If you’ve ever been to Israel, you might notice that it looks eerily like Central California. Back roads wind through dry golden hills, dotted with olive trees and oleander bushes. The countryside, however, has a major blight: a huge wall topped with barbed wire that delineates the Israel/Palestine border. Armed guards patrol the wall, ensuring that neither Arabs nor Israelis have the ability to antagonize each other. Conflict, hatred and violence have plagued this part of the world for a very long time. European and American interventions have not solved the conflict. Even so, President Obama is hoping to promote “democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion ” in the region with his current trip to the Middle East.
So what to do when politics, military strength and carefully-planned summits have all failed? Try creating peace and cooperation through business and profit-sharing. Or so says PeaceWorks, a “not-only-for-profit” company. You could say that PeaceWorks has a double-bottom-line business model; they pursue profit and peace in equal measure. They profit by selling healthy, natural food products that are produced by groups on traditionally opposing sides of a conflict. They pursue peace by “empowering the moderates” in the Middle East that hope for resolution to the ongoing conflict. The fundamental idea is simple: by working together to grow, harvest, produce and export a value-added food product, Arab and Israeli communities and business people can find common ground while earning a living wage.
PeaceWorks subscribes to the Theory of Economic Cooperation: “Mutually beneficial economic initiatives can create good relations between rivaling peoples in the same way that business partners anywhere profit from cooperation in today’s marketplace. In this manner, cooperative business ventures that capitalize on the strength of each partner can enable the conditions necessary to achieve long-lasting cultural understanding and eventually even bring prosperity to regions of conflict around the world.” Business and profit-sharing become the vehicle for mutual respect, job creation, economic stimulation and an improved standard of living.
PeaceWorks creates several natural food products from various parts of the world. Their Middle Eastern product, the Meditalia Tapenade, is the most intriguing. The olives are grown in Palestine, the sundried tomatoes in Turkey. The glass jars, in which the tapenade is sold, are manufactured in Egypt. The tapenade is processed and bottled in Israel. Eventually, the tapenade is sold at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, because the product is all-natural, vegetarian, vegan, cholesterol-free and kosher to boot.
Israel has been ruled by Babylonians, Byzantines, Romans, Ottoman Turks, Israelites and Palestinians. One tradition that has remained constant throughout this long history is agricultural trade and commerce. It might just be that its history is also its solution.