The Case for Holding the 2024 Olympics in Jerusalem

Envision a peaceful Middle East, where instead of fear and disorder, there is thriving commerce, resulting in prosperity and jobs. Picture Jerusalem--a city that holds immense spiritual significance for Christians, Jews, and Muslims--flourishing. Imagine Israelis and Palestinians working side by side.

A visionary academic believes it is possible, and it can be accomplished through an idea that may be unlikely to some.

Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris, and Rome--three European cities and one American city--are the finalists to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Three of these cities have previously hosted the Olympics. Los Angeles and Paris have already held the Olympics a combined four times.

According to the Olympic Charter, "The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

John Graham is a professor emeritus of marketing and international business and faculty director of the Center for Global Leadership at UC Irvine. In recent years, the scholar has advocated for holding the Olympics in Jerusalem as a catalyst for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

People in the Middle East are used to conflict and violence. Thus, simply imagining peace there hasn't worked. It's time for a new way of thinking, a more attractive goal. Imagine instead a prosperous, dynamic Middle East. Imagine peoples and countries that creatively and cooperatively take advantage of their natural and spiritual resources. A new focus on prosperity as the ultimate goal will yield peace along the way. Holding the Olympic Games in Jerusalem in 2024 will be the best first step.

In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking, 2011), Steven Pinker cites commerce as a historical force leading to a decrease in violence. Pinker wrote, "as technological progress allows the exchange of goods and ideas over longer distances and among larger groups of trading partners, other people become more valuable alive than dead, and they are less likely to become targets of demonization and dehumanization."

The idea is that commerce can lead to peace.

The Olympics would result in a substantial infusion of money (tens of billions of dollars) and a massive building spree. The second step of the process would take place after the Olympics. Graham suggests that a large company such as Disney could use the Olympic infrastructure to launch a theme park and tourist destination (such as a Middle East Disneyland). This would create permanent jobs.

To quote Father Greg Boyle, founder and director of Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps former gang members become productive members of society: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job."

While skeptical about the ability to implement an Olympic event in the Middle East, V. Seshan, a Pepperdine University professor emeritus of management, agrees that there is a potential benefit. "It's true that a rising tide of business does help economically," he said. "If you can raise the economic wealth in that region and Palestinians can participate in that, that would be helpful."

As Graham explained, Jerusalem would be an ideal location for a Disney park. It is an international city and the Middle East is a region in which Disney has yet to expand.

"Quit worrying about peace," Graham said. "Focus on prosperity, and peace will happen along the way."

Of course, there are roadblocks such as security concerns and cooperation among factions with strained relations. Graham, Lynda Lawrence, and William Hernández Requejo provide a plan for how to conduct such negotiations in their book Inventive Negotiation: Getting Beyond Yes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). They suggest an initial informal meeting among representatives of Israel, Palestine, and potentially Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan at a neutral location with international facilitation. "The process of the initial meetings would be brainstorming, but the consequences of these meetings would be new ideas and positive interpersonal relationships," they wrote.

Peace in the Holy Land is possible, but it will take a grand vision that leads to collaboration. If this still seems like an unattainable idea, consider that for many adults, the idea of Beijing hosting the Olympic Games was once unrealistic.

Learn more about the Jerusalem Olympics effort by visiting Graham's website.