by Robert Mason*

Throughout the 1990s, fears of Israeli regional hegemony have persisted, sparked from the Middle East/North Africa Economic Summit in Casablanca in 1994, when the large size of the Israeli delegation was deemed to be threatening. The feeling was reinforced the following year when Shimon Peres outlined his vision for a new Middle East during the Amman Economic Summit in Jordan. However, despite such fears, Dan Catarivas, a co-author of two reports published by the Israeli government: Development Options for the Middle East (1995) and Partnerships in Development (1998), believes that regional economic cooperation embodied in the reports still has potential today. The plans drawn up, which have since been shelved, include cooperation on water, transport, tourism and energy issues.

Major obstacles are likely to remain to their implementation as each of the areas of cooperation represents a unique set of political issues and contentions. For example, there are reports that the Israeli government has used water as a political tool, preventing Palestinian communities from accessing it in the Jordan valley (see: Amira Hass, ‘IDF Destroys West Bank Village After Declaring it Military Zone’, Haaretz.com, 21 July 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/idf-destroys-west-bank-village-after-declaring-itmilitary-zone-1.303098)

However, the economic benefits of advancing cooperation in any one area of these industries, including a broader peace treaty, could be numerous. The benefits that Egypt has secured with its cold peace treaty with Israel have included: Israel giving back the Sinai, increased trade relations, and less military spending in the Negev over 30 years. It will take the establishment of a Palestinian state to advance such benefits, through the implementation of the provisions in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative by both Israel and the Arab states. If political relations were normalised, it would change perceptions and lead to much better relations between Israel, Lebanon and Jordan, and between Israel and Syria regarding the Golan Heights. It could transform the region, by facilitating transport infrastructure developments and connections that link the southern Gulf states directly to Europe, via Israel.

Even before this marked shift to regionalism, the Aix Group, in their report entitled Economic Road Map: An Israeli – Palestinian Perspective on Permanent Status, have identified that opportunities already exist for Israeli – Palestininan cooperation in areas such as utilities and infrastructure. Israel is interested in backing up its electricity supply and has indicated that if Jordan has the space for solar panels and the extra capacity, it would pay good money for its electricity since it represents the most cost effective option. If agreements such as this could be formed locally, they could be expanded upon regionally, and initially link the economies of Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan. Read more…

* Robert Mason is a PhD candidate in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, UK. His thesis is on the economic drivers of foreign policy of Middle East states with reference to oil and gas exporters.


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