Mideast Peace Process: Time for a New Approach

Headlines continue to capture the frustration of the current Mideast peace process. Victor Davis Hanson's "Road Maps to Mideast Peace Always Lead To Nowhere," Thomas Friedman's, "Can Anyone Straighten Out This Mideast Mess?" and Younis Abu Samra's "Gaza's Isolation Slows Rebuilding Efforts" all question whether there is hope of creating a lasting peace in the Middle East.

The picture of Gaza is grim. We see total destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, and infrastructure. We see people without a roof over their heads, young men and women unemployed, and a population galvanized by hate with no hope for a better future.

Over the past 40 years, U.S. Presidents and other world leaders have attempted to offer road maps for a lasting peace. To date none has resulted in any measurable success. And yet, most Palestinians and Israelis, when asked, express desire for peace and living together in economic harmony.

Most previous attempts have brought Mideast leaders together to develop acceptable compromises. But the combination of a complete lack of trust, and the need to appear tough to the extremist population segments at home, has created an environment where serious compromise has never had a chance.

I believe it is time to try a different approach. We need to create an environment of trust and amplify the voices of the less extreme segments of the population if we are going to give leaders a chance to have any type of successful negotiation. We have a unique opportunity now, with Gaza in total ruins, to do just that. Imagine the impact of the United States, working with the United Nations, bringing a team of talented professionals from around the world to lead a three year rebuilding project in Gaza?

The Gaza Strip is only 139 square miles, with a population of 1.4 million people. The size and geography helps make rebuilding a manageable task. By bringing experts from around the world to work shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians we accomplish the following:

* We provide employment and skill transfer opportunities to the population -- taking the young men who are building bombs and get them involved in building homes.

* By painting a vision for a better future and working side by side to get there, we build trust between Palestinians and other countries, but we also help them develop trust in themselves. * We carry President Obama's service vision beyond the US boundaries and start repairing our reputation in the Islamic world. Projecting a new image to the world will be the best approach to fighting terrorism.

* Experts from around the world help Palestinians build a model city with the proper infrastructure, schools, hospitals, etc... one they would be proud of and less likely to risk seeing it destroyed.

The timing is crucial for the following reasons:

* Gaza is in ruins and needs to be rebuilt.

* Over $2b has been promised from Arab countries for the construction, and more is coming.

* Unemployment in Gaza is over 25%. This great source of construction manpower would create opportunities to change the focus from hatred to hope.

* A healthy population of retirees, and unemployed Americans, are available to share their expertise.

* Working shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians can provide a new way to communicate and blunt the influence of Islamic extremists.

* Building this foundation will enable the shuttle diplomacy to have higher odds of success.

* Egypt, Syria and Jordan all seem to desire peaceful relations with Israel.

This process, of course, will need to be accompanied by high levels of diplomacy from the US and other nations. The problem in the Mideast has taken decades to develop and will prove to be just as time-consuming and difficult to heal. But the crisis going on in Gaza has created humanitarian standards that are simply unacceptable within the scope of our nation's said moral responsibility. And if that isn't reason enough to try a different approach now, the explosive nature of the Mideast is.

There is hope for the Middle East, but that hope must be cultivated through the development of real opportunity and possibility for those within the countries, not through more empty rhetoric and convoluted power struggles.