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What Exodus Can Learn From Trinity

MJ Rosenberg

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A few years ago, it appeared that two of the most intractable international conflicts were coming to an end.  President Bill Clinton took the Rabin-Arafat handshake and helped convert it into a peace process which, by the late 1990's, had almost eradicated Palestinian terrorism and had moved both parties to acceptance of the two-state solution.  In Northern Ireland, Clinton pushed reluctant Catholics and Protestants (and a just-as-reluctant United Kingdom) into direct negotiations by issuing a visa to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

Today, peace among the Irish has to a large extent been realized (although extremists on the fringes continue to work to destroy it), while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages at a new intensity.   Northern Ireland has seen unemployment reduced from 15 percent to 5 percent; tourists are flooding the country; and Belfast neighborhoods once known for ethnic strife and terrorist bombings are now the sites of "peace tours " where one can view the remnants of the "Irish Troubles," now receding into history.  Meanwhile, Israel and the Palestinian areas are, as Northern Ireland used to be, suffering from random violence, staggering levels of unemployment, the collapse of the tourist industry, and pervasive pessimism about the future.

John J. Cullinane is taken with the parallels. Cullinane is president of The Cullinane Group, Inc., and was founder of Cullinet Software, Inc., one of the first companies to specialize in computer software products and the first to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange and to reach $1 billion in valuation.

Like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Cullinane is a strong advocate of the idea that religious, ethnic, and even national strife must at least partly be addressed through economic growth and job creation.  In his first visit to Northern Ireland a decade ago, he noted that the people most involved in the violence - on both sides - were young men without jobs. He also saw that these same young men (and women) were fully capable of being productive members of society if only they had a chance - which most did not in pre-peace process Northern Ireland.  Cullinane noted "that the only way you could get these long-time enemies into the same room would be to discuss jobs and economic development.  They even began going on trade
missions together, which was just remarkable."

Cullinane returned to Boston and established "Friends of Belfast in North America" to promote peace in Northern Ireland through economic development, and particularly, by establishing "call centers" there.  The call center concept is big business - and big business of the most job- intensive kind. The centers are simply offices (most often located abroad) which will walk you through computer problems, schedule a service call for a broken freezer, or explain how to save money by re-financing a home.  In fact, these days, calls you make to schedule a home repair visit from a myriad of huge companies are far more likely to be answered in New Delhi than New York (100,000 Indians have good high-paying jobs at call centers.)

Call centers had not been located in Northern Ireland simply because the seemingly endless ethnic strife obscured the Irish assets: an educated and industrious work force that spoke English.  But now, Stream International, a call center pioneer, is in Northern Ireland with call centers employing hundreds of people in neighborhoods where unemployment had been the norm for decades.  Other enterprises with which Cullinane is associated are transforming some of the most depressed areas in the country while making profits.  This is not charity; it is hard-headed free enterprise.

But doing good for Ireland is not enough for this entrepreneur. He has now joined forces with two members of the Boston Jewish community to put his Irish experiences to work in a new arena: the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Dan Singer is a Czech refugee who fled the Nazis and grew up in Israel.

Geoffrey Lewis is an American Jewish lawyer active in Boston community affairs.  He and Singer joined Cullinane to establish the Northern Ireland Middle East Connection (NIMEC), which will apply the Northern Ireland model to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian areas.  The unlikely trio - which Singer says might be called "The Three Amigos" - has already convinced Stream International to visit Amman in order to size up Jordan's potential for call centers, taking advantage of an English-speaking workforce as well as one which speaks Arabic, the language of 400 million Arab consumers.  Stream was impressed and is now moving forward.

The whole Irish-Mideast connection is going to be explored further next month at a conference hosted by the University of Ulster in Belfast.  For three days Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and others from the region will learn from Irish Catholics and Protestants how economic initiatives can help move people beyond ethnic strife toward peace.  Officials from Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia will hear from Northern Ireland's top entrepreneurs, community leaders and elected officials on how the Irish peace process was sustained and advanced by increased employment. Businesspeople from the United States, Ireland and the Middle East will all be on hand to discuss the practical side, with Stream International offering
a presentation entitled "The Stream Experience in Northern Ireland and How It Relates To the Middle East."
Geoffrey Lewis says that he hopes this project will make a "humble yet meaningful" contribution to creating conditions for peace in the region.  He notes that NIMEC hopes to be the catalyst for creating 20,000 jobs in the next five years in Jordan, the Palestinian territories, and in parts of Israel with large concentrations of Israeli Arabs.  Dan Singer adds that Jewish business people in the diaspora helped transform Israel's fledgling economy of the pre-state ("yishuv") years into the success it became.  He hopes Arabs both from the region and those living abroad will do the same for the Palestinians.

There will be those who, reading this, will respond that jobs are good, but terrorism is a separate matter.  But that just isn't so.  In 1999, I interviewed an Israeli general, Freddy Zak, who spent two decades in the West Bank.  This is what he said: "In my 20 years as governor of Jenin, Hebron and the Nablus districts in the West Bank, and as head of the Israeli civil administration in the West Bank and Gaza...it became clear to me that no man or woman with a decent job and hope for the future ever agreed to be a suicide bomber."

Then, speaking of Palestinian joblessness and the crashing GNP (infinitely worse today than then), he predicted that unless the peace process produced hope in the form of jobs, it would fail.  "If Oslo does not mean an improved life, what value does it have? Why not pursue an alternative route, as offered by Islamic fundamentalists like Hamas, who promise paradise after death, the satisfaction of continued confrontation with the 'oppressor' and socio-economic benefits which the peace process seems unable to provide."

Zak was speaking at a time when the peace process was still in effect and when suicide bombings and terror seemed to be horrors of the past.  He understood, however, that unless the peace process delivered jobs and economic development, the suicide bombers would return with a vengeance.  It didn't, and they did.

John Cullinane, Dan Singer and Geoffrey Lewis believe that any peace process that saves economic advancement for last is doomed to fail.  They would front-load the process by using economic improvement to advance the peace process, rather than the other way around.  It makes sense.  Besides, we already tried it the other way.

MJ Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC 's Near East Report. 

Source: Israel Policy Forum, October 4, 2002
Distributed by Common Ground News Service
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.

hagalil.com 17-10-2002



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