Harvard conference on Middle East economic collaboration: A critical win against BDS

Today, Harvard Business School will host the Economic Prosperity for Peace conference, which brings together students from Arab nations, Israel, and the United States to discuss how economic prosperity, education, and entrepreneurship can lay the groundwork for peace in the Middle East. The organizing committee includes 18 Arab, Israeli, and American students from Harvard and MIT Sloan School of Management, each deeply committed to seeing prosperity and peace in the Middle East.

Sara Greenberg, co-chair of the conference, says that the conference has been in the making for two years as various students have discussed and collectively concluded that the critical factor that is needed in order to bring peace is economic development and cooperation. 

This conference represents a huge win against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the state of Israel. The internal logic behind BDS assumes that stunting Israel’s economy will put pressure on the state to offer concessions to the Palestinians. While this method may have worked for other countries, this internal logic is quite flawed when it comes to Israel.

If you take a look at history, you will see that Israel makes the decisions considered most collaborative when the international community supports the security and well being of the state.

As for the Palestinian people—when they lack resources, they put themselves in ill-fated situations. Take, for example, the 2006 Palestinian elections that positioned Hamas as the governing leadership in the Gaza strip. Hamas was chosen not because of its (incredibly anti-Semitic) ideology, but because it promised the Palestinian people schools, hospitals, and services, while the alternative, the Palestinian Authority, was largely considered corrupt. So the Palestinian people chose Hamas, the organization that would provide them with more economic resources, so they thought. Unfortunately for them and the rest of the world, this organization is a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish people that would even stoop so low as to use its own citizens as human shields during wartime.

Thus, the BDS campaign is doomed to achieve end results that are antithetical to its goals. Unsurprisingly, the Harvard and MIT students involved in the upcoming conference understand this.

Greenberg commented, “Peace will only be possible, and sustainable, when societies begin to interact in mutually beneficial ways that signify respect and openness. The private sector, and business in particular, provides an opportunity for such interactions. The   conference seeks to present a vision of stability in the region that avoids the language of boycotts and sanctions, preferring instead to focus on investment and cooperation.”

Greenberg hits the nail on the head—it is not putting negative pressure on Israel and the Palestinian people that will make them choose collaboration; it is precisely the opposite. Both peoples will have the confidence to make collaborative, peaceful decisions when they are not in an economic bind. It is economic prosperity and collaboration that will eventually lead to peace in the Middle East, not economic sanctions.

At today’s conference, this idea will be tested and actualized as students from Arab nations, Israel, and America join together in the name of cooperation and collaborative entrepreneurship.

Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center. She is a Core18 fellow and a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. Follow her @ellierudee.


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