Promoting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Niva Golan-Nadir

Niva Golan-Nadir is a Doctoral Fellow at the University of Haifa

Nissim Cohen

Senior Lecturer at the Department of Public Administration & Policy, School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa

Are individual businesspeople who operate as policy entrepreneurs willing and able to influence peace processes in conflict areas? The literature on businesspeople as policy agents shifts when talking about peace processes, focusing on group level activities and ignoring the effect of individual agents. In this article, we argue that rather than regarding businesspeople as a traditional interest group, we should consider the approaches to promoting change that strongly motivated individuals adopt as policy entrepreneurs. Based on interviews with senior Israeli businesspeople and decision-makers, we demonstrate how strongly motivated Israeli businesspeople promote peace as policy entrepreneurs. We identify their motivations, goals, challenges, and the strategies they use. The findings indicate that although motivated by economic profits, businesspeople undertake activities that may prove very beneficial to both themselves and society as a whole.

More specifically, this study addresses a two-part question about the role of businesspeople in promoting peace in areas of conflict. First, how do businesspeople who are driven primarily by the desire for profits advance the prospects for peace? Second, how do they accomplish this goal by utilizing methods unavailable to other actors? Are businesspeople who operate as policy entrepreneurs willing and able to influence peace processes in conflict areas? What are the motivations, strategies, goals and barriers that they face while functioning as policy entrepreneurs in peace processes?

The theoretical link we posit between the involvement of individual businesspeople in the peace process and policy entrepreneurship may serve the research on both peace and public policy. Many peace processes rely on economic development as a tool for peace making. Hence, analyzing the involvement of businesspeople in the peace process as policy entrepreneurs may enrich the literature about policy entrepreneurs and improve our understanding of the role they play in peace processes. In this perspective, the involvement of Israeli businesspeople in the Israeli–Arab conflict is an interesting laboratory in which to examine our claim. Thus, focusing on businesspeople’s involvement in peace processes only on the group level may prevent us from understanding the motivations, goals and strategies they use as individuals and the challenges they face in this new role.

Hence, this article focuses on the innovative theoretical insight that strongly motivated individuals adopt pioneering approaches to promote change as policy entrepreneurs. We argue that the traditional interest group approach to viewing the role of businesspeople in the peace process is not the only way to understand their actions in changing policy. Analyzing the involvement of businesspeople in the peace process as individual policy entrepreneurs may enrich the literature about policy entrepreneurs and improve our understanding of the role they play in promoting peace. In addition, we investigate the characteristics of their entrepreneurship strategies in promoting the peace process. We maintain that strongly motivated individuals may take personal, innovative steps to approach the problem differently and function as policy entrepreneurs.

Focusing on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, we demonstrate how several determined Israeli businesspeople began functioning as policy entrepreneurs in initiating peace efforts. We then identify their motivations, strategies, goals and challenges, and describe the strategies they use in promoting peace.

Our analysis reveals that one of the main characteristics of private sector policy entrepreneurs is that although their primary goal is to increase their personal profits within existing institutions, they try to influence public policy to open up new opportunities for society as a whole. Therefore, even if they are motivated mainly by self-interests, policy entrepreneurs can create positive externalities for society, because the benefits of their actions are shared collectively. However, our findings also indicate that although economic profits are crucial to their cost–benefit calculations, they are often motivated by a commitment to peace as well. Nevertheless, that commitment does not outweigh the goal of increasing profits.

Finally, while the literature often tars the involvement of businesspeople and business communities in politics and policy as being motivated by purely selfish interests, such is not the case in complex and violent conflicts. Hence, despite the extensive research that has emphasized the power that businesspeople wield, it is clear that in certain areas such as complicated conflicts, they have failed to have a significant impact. Thus, the power of business as measured by its ability to influence political outcomes is not a given. Future research should try to determine the policy domains or structural conditions in which their power seems to be so dramatically muted.

This post draws on the authors’ recent article in Policy Studies, which can be found here:

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