Religious hostilities are very high and rising in Israel and the Palestinian territories, reaching six-year highs. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, these social hostilities involving religion include mob or sectarian violence, religion-related terrorism or conflict, organized attempts to dominate public life with a particular perspective on religion, harassment over attire for religious reasons, and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.

Such social hostilities involving religion are not necessarily a direct reflection on the policies of the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority. However, in a dramatic move, as Israel's GDP growth declined again in 2013, prominent business leaders in Israel recently launched a media blitz arguing that peace is good for business and business is good for peace. 
Businesses Are Concerned
The business leaders involved in the media blitz are part of a group Israelis and Palestinians in the Breaking the Impasse (BTI) movement that favors advancing a diplomatic solution. Those involved reportedly include Mellanox cofounder Eyal Waldman, high-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi and Osem International/Nestle Israel CEO Gad Propper. 

The group reportedly hired a PR firm to mount a 10-day media and billboard campaign at a cost of 1 million shekels ($286,000). The campaign calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians. 

The economic argument associated with the BTI movement has surfaced at other venues, including at a May 2013 World Economic Forum event in Jordan, heartily supported by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as well as former U.K. Prime Minister and Quartet Representative Tony Blair

The plan seeks to improve the economic situation for Palestinians, thereby removing economic sources of tension and winning greater buy-in for a peaceful and sustainable future. 

Detractors of the plan criticize it for failing to deal with underlying social, security, political and sovereignty issues. 

Indeed, research highlighted by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation shows that underlying issues, such as restrictions on religious freedom, are important contextual elements that must be addressed in order for religious hostilities, violence and conflict to be reduced. When they are, this leads to greater stability, promotes innovation and fosters peace, all of which contribute to a better business environment.

Innovative Business Projects

Some micro-economic initiatives, however, are developing projects that aim to remove the mistrust that has developed in the region. For instance, the Abraham's Path Initiative is promoting a long-distance walking trail across the Middle East that would stimulate economic and cultural cooperation where it is currently in short supply. 

Similar initiatives by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) bring together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli environmentalists promoting cooperative efforts to protect their shared environmental heritage. In so doing, they seek to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in the region. 

Another micro-economic initiative was developed by Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-Executive Director at George Mason University's Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution. In 2009, he co-founded Middle East Justice and Development Initiative (MEJDI Tours) to use as a bridge between conflict resolution and business. For his work, he won the Intercultural Innovation award from the UN Alliance of Civilizations and was also named a National Geographic Explorer in 2011. 

Sign up for the Weekly Number Newsletter to keep up with the latest data on religious freedom, and watch my TEDx Talk for a global overview of restrictions on religious freedom today. 



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