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

DEAD SEA, Jordan — A group of leading Israeli and Palestinian businessmen will Sunday afternoon unveil a new business-led push for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The “Breaking the Impasse” initiative is being led by Israeli high-tech guru Yossi Vardi and Munib al-Masri, a billionaire member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

It represents some 200 leading Israeli and Palestinian businessmen and some from other Arab states including, for example, the head of the Hikma pharmaceutical firm in Jordan.

Significantly, a knowledgeable source told The Times of Israel here on Sunday, its participants together represent companies that contribute no less than 30 percent of the GDP of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which they believe offers them unprecedented leverage in trying to chivy their respective political leaderships toward an agreement.

Vardi met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last week to give him details of the initiative, and Netanyahu was reportedly supportive.

The insider said US Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to meet with the leaders of the initiative on Sunday afternoon at the World Economic Forum conference here and that their initiative corresponded with Kerry’s efforts to boost peace efforts via economic cooperation. Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were both fully familiar with the initiative and “essentially endorse it,” the source said.

President Shimon Peres speaks to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Sunday (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
President Shimon Peres speaks to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Sunday (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Arriving at the conference on Sunday, indeed, Peres specifically highlighted the importance of economic cooperation. He said it was vital “not to waste time” and that he believed it was possible to “complete the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples – an Israeli state and a Palestinian state living as good neighbors, and cooperating economically for the good of future generations.”

It is not clear, however, how the joint effort might be translated into meaningful political action. Kerry has spent recent weeks trying to woo Abbas and Netanyahu back to the negotiating table, thus far in vain.

Yossi Vardi (right) pictured with actor Ashton Kutcher last week (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Yossi Vardi (right) pictured with actor Ashton Kutcher last week (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The “Breaking the Impasse” leaders have been meeting in private for the past year, under the umbrella of the WEF. Vardi has been an enthusiastic participant at WEF events for many years. The source said the bigger breakthrough in the project was the public involvement of the Palestinian leaders — a brave step, he said, given the climate on the Palestinian street, which is far from warm to Israel.

Palestinian journalist Elias Zananiri told the Al Monitor website on Friday that the project’s leaders had prepared a joint paper with parameters agreeable to both sides. “The aim is to put pressure on the governments and to say, ‘[Because] we, as the private sector, pay the price of the conflict when we lose in our businesses, we should be able to have a [say] in designing a future for both parties along the lines of the two-state solution [and] based on the UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative,’” Zananiri said.

“The Palestinians are very careful not to include anything that would be detrimental to the official stance of the PA and the Israelis are sensitive to some issues that reference the right of return or the 1967 borders,” Zananiri added. “[But] they did speak of the Arab Peace Initiative, UN resolutions, and a just and agreeable solution to the question of refugees along the lines of Resolution 194.”

The annual World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, taking place this weekend in Jordan, is being held under the motto “Advancing Conditions for Growth and Resilience” and will focus on “shaping the region’s economic, social and governance systems of the future,” according to organizers.

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