KAI RYSSDAL, anchor: This is MARKETPLACE from American Public Media. I'm Kai Ryssdal.
It was anything but calm today in Gaza. Midnight tonight in Israel was the deadline for Jewish settlers to leave the occupied territory or be removed by Israeli soldiers. It is still too early to say whether Israel and the Palestinians are on the right track, but commentator Robert Hunter says whether they are or not, everything depends on cold, hard cash.
ROBERT HUNTER: Most Israelis and Palestinians clearly want peace to happen. But as things stand now, the Palestinians have about zero chance of making the desert bloom in Gaza. The reason is simple: almost no cash. That means not much economic development, little hope for the future, and no foundation for peace. The outside world, including the US, has promised to help, but so far, the money spigot is just dripping. The needs are obvious: roads, seaport and airport, education and a modern health system, job training and job creation. And above all, replacing the remnants of refugee camps with housing fit for an upwardly mobile population. All this will cost money.
Last February at a conference of US and European leaders, yours truly proposed a $6 billion investment fund to help Gaza succeed: $2 billion each from the US, the European Union and the Arab oil producers. Europe's foreign policy chief immediately agreed. He said he had his share ready to go if the others would chip in with theirs. So far, not much response. The Bush administration asked Congress for $200 million to underpin Palestinian success, but Congress cut even that to $150 million. Foreign aid, even for something as important as this, is simply too low on the US totem pole.
If you ask me, that's chump change. At this rate, Israel's withdrawal from Gaza will fail. Instead of becoming a showcase of what the Palestinians can do, Gaza will stay mired in misery. Terrorists and opponents of democracy will gain in strength. Israelis will be less likely to take another risk for peace, and we can all kiss this chance for peace goodbye.
So far, we Americans have spent about $200 billion on the Iraq War. Putting up 1 percent of that to help Israel and the Palestinians take a giant step toward peace should be a no-brainer.
RYSSDAL: Robert Hunter is a senior adviser at the RAND Corporation and a former US ambassador to NATO. Your thoughts, we'd like to hear them. Really, we would. It's letters@Marketplace.org.
This commentary originally appeared on Marketplace on August 16, 2005. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.