Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the funeral of former Israeli leader Shimon Peres on September 30, 2016 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images)

Alumni of Elite Programs Launch Effort to Privatize Mideast Peace Process

Kellogg Executive MBA grads try T-Shirt Diplomacy to inject missing trust 

[Jerusalem] – While the Middle East waits anxiously for details of the Trump “Deal of the Century,” a reference to the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan shepherded by First-Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, alumni of the prestigious Kellogg Executive MBA program in the Middle East have formed an independent coalition of graduates of other quality institutions who have taken it upon themselves to apply pragmatic business theory, their vast business experience, and their broad network of connections to privatize the role of the conciliator in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to create an innovative type of conduit of communication and conflict resolution in order to open new opportunities for the leaderships.

On Tuesday evening, alumni from the Kellogg School of Management; Adam Mickiewicz University (Poland); and Tapas MBA at Microsoft Venture Academy, most of them in senior business and academic positions, launched the project under the umbrella of the International Peace Accelerator (IPA) with events in four international cities, beginning with Tel Aviv and Ramallah. According to the group’s founders, IPA, as the result of research and extensive meetings with influential Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders, has identified the need for an unbiased,  non-governmental international conduit to facilitate communication and information to leadership figures in an innovative method referred to as “the Silicon Valley way.”

Arab/American entrepreneur Huda El Jack, co-founder of the project, explained to The Media Line the importance of the International Peace Accelerator as the anchor to the process. As is evidenced by the challenges of the U.S. initiative to introduce the “Deal of the Century,” trust is a key factor in this conflict; one that cannot be overlooked.

“We would like to bring the methods that enable companies to grow from an idea to the iPhone, from the Yellow Pages to Google. We need these people who know how the regional young generation thinks, who know how to address opinion leaders, and to feel the social media. We want to enable smart younger people with t-shits to have an influence, we call it T-Shirt Diplomacy,” El Jack said.

Indeed, while few specifics are as yet known about the Trump-Kushner proposal, clearly Palestinian rejection of American involvement based on lack of trust in the American team to serve as honest brokers has been and continues to be a major obstacle to progress. The IPA concept addresses this roadblock.

When there is a perception by even one of the parties that a suggested conciliator and process is biased, then even simple communication becomes an impassable challenge. According to El Jack, “There has rarely been a mediator in this conflict that was perceived to be unbiased and balanced by the parties. Nations have interests, by definition, but the International Peace Accelerator is designed to be unbiased and fair. We are the people of the conflicting parties, not the civil servants of third-party countries.”

According to Dr. Itai Kohavi, the American/Israeli co-founder of IPA, whose research [Treadmill Negotiation: The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process]is one of the cornerstones of the project, “The International Peace Accelerator will enable the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships as well as those of Arab countries and the international community to enjoy the creativity of the most talented individuals in the region, the same individuals who work for Google and Microsoft, for PayPal and Facebook.”

Speaking with The Media Line, El Jack and Kohavi shared their belief that the IPA, as an unbiased conduit, will enable the leaderships to consider innovative approaches that may lead to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole, not only to the Israeli-Palestinian track of the larger conflict. “There are elephants in the corridor leading to the negotiation room that prevent parties from even starting to negotiate, and these elephants are not the core issues of the conflict, but the profound disbelief of each side in the real intentions and capabilities of the other side,” said Dr. Kohavi. “Without tackling these elephants first, it’s almost impossible to hope to reach an agreement on the core issues,” added El Jack.

According to Kohavi and El Jack, the launch events will offer the International Peace Accelerator the opportunity to present the progress of the initiative and its unique “case study” methodology to the Alumni alongside an impressive gathering of diplomats, academics, private sector leaders, think tanks and other select individuals from the United States, Japan, Poland, Finland, Arab countries, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals, demonstrating the widespread interest in a much needed new approach to bringing the conflict resolution train back to its tracks. It will also enable the participating individuals to become engaged and contribute in various ways following the events.

El Jack and Kohavi presented three future case studies, the first involving the Palestinian leadership announcing a plan to transparently create a peaceful Palestinian state that will be able to thrive in the region.
The second case study looks to the Israeli government to appropriate enough money to fund a permanent entity which solely focuses on resolving the conflict.

“The official conflict resolution or peace budget in Israel is zero,” Kohavi said.
The first two cases allow Palestinians and Israelis to take a step towards  peace that is independent of each other’s actions. Kohavi explained that achieving the aforementioned goals shows the other side and the world that the particular party is serious about solving the conflict.

The third case study examines a “game changing event,” pointing to  former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Israel.

El Jack and Kohavi offered proposals similar to the Palestinian President visiting Auschwitz with his Israeli counterpart and the Israeli President visiting with his Palestinian equivalent a refugee camp or the Palestinian National Museum.

“It sounds like fantasy but so does the Sadat visit,” Kohavi said.

All three cases studies do not require either side to acquiesce anything, like land, for example.

Tara Kavaler  contributed reporting to this article.

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