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Opinion

US and Israel haven't learned their history lessons. Palestinians and Abbas have.

Billions in US aid dollars to individual economies and militaries in the Middle East have not strengthened peace. The success of post-war Europe shows the key to unity is to get citizens of different nations to work together. That hasn't really happened with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

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To rectify this poor investment of foreign aid, the United States needs to reevaluate where it directs these billions. To support lasting peace in the region and the kind of relations the US had hoped to foster between aid recipients, it would be wise to take some of these funds and reallocate them toward economic projects between Israel, and Jordan and Egypt. In addition, funding for the United States Agency for International Development's Middle East Regional Cooperation Program and USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation should be increased.

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Finally, the US should take the lead in establishing an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace as advocated by the Alliance for Middle East Peace. This fund, especially with US support, would create better on-the-ground conditions necessary for bringing about a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. To do this, the fund would bolster the actions of the Israeli and Palestinian people-to-people nongovernmental organizations that work to create touch points of meeting and cooperation for people in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities. I work for one of those organizations: the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which prepares future Arab and Jewish leaders to solve the region’s environmental challenges.

One recent example highlights the important role these NGOs have to play in the region: Gershon Baskin, of The Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, played a key role in negotiating the Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange, which saw the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Because of his organization’s grassroots work within both Israeli and Palestinian communities, Mr. Baskin was uniquely qualified to act as the conduit between Hamas and the Israeli government.

Meanwhile, Mr. Abbas has come under a lot of criticism by the US and a number of European countries for taking the issue of Palestinian statehood to the United Nations earlier this fall. With the subsequent United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's vote to admit Palestine to its organization, the US has said it will not pay the $60 million this month it had previously committed to UNESCO. If the US decides to go through with withholding the funds, it will only isolate America further from much of the world community and do absolutely nothing for the peace process.

MONITOR COMMENTARY SERIES: 'Peace within Reach'

If the aim really is to support lasting peace and pave the way for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, the US could at least use the $60 million originally designated for UNESCO to fund USAID peacebuilding and development programs and the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

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