December 8, 2019

Kellogg Executive MBA Grads Try T-Shirt Diplomacy to Create Missing Trust

While the Middle East anxiously waits for details of the Trump “Deal of the Century” — a reference to the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan shepherded by Jared Kushner — Middle Eastern alumni of the prestigious Kellogg Executive MBA program have formed an independent coalition of graduates from other quality institutions. They have taken it upon themselves to apply pragmatic business theory, their vast business experience and their broad network of connections to privatize the role of conciliator in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They also want to create an innovative type of conduit of communication and conflict resolution to open new opportunities for leadership.

On May 11, alumni from the Kellogg School of Management; Adam Mickiewicz University (Poland); and Tapas MBA at Microsoft Venture Academy — most of them currently in senior business and academic positions — launched the project under the umbrella International Peace Accelerator (IPA). They scheduled events in four international cities, beginning with Tel Aviv and Ramallah.

According to the group’s founders, as a result of research and extensive meetings with influential Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders, IPA has identified the need for an international conduit to facilitate communication and information to leadership figures in an innovative method referred to as “the Silicon Valley way.”

Arab-American entrepreneur Huda El Jack, co-founder of the project, explained to The Media Line the importance of the International Peace Accelerator as the anchor for the process. As evidenced by the challenges of the U.S. initiative to introduce the “Deal of the Century,” trust is a key factor in this conflict and one that cannot be overlooked.

“We would like to bring the methods that enable companies to grow from an idea to the iPhone, from the Yellow Pages to Google,” El Jack said. “We need these people who know how the regional young generation thinks, who know how to address opinion leaders, and to feel the social media. We want to enable smart younger people with T-shirts to have an influence. We call it T-shirt diplomacy.”

“There are elephants in the corridor leading to the negotiation room that prevent parties from even starting to negotiate … .” — Itai Kohavi

Indeed, while few specifics are known about the Trump-Kushner proposal, Palestinian rejection of U.S. involvement clearly is based on lack of trust in the American team to serve as honest brokers. This has been and continues to be a major obstacle to progress. The IPA concept addresses this roadblock.

When even one party perceives that a suggested conciliator and process is biased, even simple communication becomes an impassable challenge. According to El Jack, “There has rarely been a mediator in this conflict that was perceived to be unbiased and balanced by the parties. Nations have interests, by definition, but the International Peace Accelerator is designed to be unbiased and fair. We are the people of the conflicting parties, not the civil servants of third-party countries.”

According to American Israeli Itai Kohavi, whose “Treadmill Negotiation: The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process” is one of the cornerstones of the project, “The International Peace Accelerator will enable the Palestinian and Israeli leadership as well as those of Arab countries and the international community to enjoy the creativity of the most talented individuals in the region − the same individuals who work for Google and Microsoft, for PayPal and Facebook.”

Speaking with The Media Line, El Jack and Kohavi shared their belief that as an unbiased conduit, the IPA will enable leaders to consider innovative approaches that may lead to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole, not only the Israeli-Palestinian track of the larger conflict.

“There are elephants in the corridor leading to the negotiation room that prevent parties from even starting to negotiate, and these elephants are not the core issues of the conflict, but the profound disbelief of each side in the real intentions and capabilities of the other side,” Kohavi said.

“Without tackling these elephants first, it’s almost impossible to hope to reach an agreement on the core issues,” El Jack added.

According to Kohavi and El Jack, the launch events give the International Peace Accelerator the opportunity to present the initiative’s progress and its unique “case study” methodology to the alumni. It also speaks to an impressive gathering of diplomats, academics, private sector leaders, think tanks and other select individuals from the United States, Japan, Poland, Finland, Arab countries, Palestine, Israel and other nations. This array of attendees demonstrates the widespread interest in a much-needed new approach to bringing the conflict resolution train back on track. It also enables participating individuals to engage and contribute in various ways following the events.

El Jack and Kohavi presented three future case studies, the first involving the Palestinian leadership announcing a plan to transparently create a peaceful Palestinian state that will be able to thrive in the region.
The second case study looks to the Israeli government to appropriate enough money to fund a permanent entity that solely focuses on resolving the conflict. “The official conflict resolution or peace budget in Israel is zero,” Kohavi said.
The first two cases allow Palestinians and Israelis to take a step toward peace that is independent of each other’s actions. Kohavi explained that achieving the aforementioned goals shows the other side and the world that the particular party is serious about solving the conflict.
The third case study examines a “game changing event,” pointing to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Israel.
El Jack and Kohavi offered proposals similar to the Palestinian president visiting Auschwitz with his Israeli counterpart, and the Israeli president and his Palestinian equivalent visiting a refugee camp or the Palestinian National Museum.
“It sounds like fantasy, but so does the Sadat visit,” Kohavi said.

All three case studies do not require either side to acquiesce anything, such as land.

Tara Kavaler contributed to this story.