Japan's Role in and Contributions to Solving
the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


When I mention the fact that, since the Oslo agreement, Japan has extended to the Palestinian people US$870 million worth of economic aid - the third-largest amount after the United States and the European Union - many Israelis wonder why Japan has given so generously. Many Palestinians, while expressing deep gratitude, might add the comment that Japan likes to maintain a low-profile posture in its involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These reactions show how little Japan's role in the Middle East peace process is known to the general public in the region.
This paper will explain what motivates Japan's rather active role and contributions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what policy tools it has used for this purpose. It will also touch upon Japan's most recent efforts, namely the concept of "the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity."

Why Does Japan Make an Effort to Contribute to the Middle East Peace Process?

In the Middle East, which has seen one conflict after another since the end of the Second World War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be described as the "mother of all conflicts." Not only the four brutal wars in which Israel and certain Arab countries have engaged, but also other conflicts such as the Black September incident in Jordan in 1970, the Israeli invasion into Lebanon in 1982 and the most recent conflict between Israel and Hizbullah are all directly or indirectly related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Radical groups in the region make use of this conflict in order to legitimize their claims and actions. It may not be true that all the region's existing conflicts will automatically be resolved once the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is brought to an end; however, as long as there is a certain amount of progress in the peace process, the radical organizations' rhetoric, and therefore public support for those organizations, will be weakened. In this sense, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a unique status in the peace and stability of the Middle East. And its significance goes well beyond the region to impact the peace and stability of the entire world.
One of the many factors that contributed to Japan's success in reviving its post-World War II economy, now the second-largest in the world, is its active trade relations, which are possible only in a peaceful and stable international environment. Naturally, it serves Japan's interests to maintain such an environment. Due to the gravity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict vis-à-vis international peace and stability, it is almost imperative for Japan to do everything possible to contribute to the resolution of this "mother of all conflicts."
In November 2006, Foreign Minister Taro Aso launched a new pillar of Japanese foreign policy: to create an "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity" along the outer rim of the Eurasian continent, stretching from Northeast Asia to Central Asia and the Caucasus, Turkey and Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. With this initiative Japan will double its efforts to realize a situation in which the peoples of these vast regions will enjoy peace and prosperity through economic development and democracy. As the Middle East constitutes an integral and significant part of this "arc," this rather ambitious policy necessitates further efforts for a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Moreover, the peace and stability of the Middle East is directly linked to Japanese economic activity, in that Japan imports more that 90% of its crude oil needs from the region. And in today's globalized economy, what affects the Japanese economy can in turn reverberate far and wide. Given that Japan's GDP accounts for more than 10% of the world's GDP - almost as large as the German and French GDPs combined and twice as large as China's - instability in the region and its negative effect upon oil exports would not only have a serious impact on the Japanese national economy but disrupt economic activities in many other countries. Japan therefore has a keen interest in ensuring the peace and stability of the region, in order to maintain both its own and international economic prosperity.

How Has Japan Contributed to the Middle East Peace Process?

Japan has contributed to the Middle East peace process mainly through its economic contributions. There are two considerations behind this policy. First, in Palestine, where the political system is probably the most democratic in the Arab world, the success of the peace process depends to a large extent upon the support of the general public. As long as citizens can see the tangible results of the process, the process will enjoy their support. Otherwise, they will feel betrayed and may shift their support to the political groups and organizations which reject the peace process and advocate violence. Secondly, the two-state solution means that a future Palestinian state will live side by side in peace and security with Israel and other neighboring countries. Such a Palestinian state should be equipped with a sound basis for viable economic activity.
In line with this policy, the Japanese government has extended to the Palestinian people as much as US$870 million since the Oslo Accords. This aid policy is composed of "four pillars": emergency humanitarian aid, support for nation-building and reforms, support for confidence-building and support for realizing a self-sustaining economy. Economic assistance has been delivered both bilaterally and through international organizations such as UNDP, UNRWA and UNICEF, and they cover a variety of fields including health and sanitation, education, water and various infrastructures.

The following are some of the unique features of Japan's official assistance to the Palestinians:

1) An emphasis on technical assistance. Successful nation-building is only possible through the dedicated endeavors of highly capable engineers and bureaucrats. It requires long-term, committed efforts toward capacity-building. So far Japan has invited more than 1,000 young Palestinians to attend seminars, workshops and training courses in Japan, and as many as 40 Japanese experts have provided training to Palestinians in various fields.
2) A comprehensive regional development plan. There is a risk of the Palestinian territories being developed in a disorderly manner, because numerous donors and NGOs are participating in economic development, and the Palestinian Authority is not strong enough to effectively control their activities. In order to avoid random and unsystematic development, it is of utmost importance to prepare a well-designed, long-term development plan. Japan has completed a comprehensive development plan (master plan) for the Jericho area, which presents several ways to turn the rich agricultural resources and tourist attractions in the area into engines for sound economic development. It also provides measures to solve problems such as solid waste management and maternal and child healthcare, by establishing effective local administrative organizations and empowering local officials.
3) Founding a sound basis for economic development. The history of Japan's and other Asian countries' post-war development demonstrates the importance of effectively combining the activities of private companies with a sound basis for economic development, which should be established by the government. Therefore the Japanese government has always paid serious attention to this issue and has implemented many projects out of this conviction. Such projects include the reconstruction of Allenby Bridge, which now plays a pivotal role in the distribution of goods and people between the West Bank and Jordan, and the construction of Saladin Road in the Gaza Strip.

Compared to its economic role, Japan's political role in the peace process is rather limited. Nonetheless, it has played some significant roles, both direct and indirect. In one direct role, Japan serves as the chair of the environmental issues working group within the multi-lateral track; indirectly, Japan actively participates in discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the framework of the G8 and the UN Security Council. In this context, it is worth mentioning Japan's diplomatic efforts on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Bandung Conference; Japan took the initiative to include support for the two-state solution and the Road Map in the foreign ministers' declaration. The reference to the two-state solution and the Road Map could tacitly imply recognition of Israel, yet all the foreign ministers, including those representing countries without diplomatic relations with Israel, unanimously agreed on the inclusion.

The Concept of the "Corridor for Peace and Prosperity"

This new initiative, the Japanese government's most recent endeavor, was launched in July 2006 when former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Israel, Palestine and Jordan, whose leaders warmly welcomed and supported the idea.
This concept did not come out of the blue, but rather emerged from the previous experience of Japan's assistance to the Palestinians, in particular the reconstruction of Allenby Bridge and the development of the agricultural sector in the Jericho area. The key element of this concept is to establish an agro-industrial park in the Jordan Rift Valley area and to export agricultural products to Jordan and beyond to the Gulf countries, with the aim of strengthening agricultural development in the West Bank. It is also designed to foster mutual confidence and trust among the three concerned parties - Israel, Palestine and Jordan - through meetings and activities necessary to implement the concept.
In order to realize this concept, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) sent to the region a project formulation team in November 2006. The team formulated two technical cooperation projects which will play auxiliary roles and collected necessary information for the agro-industry park project. An additional team of experts will be sent in March 2007 to determine the site for an agro-industrial park and to conduct other necessary studies.


It is true that the geographical and historical distances between Japan and the Middle East may be seen as impeding Japan from playing an important role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the current stage of globalization no longer allows Japan to take a passive position vis-à-vis any regional conflict. The peace and stability of the Middle East is so closely linked to its vital national interests that it is only natural for Japan to make an effort to settle the "mother of all conflicts." And to this end Japan is using its diplomatic resources in a unique manner, to try to engage in the peace process in a uniquely "Japanese" style.