Jeff Fortenberry

06/18/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/18/2021 18:33

Fort Report: Fixing a Hole

This Fort Report is far away from your concerns in Nebraska, but it's important. When I was a college student, I took part in an exchange program in Egypt. I lived among the poor, with farmers, with the wealthy, with elected officials. I even sipped tea with the Bedouins in the Sinai Desert.

Fast forward forty years. As a Member of Congress on the Appropriations Subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the State Department and Foreign Operations, I am constantly considering matters of Middle East policy. On a fairly recent return trip to Egypt, I had a lengthy, encouraging visit with President Sisi, as well as meaningful dialogue with Egypt's ancient Christian community and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar mosque. I took a side trip to the old marketplace where I spent time decades before. While walking along one of its narrow corridors, I stepped in a hole. I looked down and said to my host, 'I think I stepped in that hole forty years ago.' We laughed. In the Middle East, some holes are hard to fix.

In neighboring Israel, we recently watched another traumatic flareup of hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. For years, politicians have touted 'the road map for peace.' But, as I have often said, every road needs a foundation.

Some time ago, a proposed a new idea called the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act to reestablish the preconditions of trust as a foundation for lasting peace. I am pleased to report that due to a concerted leadership push by former Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey of New York, the Nita Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) is now law.

Given the recent Egypt-orchestrated ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, the pressing need for transformative ideas for peacebuilding, and a shifting political environment, implementation of MEPPA is now a ripe policy consideration. MEPPA does two things: it builds trust through traditional people-to-people exchanges; it creatively deploys the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to jumpstart hugely beneficial private equity projects.

The business projects envisioned by MEPPA will have Israeli and Palestinian partners, with a particular focus on sustainable agriculture. The idea is that whether politics lurches left, lurches right, or something blows up, these profitable, mutually enriching ventures will be hard to unwind. The bill also has embedded safeguards to ensure that funds flow directly to these projects, not through governments, and not towards nefarious actors who could use the money to perpetuate violence.

From an initial concept over six years ago, we are now building out a MEPPA board, as we work to make an abstract policy idea real for people on the ground. In my recent exchanges with U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Power, there was strong agreement about the importance of this new tool.

I realize that your personal considerations are very far from these foreign policy dynamics. But this work for peace is ultimately about creating stability to protect us all. More people lost their lives to war in the 20th century than in all other wars in human history. While we consider ourselves modern and advanced, violence and the means of escalating violence are only increasing.

Tools like MEPPA, rooted in human relationship, understanding, respect, prosperity, and trust, offer another way--to build the foundation of the roadmap for peace. Maybe that hole I stepped in can finally get fixed too.