Some searches are easier than others: as it ensues from this issue of the Journal, those striving for regional cooperation in our area do so in a political environment that places formidable difficulties in the way of searchers. This is most vividly illustrated in the interviews with Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation, Shimon Peres, and Palestinian Minister for Planning and Cooperation, Nabil Sha'ath. Peres stresses that peace requires "a Middle East integrated in the modern global economy [and] regional cooperation in order to create a modern regional infrastructure benefiting all the peoples of the Middle East." Sha'ath responds that instead of substituting dreams for reality, "you have to carry out the simple task of withdrawing from our country… We cannot talk of regionalism if our people cannot move freely… We should totally forget the dreams of any regional improvement until the political process achieves its results." Some Arabs are frightened of Israeli economic hegemony, but both Sha'ath and other experts tend to discount these fears.
Here and there, of course, one comes across noncontroversial and functioning examples of regional cooperation between Israelis, on the one hand, and Palestinians, Jordanians, etc., on the other, some of which are described in this issue. It turns out, however, that even on a joint project like industrial parks, there are different evaluations. In the Israeli view, they offer the Palestinians work that helps raise their standard of living, provides them with experience toward the future, and meets Israel's security concerns. The Palestinians claim that they were denied equal and independent status in these projects and that they, in any case, contribute nothing toward establishing a viable Palestinian industrial infrastructure, which is what they need most. Some Palestinians see the parks as mere exploitation; others point out that, in any event, branches like textiles can't compete with plants in Asia.
The issue of regional cooperation is naturally to be seen in the context of the broadly shared refusal in the Arab states to normalize their relations with Israel before the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is solved. While there are circles on both Egyptian and Jordanian political landscape that support normalization, they are a small minority compared to the opposition in practice to any thaw. Some writers in this issue analyze this problem, which is clearly among the dominant factors hampering the development of regional cooperation.
This question is naturally reflected in Palestinian political discourse. Thus Ali al-Khalili, former chairman of the Writer's Union in the West Bank and Gaza, says that "Israel does not understand, or does not want to understand, that an Arab is neither a primitive nor a fool, and good neighborliness cannot coexist with the occupation and the Jewish settlements beyond the 1967 line, the theft of our water, and the denial of the refugees' right of return."
However, one of the basic points made in this issue of the Journal is that, because of the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the problem of Palestinian relations with Israel cannot be compared to that of Egyptians or Jordanians. There can be very little normalization and, hence, regional cooperation. On the other hand, normalization should not be confused with dialogue. Palestinian-Israeli dialogue is seen as an important factor in preparing for a more peaceful future, whatever the political circumstances.
A broad dialogue is also conducted on the problems of regional and Palestinian-Israeli cooperation. Whether the writers be Palestinians, Israelis or international experts, political figures or economists, soldiers or journalists, educationalists or health workers, they are contributing to that sort of dialogue which is a prerequisite to progress toward any better understanding of the issues that continue to divide the two peoples.