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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
file under: vision of hopepeace in the Middle EastPalestineIsraelDemonstrations 6 Apr 2011 3:59 PM
Yes or No to Peace? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Peace between Israel and Palestine is becoming even more important now than ever before. There are, however, forces at work which are pushing the peace process forward, and others which are holding it back.

 

Both Netanyahu and Abbas are coming under considerable pressure to show some measure of progress on the peace front. Abbas has expressed his intent to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, in September 2011. Presumably, if such recognition were to be given, then a Palestinian state would come into being without resolving such contentious issues as the status of Jerusalem, and the "right of return" of the refugees. If Israel refuses to recognize Palestine, or refuses to cooperate in implementing the U.N. mandate, then Israel could find itself further isolated in the international community, with the resulting calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). And yet, without Israel's cooperation, it is hard to see how a Palestinian state could emerge and become viable.

 

Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority for that matter, are also under a great deal of pressure to move forward on peace. Fattah, the political faction in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, find themselves vying for power on an existential level. Much of the economic and institutional gains that have been achieved by Fayyad in the West Bank could be undermined by a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. Such a takeover is seen by much of the West Bank leadership as a dead end for their aspirations to build a free and prosperous Palestine. The dismal conditions in Gaza do not bode well for a Palestine run by Hamas. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that Abbas sees a peace deal with Israel as something which would give Fattah some measure of credibility in the eyes of his people, and as a way of consolidating political opposition to Hamas. On the other hand, Hamas could easily portray the search for peace as a sign of weakness on the part of Fattah. Alternatively, reconciliation between Fattah and Hamas, which remains unlikely, could lead to a sharing of power, and a more united approach in finalizing a deal with Israel.

 

The current unrest on the Arab street increases the pressure on Netanyahu and Abbas to negotiate a peace agreement. No one really knows who in the Middle East will end up assuming the reigns of powers. However, it is more likely than not, at least in some of the Arab countries, that the new leaders will be more responsive to the aspirations of the people. For example, for 30 years Israel could count on Mubarak of Egypt to keep the peace, even a cold peace at that. Now, however, with Mubarak out of the picture, the new leadership will probably take the will of the people more seriously. And if the people demand justice for Palestinians, then Egypt, and other Arab states, will reflect that attitude in their dealings with Israel, and with the West. A peace deal would therefore make relations much easier between Israel and her newly-constituted neighbors, and also between the Middle East and the West.

 

And of course, much of the West's obsession with the Middle East is about the oil. The free flow of oil is indispensable to Western economies. Therefore, to the extent that a peace deal between Israel and Palestine fulfills the aspirations of the man on the street, and takes away the convenient tool that extremists use to inflame passions, and improves relations between Arab States and the West, then to that extent, the free flow of oil will be assured, and the West can take comfort in being able to run its economic engines.

 

As if these considerations weren't enough, there is one more reason to push the peace process forward at this particular time. It could well be argued that under the right circumstances, Israel could end up playing a major role in revitalizing the Middle East with good paying jobs. The people on the street want two things in particular: decent jobs and the freedom to live their lives as they wish. To a great extent, these two noble aspirations are what Israel is all about. As an example, of the three judges who recently convicted President Katzav of rape, two are women, and the chief judge is an Israeli Arab. Where else in the Middle East would such a thing be possible?

 

Many choose to see Israel as the problem in the Middle East. But in reality, Israel is the solution for the Middle East. Israel has precisely what the Middle East needs. A peace deal between Israel and Palestine will help to neutralize at least some of the hate, and will open the door to allow Israel to partner with her neighbors to revitalize the region consistent with the will of the people.

 

Therefore, we call upon Netanyahu and Abbas to rise to the occasion and to leave no stone unturned in their quest for peace. No doubt there is a long history of failure in this regard. And no doubt there will be bitter pills to swallow on both sides of this conflict. However, the circumstances on the ground, even as we speak, all point to the possibility of a new beginning, a chance for peaceful co-existence, and the prospects for a new Middle East, where peace, prosperity and freedom reign supreme, and a Vision of Hope is finally allowed to take hold.

 

 

file under: vision of hopeMiddle East Peaceeconomic developmentDemonstrations 24 Mar 2011 5:01 PM
Half Measures with No Clear Vision in Sight Posted by Nissim Dahan
Where is the vision? Where are we heading? And how do we get there?

 

For some reason, when it comes to the Middle East, people the world over seem to content themselves with half measures and short-sighted thinking. We feel good about doing something, anything for that matter, even if it has little bearing on the problem at hand, or no chance of bringing about a long term solution.

 

Take, as an example, the current military campaign in Libya, which is being undertaken by France, England and the U.S. We are targeting military installations, pursuant to authorization from the U.N. Security Council and the Arab League, ostensibly to stop Gadhafi from killing his own people. Sounds good, right? But as they say, the devil is in the details. Why aren't we attacking other dictators who are similarly killing their own people? How will a strictly air campaign prevent Gadhafi from killing his people? Isn't regime change our ultimate goal? How will an air campaign bring about regime change? And if Gadhafi steps down, who will take his place, and to what end?

 

And the Libya affair is not an isolated example of lack of vision and lack of direction. With our blood and treasure heavily invested in Afghanistan and Iraq, we still don't have even a hint of peace and stability in those nations. With a sanction regime imposed on Iran, we still see Iran pursuing its nuclear weapon ambitions with impunity, as well as its ambitions to remake the Middle East as it sees fit. And with the mounting pressure being exerted on the whole of the Middle East by the man on the street, we still don't have a sense that the change that is coming will be in keeping with the aspirations of the people, and with the best interests of the region as a whole.

 

So what is missing in the puzzle we call the Middle East? What is missing is a vision, and a reasonable way of giving substance to the vision. And without a vision, and a solid plan of action, the best made plans of mice and men will drift aimlessly in the winds of change.

 

What is needed is a vision, a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. It doesn't have to be that vision in particular, although such a vision would address most of what people aspire to, but it should be a vision which brings together all the pieces of a possible solution to our most intractable problems, which packages those pieces in the most attractive way possible, and which allows us to sell that vision to the man on the street. A vision of that sort, a vision which captures hearts and minds, would buy us time to make the necessary changes to give substance to the vision. When the man on the street, who fumes with anger even as we speak, comes to believe that he is being offered a place at the table, a stake in his future, then he may settle down, at least for a while, comforted in the belief that his dreams for the future may one day become real.

 

And who do we need most of all, to give substance to a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom? Well we have plenty of politicians out there, talking up a storm. And we have academics galore, arguing this and that, back and forth, and back again. And of course, we have our diplomats, ever so careful in the words they choose, going about here and there, making their presence known. But if we really want to get something done, if we choose to move from words to deeds, then we will have no choice but to get the business community in on the game, so as to create good paying jobs; jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect our environment, and jobs which help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking.

 

Instead of half measures and short-sighted thinking, we owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to put in place a new model for the Middle East, by inspiring the world's top business leaders, Billionaires for Peace, to push the peace process forward from behind the scenes, and to revitalize the entire region with good paying jobs, moderate candidates, and requisite institutions, for the sake of global peace, prosperity and freedom. 

 

There is a real opportunity now to make something happen in the Middle East, something that could change the world for the better, and something that will breathe life into the people there and beyond. But nothing good will happen, if all we look for is the quick fix. What is needed is a vision which puts it all together, and the willingness to do what it takes to make real what is now only a dream.

 

Please join us, with your comments.
file under: vision of hopepeace in the Middle EastDemonstrationsbillionaires for peace 4 Mar 2011 4:24 PM
Doing Justice to the Martyrs Posted by Nissim Dahan
 

It's one thing to bring about a revolution; it's quite another to bring about revolutionary change.

 

There are people dying, even as we speak, on the streets of the Middle East.  Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia set himself on fire, and in one fell swoop, set the entire region ablaze. But to what end?

 

Like Martin Luther King, the man on the street has a dream. And his dream is not all that difficult to fathom. He wants the dignity of a decent job, and the freedom to live his life as he wishes. Are these aspirations in the cards for him, or will his dream be left in the dust, in the flurry of competing agendas?

 

One can only imagine what must be happening now behind closed doors, in the halls of political power; what promises are being made; what deals are being cut. When the dust settles, will the voices of the dead be heard?

 

Several possibilities come to mind. The old guard may find a way to reassert its grip on power, only in a new guise. Alternatively, the ideological extremists, who believe what they want to believe, could use the ballot box to gain control, only to impose a new regime of oppressive rule. Iran, after all, enjoyed a few months of democratic rule, after the fall of the Shah, only to usher in the Ayatollahs, who had a different idea in mind. One man, one vote, one time. Or so the motto goes. And finally, although there are no guarantees, it may actually be possible, this time around, to institute revolutionary change, the change that gives life to the aspirations of the people, and that does justice to the legacy of the dead.

 

What can be done to give substance to the hopes of the people? Three things. First, we should recognize the opportunity that exists for meaningful change. Second, we should embrace a vision which allows us to take advantage of that opportunity. And third, we should find a mechanism that allows us to give substance to the vision. In this way, we can finally make real what is now only a dream.

 

The opportunity that exists for real change in the Middle East comes from the fact that many of the key players are beginning to worry about the same kinds of things, and may actually need one another for a change, to stave off these very common existential threats. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." For example, many Arab leaders worry about two things in particular: the threat from a nuclear Iran, and the threat from the man on the street. These common threats could point to common interests, what I call a mosaic of mutual self-interest, which could in turn be used to create a strategic/economic alliance between the Arab states, Israel, the U.S., and Europe. The alliance will focus primarily on two things: providing security for the region and creating good paying jobs; jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which weaken the hold of extremist thinking.

 

What sort of a vision will be required to take advantage of the opportunity that exists for real change? It should be a Vision of Hope for the Middle East, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. It will be a vision which puts together all the pieces of a possible solution to our most intractable problems-the Economy, the Environment and Extremism-which packages those pieces in the most attractive way possible, and which allows us to sell that package to the man on the street. It will be a vision which inspires a sense of hope, and which delivers on that promise by giving everyone in the region a place at the table, a stake in his or her future. And it will be a vision which is complete, in that it addresses all the needs and aspirations of the people, from every point of view possible.

 

And what mechanism can best give substance to a Vision of Hope? Certainly, political leaders will be needed, who recognize the needs and aspirations of the people, and who know how to translate those intangibles into hard realities. But in addition, and perhaps even more importantly, business leaders will be needed as well, Billionaires for Peace, who will work behind the scenes to push the peace process forward, and to revitalize the entire region with good paying jobs, moderate candidates and requisite institutions. These visionaries will put in place a new model for the Middle East, a model that inspires a sense of hope, and that delivers on that promise.

 

More than any other group, it is perhaps the business community which is best positioned, most qualified, and most inclined to turn the Middle East around, and to do justice to the memory of the dead, by giving life to the aspirations of the living.

 

 

file under: vision of hoperevolutionDemonstrationsa new model for the Middle East 13 Feb 2011 4:49 PM
The Head of State vs. The Man on the Street Posted by Nissim Dahan
Mohammed Bouazizi was an educated young man, from Sidi Abu Zeid, a small town in Tunisia, who entered the job market that had no jobs. To support his mother and sister, he undertook, without a license, to sell vegetables on the street. When the authorities confiscated his vegetable cart, insulted him, and refused to hear his grievances, he proceeded to set himself on fire, and in due course, to set the entire Middle East ablaze.

 

What does Mohammed's act of self-immolation mean? It means that a young man, such as Mohammed, needs to find a way to earn a living, and needs as well the freedom that makes his life worth living. It means that the model that has been put in place in the Middle East, with its corruption, and its oppression, and its denial of human rights and basic freedoms, is out of step with the aspirations of the people. It means that in the hyper-connectivity of today's world, one man's rage is another man's call to arms. And it also means as well that there is an opportunity now to build a new Middle East from the ashes of the old.

 

But how do we go about building a new Middle East? We begin by looking at two key players in particular: the head of state, and the man on the street. To a great extent, the future of the Middle East depends on the interplay between these two. What does the man on the street want? As was the case with Mohammed Bouazizi, the man on the street wants a job, and the freedom to live his life. And what does the head of state want? He wants, above all, security from within, and without. He wants to know that his rule will not be undermined by dissent from within, or by aggression from without. The head of state, therefore, has no choice but to do what he can to grow the economy, as a way of creating the jobs which will placate the citizenry, and as a way of obtaining the resources to fend off aggression from other countries and other groups.

 

If we look at what motivates the head of state, on the one hand, and the man on the street, on the other, we can see hints of the grand bargain that could be struck, and the prospects that are now out there for a new Middle East. The man on the street wants freedom and jobs. The head of state wants internal and external security, and a growing economy that fulfills the needs and aspirations of the people. Both of these players, therefore, should be able to agree that economic growth and job creation are at the heart of what needs to be done. And both may also agree to close the deal as follows: We will work together to grow the economy and to bestow freedom to the people, in exchange for the people agreeing to respect the rule of law, and to maintain an orderly transition to freedom and democracy.

 

In the past, other mechanisms were put in place to maintain some semblance of stability on the street. Those measures will no longer work. The old model is out. Something new must take its place. The new model will be about freedom and jobs. Those are the causes for which Mohammed Bouazizi died. They are also the causes on which a grand bargain can be struck in the Middle East between the head of state and the man on the street. In the midst of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry famously said, "Give me liberty, or give me death." In this new revolution, the one we see unfolding before our eyes, the new formulation might go something like this, "Give me freedom, and give me a job, and I will agree to your rule, for as long as you stay true to the dream we can both share."

file under: vision of hopeMiddle East PeaceDemonstrations 7 Feb 2011 2:56 PM
Work for Change, But Change that Works Posted by Nissim Dahan
Clearly, the model that has been put in place in the Middle East is on its way out. But what comes next?

 

People on the streets of Egypt, and throughout the Middle East for that matter, are rejecting the status quo even as we speak. What we have come to expect in the region are regimes which usually have a strongman at their center. The opposition is kept in check using a whole host of constraints on personal freedoms and human rights. The powers that be enrich themselves, in a corrupt way, at the expense of the people, who are desperate to make a living. The foreign aid that comes in is diverted away from the people at every turn. The military is courted by the government, as the guarantor of security, in the face of the rage that swells up in the hearts of the people. When necessary, and it is always necessary, diversionary tactics are used to divert attention away from the corruption and incompetence of government. And yet again; a new generation of young graduates enter a job market where there are no jobs.

 

There is no question that a model of this sort is out of step with the needs and aspirations of the people. They yearn for freedom and they need jobs. So too is this model out of step with the need to compete in a global economy. And the opportunities that exist for people to connect on line make it even more difficult for such a model to persist. A change is called for. But will it be a change for the better? Or will it be change for the sake of change, which ushers in an even greater measure of oppression, and an even bleaker vision for the future?

 

Let there be no doubt that the extremists, wherever they may be, and whatever religion they happen to subscribe to, are ready, willing and able to assume the reigns of power. In the past, this is precisely what happened. The Ayatollahs hijacked Iran's revolution and sidelined the aspirations of the people in the process. Hezbollah is doing as it wishes with Lebanon, leaving the will of the people in the dust. Hamas has gobbled up Gaza and is undermining the possibility of a free, independent and prosperous Palestine. And the Muslim Brotherhood, which gave inspiration to al Qaeda, and to Hamas, is poised to seize the moment, to take control, and to remake Egypt in its own image.

 

If the people on the street ultimately end up choosing extremism, there may be no real way to stop that from happening. However, we owe it to the people on the street, to ourselves, and to the future of the Middle East, to at least put an

alternative on the table. We need to put a different model in place; one that inspires in people a sense of hope, one that competes effectively for hearts and minds, and one that is more likely to achieve some measure of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom for the Middle East. The old model is on its way out. The extremist model should be kicked out even before it takes hold. And a new model, a Vision of Hope, should be given the chance to take root in the minds of the people who remain open to the possibility of a brighter day.

 

What will the new model look like? It will have at its core an ideological framework based on common sense, an Ideology of Common Sense. It will have a consortium of top business leaders revitalizing the Middle East with good paying jobs; jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which weaken the hold of extremist thinking. It will use ideology and investment to sell people on a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. It will sustain the hope with public and private diplomacy. And finally, it will embolden us to fight against extremism, but it will also give the fight on the ground a good measure of credibility by positioning the fight within a Vision of Hope. We are not fighting a war against terror. We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.

 

The model I'm talking about will take several generations to construct. A good thing is hard to build after all. But in the meantime, we should put the vision out there, so that when elections come around, the people on the street will at least have a choice. And if I were them, here is how I would vote: No to the outdated model of the past. No to the dead end model of the extremists. Yes to a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.