US President Joe Biden
US President Joe BidenReuters

Plan for peace: How Biden can help save the Middle East

To be sure, the previous Israeli government was dedicated to resistance thinking where needed — deterring Iranian and Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

NEW YORK: There are two dramas playing out today along the banks of the River Jordan, representing the two most powerful forces shaping politics in and around Israel.

Tell me which one dominates, and I’ll tell you what relations between Jews and Arabs will look like.

One is the logic of tribalism. It was starkly manifested in Israel’s newly elected ultra-religious, ultra-nationalist government, which was propelled into office by a surge in clashes between West Bank Palestinians and Israelis in general and a surge of criminal activity by Israeli Arabs against other Israeli Arabs and Jews in particular.

It’s all driven by the tribalist motto “Me and my brother against my cousin. Me, my brother and my cousin against the outsider.”

The Israeli leader of this coalition is Benjamin Netanyahu, who won election with a campaign focused on spreading fear of, and resisting power sharing with, Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel. Netanyahu’s main message was to Jewish Israelis: Only I can protect you from the other.

But while that election was unfolding, another logic was also at work: the logic of nature, which says that when the climate changes, as it is doing now, it is not the strongest or smartest species that survive.

It’s the most adaptive. And the most adaptive ecosystems are usually the most diverse, rich with species offering different ways to adapt.

They thrive because they’re able to forge healthy interdependencies among the different plants and animals and, in doing so, maximize their resilience and growth.

Their motto is “Me, my brother, my cousin and the outsider all collaborating naturally so we rise together, not fall together.”

An example of this kind of thinking was the tacit environmental alliance forged by Israel’s previous national unity government — led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett — in collaboration with leaders from Jordan, Palestine and the United Arab Emirates.

To be sure, the previous Israeli government was dedicated to resistance thinking where needed — deterring Iranian and Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

But it was also engaged in some very creative resilience thinking, based on this logic: Climate change and drought are going to kill us all long before we kill each other, unless we produce more sustainable sources of water.

That has to start with nursing back to life the Jordan River that has nourished this region for millenniums.

Today that requires unprecedented forms of Jewish-Arab collaboration.

I came here to the lowest spot on earth, where the ancient town of Jericho, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea all meet, to highlight this emerging nature-climate coalition.

My tour guide was Gidon Bromberg, a co-founder of EcoPeace Middle East, a regional environmental organization consisting of Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis striving to sustain one of the most water-stressed regions on the planet.

Without a healthy Jordan River, even date palms won’t be able to survive here. Middle East Eye recently quoted a Jordanian farmer about how haywire his planting season has become: “We used to start planting in July, but now we start in September or even October” because the summer months are too hot.

“But then it gets cold very quickly” — too quickly sometimes for vegetables to survive. In October 2021, I wrote about the outlines of what I hoped could become a new kind of peace treaty between Arabs and Israelis — a treaty fostering resilience among the parties rather than just ending resistance between the parties.

If President Biden can help shepherd this concept to fruition, it could be the biggest U.S. contribution to Middle East peace since Camp David.

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