The government of Israel adopted an important, precedential decision, designating the "Valley of Peace" plan as a "National Project" for all intents and purposes. The plan will be given preference in the government's list of priorities, and benefit from a shortening of bureaucratic processes and a comprehensive governmental effort towards putting it into action. These steps constitute the climax of an effort to change perceptions, overcome prejudice, and use modern methods in order to bring about real political change in the region.
Every important event that has taken place since the Second World War was achieved by use of the modern economy, an economy that promotes the use of science and technology instead of an exclusive focus on territory. This great, world-changing revolution is now taking place before our very eyes. The world is changing, and its center of gravity is transitioning from diplomacy and strategy to science and technology, areas that are not restricted by land or controlled by governments.
In parallel with the weakening of governments, the global non-governmental sector has been gaining strength. The transition from a territorial economy to an economy of science and technology does not change borders, but it does change relations. The global companies are creating their own capital, and are adopting a culture that thrives on taking risks and making the most of new opportunities. Since they have no military or police, they are driven by competition, and so, even countries that fear invasion by foreign countries or armies, welcome investments from non-governmental companies. The global companies are then able to seek out new opportunities.
In the past, the Middle East has relied heavily on strategy and diplomacy, instead of seeking an economy-driven solutions. Had we invested in the building of a properly modern economy in the region, we could have lessened social poverty and tried to build a relationship of practical trust with our neighbors. And so, even though the Middle East is rich with possibilities and abundant in opportunities, these potential changes have not yet taken place. The "Valley of Peace" plan, the "EPC", sets forth a riveting first step for the vision of promoting peace, regional stability in the Middle East, and social advances, by means of economic, regional and global cooperation.
The political track deals with borders, but the economic track deals with relationships. It is easier to reach an agreement regarding relations than one regarding borders. Positive economic relations will eventually facilitate reaching an agreement regarding borders. The Valley of Peace plan constitutes the first attempt to make a transition towards the modern worldview, using global leverages, risk-taking, a future-oriented perspective, development of new markets, and an openness to new relationships. The project will rely on funding from extra-governmental sources who have an interest in developing new markets and technologies.
The Valley of Peace plan extends over the Great Rift Valley, spanning 520 kilometers of the Israeli-Jordanian border, from the Red Sea in the South, to the Yarmouk River in the North. 420 of those kilometers are on our border with Jordan, with whom we now have peaceful relations. 10% of this route extends over the future border with the Palestinians, who are in need of economic encouragement, as well as financial aid.
The Valley of Peace vision is generating a great deal of interest, and economic initiatives are already blooming, based on private investments and support from institutions and states. These economic enterprises will promote regional development, resulting in a vast array of benefits for the region's countries and their inhabitants.
The first projects will include the digging of the Peace Carrier, to carry water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea; the cooperative development of agriculture and tourism; the establishment of a joint Israeli-Jordanian airport; the creation of railway connections between Jordan and Israel; the establishment of an industrial area in Jenin and an agro-industrial area in the Jericho-Demya region, with the aid of the governments of Germany and Japan; and the development and establishment of incubators for technological initiative.
The Dead Sea Canal: the Dead Sea is currently being subjected to severe maltreatment. It is losing its water, and sinkholes are threatening tourism in the region. Proper treatment of this problem is more than one country can handle on its own, and so a cooperative effort of countries who share the sea is needed, as well as global involvement to prevent ecological hazards for the promotion of peace.
Along the Dead Sea Canal, several economic and business projects will be developed, to include, among others, tourist lakes, energy production facilities, innovative agriculture, water desalination facilities, and hotels and tourist paths on both sides of the border.
The Dead Sea Canal Project will transform the Arabah into a blooming parkland, and an attraction for tourists from all over the world. It will also compensate the Dead Sea for its loss of water, and produce desalinated water for our Negev from the West, and for Jordanian agriculture from the East. It will greatly strengthen Israeli-Jordanian relations, and aid the Palestinians in generating economic growth.
The shared airport: an airport shared by Jordan and Israel will facilitate future cooperation in tourism between the two countries. The airport will include a Jordanian terminal, leading passengers to Jordan, and an Israeli terminal, leading tourism to Eilat. Coordinated activity in an advanced airport will result in greater efficiency and economy, as well as added security in air traffic and improved service. The construction of a shared airport will enable the improvement and development of Eilat, by making areas for construction available in the prestigious districts of the city. It is better to invest in a city in renewal and in an existing airport, than to build an additional airport at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, dollars which can be invested in the city's development.
The railway - transportation connection: the plan takes into account a railway - transportation connection between Jordan and Israel, a link that will shorten distances, decrease costs, and develop new shipment opportunities between Europe and America and the Middle East region. The Europeans are also proposing the laying of two future railway tracks to connect Europe and the Middle East. A track in the North can be built between Irbid in Jordan and Haifa in Israel, and another track in the South can be built towards the Red Sea, tying Akabah, the Red Sea and the Ashdod port in a single rail web. Railways of this kind can facilitate integration of the Middle East with Europe and generate economic momentum.
The industrial area in Jenin: the West Bank is desperate for jobs. The financial aid donated by other countries has not achieved its goal. The soaring unemployment and poverty line in the Palestinian Authority demand serious treatment from Israel as well. In the region of North Samaria, potential has been created for the development of an industrial area. The government of Germany has agreed to allot some $30 million to the establishment of such an area, and other governments are willing to encourage their private companies to open branches in the region. The towns of the Jezreel Valley are also showing interest in this possibility. The area can be used to develop industry in the fields of textile, wood, and food products, and to develop a logistical service array that can support this industry on the Israeli side. An industrial area of this kind can generate tens of thousands of jobs for the entire area, as has already happened in the Jordanian industrial zone.
Agro-industrial development in Jericho: the Jericho region can serve as an agricultural center for the entire Middle East. The government of Japan has offered to aid in the development of industrial agriculture in Jericho, including a knowledge-rich industrial agriculture park, as well as an airport on the Jordanian side, capable of distributing agricultural produce to the entire region. This project will enable the West Bank to export produce to markets throughout the entire Middle East and raise the quality of life in the region.
The Valley of Peace plan, therefore, opens the door to new possibilities. It can serve as a bridge between three partners who are required to act cooperatively by the demands of nature as well as of peace. It will take time, and difficulties will be encountered, but then every great initiative creates great conflict, both with the nature of the land and with the nature of man. The Valley of Peace plan is an extraordinary opportunity for creating change in the atmosphere of the region: an opportunity for the improvement of relations, and for shared experiences.
The Valley of Peace plan constitutes the beginning of economic hope, a plan that will serve the political negotiations taking place in parallel, with each plan able to move forward independently, and without having to wait for the other. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians have already agreed to this plan. The United States, the countries of Europe, and Japan have also announced their support for it. This is the first economic agreement among the three partners, and the first to be supported by global involvement. The Valley of Peace project can advance the peace process. And it can begin to move forward, even now.
By Shimon Peres,
Translation by Dar Translations
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