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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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file under: vision of hopeMiddle East Peacehuman rightsDemonstrations 26 Jan 2011 4:00 PM
Where Will The Rage Take Us? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Things are heating up in the Middle East. People throughout the region are fed up, and rightfully so. They've had it with the oppressive regimes, the corruption, the lack of economic opportunities, and the denial of human rights. And yet, as the anger continues to mount, and as the possibility of change begins to loom large, we must step back and ask ourselves: Where will the rage take us?


Several possibilities come to mind. The regimes could intensify their response, with violence, and the people on the streets might back down. We've seen this scenario play out time and time again. Alternatively, the government could back down, only to be replaced by new political leaders who resort to the oppressive agendas of the past, in the name of restoring a sense of order. And finally, ideological extremists could sense a power vacuum in the making, and could seize the opportunity to bring about regime change. Such an outcome could easily bring back the oppression, but this time in the guise or religious fanaticism. All these various outcomes would be bad, because they do not adequately address the needs and aspirations of the people.


If we want our rage to count, we have no choice but to focus like a laser beam on what it is we want; and to figure out how we're going to get there. Suppose, for example, we agree on a Vision of Hope for the Middle East, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom. These three things, Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom, depend on one another, like the three legs of a three-legged table, each leg supporting the other two, and all three supporting a Vision of Hope:


  • Peace supports Prosperity and Freedom because you must stop the violence to grow the economy, and to institute democratic reforms.


  • Prosperity supports Peace and Freedom because people need to believe that their sacrifices on behalf of peace and democracy will eventually lead to a better economic future.


  • Freedom supports Peace and Prosperity because people will elect leaders who have the political mandates to make the painful concessions for peace, and to institute economic reforms.


Now here's the tricky part. How could we go about realizing a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom? The trick is to find a mechanism that seems non-threatening on its face, but which is calculated to bring about positive change. That way, it may be possible to effectuate change, without having the existing regimes over-react, and without bringing to the fore new oppressors in the making, such as the ideological extremists. My best guess is that business is the key. Business is ideologically neutral. Business can create a neutral pathway to peace. Business creates its own ideological imperative. Once people are making money together, they are much less likely to go at each other's throats. Business can create good paying jobs and the prosperity that results. And finally, once people begin to make a decent living, and once they come to enjoy more peaceful relations with their neighbors, then eventually, the personal freedoms of the individual come to be respected and even protected by the powers that be. Human rights and personal freedoms go hand-in-hand with economic development.


It is difficult to say with certainty that an approach of this sort will work. But it is definitely worth trying, if for no other reason than all the failed attempts that came before. Take China as an example. China is still a dictatorship, there is no doubt. And human rights continue to remain an illusive dream. However, as a strong and vibrant middle class begins to take root, and as people's standard of living begins to improve, there is every reason to believe that the rights and freedoms of the individual will grow in stature, and that the government will eventually have no choice but to accommodate this new reality.


Since economic development is at the heart of what needs to be done in the Middle East, I believe that it would be good to put together a group of top business leaders who will work behind the scenes to promote the peace, and to revitalize the entire region with good paying jobs: jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking, wherever such thinking is to be found. Eventually, if the stars align just right, and granted it's a big "if," I see the possibility of using a mosaic of mutual self-interest in the Middle East, to create a strategic/economic alliance between the Arab states, Israel, and the U.S., which would usher in the peace, and revitalize the region. It may seem a bit far fetched, given all the turmoil that is brewing even as we speak. But it is precisely the turmoil which may one day give birth to the dream.


Please join us at

file under: vision of hopeMiddle East Peacejob creation 16 Jan 2011 3:04 PM
Billionaires for Peace: A Hypothetical Example of How It Could Work Posted by Nissim Dahan
Some of my friends and I have recently begun work on a project we call Billionaires for Peace; an effort to inspire top business leaders with a Vision of Hope for the Middle East, to have them work behind the scenes to push the peace process forward between Israel and Palestine, and to encourage them to revitalize the entire Middle East with good paying jobs; jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking, wherever such thinking is to be found. At first, we weren't quite sure if anyone would listen. But gradually we are coming to the conclusion that this idea is marketable, even within circles of political and business leaders who actually have the wealth and power to make something happen along these lines.


            As people consider the idea of Billionaires for Peace, it is only natural to be somewhat skeptical, and to wonder if it could really work. After all, those among us who are fortunate enough to possess great wealth are often very busy, and are inclined to pursue business and humanitarian efforts in their own private and individualistic ways. Why would they agree to join forces in common purpose with others of their stature? And why would they even consider undertaking such a monumental effort as Middle East peace, including a revitalization of the entire region?


            Let's look at several seemingly unrelated facts and see if they could point to something more than meets the eye. Several years ago, Warren Buffett purchased an Israeli company, Iscar Metalworking Company, from Stef Wertheimer, making Mr. Wertheimer one of the wealthiest businessmen in Israel. One of Mr. Wertheimer's passions and specialties is to build industrial zones in Israel and beyond, where Jews and Arabs can work together, and he advocates passionately on behalf of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. Warren Buffett is good friends with Bill Gates, and they have combined their resources, as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to promote health care in Africa and education in America. In addition, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have also launched a worldwide campaign to persuade some very wealthy people to agree to donate most of their wealth during their lifetimes, which bespeaks a desire, and even a need, among the wealthy, to leave behind a legacy that is worthy of their efforts, and that they can be proud of. Warren Buffett has stated publicly that he is impressed with some of the many achievements of Israel, and it is also the case that Bill Gate's Microsoft division in Israel has been responsible for some very important innovations for Microsoft. At the same time, businessmen like Munib al Masri, a Palestinian multi-billionaire who employs some 60,000 workers, are very interested in developing the West Bank economically, building the requisite institutions, and creating a Palestinian State, a state which is peaceful, prosperous, and free, and which is not overwhelmed by extremism of one sort or another. In addition, the Saudi leadership, as evidenced by King Abdullah's recent pronouncements, is very concerned about the prospect of a nuclear Iran.


            Now, how do these seemingly unrelated facts add up? Let's see if we can put these pieces together, at least theoretically for now, in a way that gives credence to the idea of Billionaires for Peace. Suppose, for example, that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates can be persuaded to put Middle East peace under their umbrella of good works. After all, both of them have had positive dealings with Israel, and may be inclined to partner with her in this regard. In addition, Middle East peace could help the U.S. as well. The U.S. has spent over one trillion dollars in the region, and has suffered the deaths of thousands of her brave soldiers, and still, there is little progress in sight in the Middle East, and little hope for peace and stability in that troubled region. As patriotic Americans, and as philanthropists who have chosen to make a profound difference in the world, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates may be moved to help, and may choose to partner with Stef Wertheimer to build an industrial zone in the West Bank, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Saudi investment may also come into play, as the Gulf States undertake to bring some semblance of peace and stability to the region, at least in part to protect their own vital interests.


            Eventually, although this may be a stretch, even Hamas in Gaza may come to believe that it is in its best interest to join in on job creation, as prosperity begins to take hold in the West Bank, and as the people of Gaza begin demanding their fair share. As such, Hamas may feel the pressure to moderate its views, and to accept the three conditions of the Quartet, namely: to recognize Israel, to accept previous agreements with Israel, and to renounce violence. Once this is accomplished, another industrial zone could be developed between Israel and Gaza, which would also create some 250,000 jobs. In fact, Stef Wertheimer had developed the plans for such a project in Rafah, and scrapped those plans just as the second Intifada broke out in the year 2000. The idea of Hamas moderating its views and embracing an industrial zone may seem absurd at first blush, but we should keep in mind that George Mitchell, the Middle East Envoy, was able to negotiate something along these lines with the IRA, a group that used to be no less fanatic than Hamas, as part of the peace deal in Northern Ireland. And in fact, George Mitchell had also used the promise of economic development, including investments of 1.5 billion dollars, to promote the peace talks in Ireland. As Middle East Envoy, he has come to conclusion that economic development could play a major role in the search for Middle East peace as well.


            Granted, a lot of this remains wishful thinking at best, but the stars may be aligning in just the right way, so that business and political leaders of diverse backgrounds may be willing to come together in such a fashion. There are hints, today, of an alignment between the self-interest of some of the key players in the Middle East, and the best interests of the region as a whole. There is the potential, at least hypothetically, to identify a mosaic of mutual self-interest in the Middle East, and to use that reality to build a strategic/economic alliance between the Arab States, Israel, and the U.S. Many of the key players in the region actually need one another for a change. In the example cited above, we can envision Americans, Israelis, Saudis, and Palestinians coming together in common purpose to join in on a regional effort to promote peace and stability. They may ultimately decide to join forces in this fashion, not because they necessarily love one another, but because doing so may be the only way to stave off some very common existential threats. In short, they need one another.


            Billionaires for Peace is not about launching one particular project or another. It is about inspiring a select few visionaries with a Vision of Hope for the Middle East, and harnessing the energy and synergy which result to launch a movement for change in the region, and beyond. It is about creating a nexus between the peace community and the business community, because when it comes to Middle East peace, the diplomats will need all the help they can get. In the new global economy, business, at least to some extent, will be the new language of diplomacy. The ingredients that will be required to make it happen are not so difficult to determine: a vision which inspires a sense of hope, a few doors opened here and there, a good measure of extreme salesmanship, and the willingness of a select few to take on the seemingly impossible challenge of peace. Exactly how things will play out is almost impossible to predict. But given where we seem to be heading, it is at least worth a try, and may end up being one of the only ways to actually move forward.


As you can well imagine, we will need all the help we can get to make something happen along these lines. If you would like to help, as an equal partner, please let us know.


file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 22 Aug 2010 9:15 PM
This Time Around, Can We Tip The Balance In Favor Of Peace? Posted by Nissim Dahan
On the eve of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, we should ask ourselves if this time around we will find a way to work together to tip the balance in favor of peace. Some may say that we've been down this road before; been there, done that. And as we all know, peace has remained an illusory dream at best. But I would not give up so easily. This time around, there may be a good chance to cut a deal, not because the key players love one another, God forbid, but because they face some common existential threats, and they actually need one another to stave off these threats.


A lot is at stake for Israel and Palestine, for the region as a whole, and for the world at large. It is not that the people of the Middle East necessarily care that much about the plight of Palestinians and Israelis. The vast majority don't care, as evidenced by a recent poll. The reason that these talks are important, however, is because a successful outcome could pave the way to a revitalization of the entire Middle East, which would include the creation of good paying jobs, and a realignment of security arrangements in order to contend with the threat of a nuclear Iran. A peace deal between Israel and Palestine could be the seed that grows into a new and vibrant Middle East, a Middle East which is more secure, and which begins to realize a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.


What will a peace deal between Israel and Palestine look like? Surprisingly, that is not so difficult to fathom. Most of the key players know what to expect in this regard. My guess is that the final treaty will probably mirror, in many ways, the proposal made in the year 2000 by President Clinton, and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to President Arafat, and would include the following elements: a new Palestinian State, all of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, land swaps of Israeli land to offset the large settlement block retained by Israeli, a dismantlement of most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a sharing of Jerusalem in some form or other, compensation by Israel to the refugees, and a very limited right of return for some Palestinians based on humanitarian ground and subject to Israel's approval. The vast majority of Palestinians would have the right to "return" to the new Palestine.


Why would such a deal be cut today, when similar such attempts failed in previous years? Only one reason; because today, the stars are aligning in just the right way, so that the self-interest of each of the key players will push each of them to join forces with one another to stave off some very common existential threats. Look at the whole picture: Fatah in the West Bank is threatened by a Hamas takeover, and may actually need Israel to help meet that challenge. Israel is threatened by a nuclear Iran and may need a peace deal with Palestine to consolidate support for stopping Iran and containing her ambitions for the region. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the other Sunni states are worried about a nuclear Iran, and about Shiite intentions to disrupt the balance of power in the predominantly Sunni Middle East.


Putting it all together, the mutual self-interests of the key players may begin to point in one direction, and one direction only, whether they like it or not. Israel will cut a deal with Palestine, even if Hamas decides to take a pass. Saudi Arabia and the other Sunnis will use that pretext to recognize Israel and to declare peace with her based on the Arab Peace Plan of 2002. Such a declaration could become the impetus for a military/economic alliance in the region which will be used to revitalize the region economically with job creation, and to secure the key players by uniting to keep Iran in check. Ultimately, if everything pans out, and granted it's still a big "if," Iran may think twice about her ambitions when facing a united front consisting of Israel, the U.S., and the Sunni world.


We can think of the peace between Israel and Palestine as a spaceship of sorts. The spaceship will be thrust into space with the help of three booster rockets: the first and most immediate is the need to consolidate security, the second is the need to revitalize the Middle East economically with good paying jobs, and the third is the need to stabilize relations between Sunnis and Shiites. Perhaps these same needs have always been around. However, this time around they have reached a new level of urgency. We have about a year to pull this thing off, before all hell breaks loose, including the ominous decision of whether or not to allow Iran to go nuclear.


Given everything that is at stake, the question becomes: How far are we willing to go, each and every one of us, to maximize the chance for a successful outcome to these upcoming peace talks? Many of us are inclined to leave things to the diplomats and the political leaders. However, the issues are so difficult, and the sensitivities are so heightened, that I strongly doubt that the diplomats, on their own, will be able to cut this deal. They will need help, and even a certain measure of pressure, from the outside, from people like us, to make something happen at the negotiating table.


That's where we come in. Don't underestimate, even for a moment, our power to make things happen. Every one of us, each in his or her own way, can help to move the peace process along. We may or may not particularly care about Israel or Palestine, even though many of us do. But we certainly care about ourselves, and the world we want to leave behind for our children. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we're all in this together, and that we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to do what we can for the sake of peace.

file under: Philosophypeace in the Middle Eastcommon sense 9 Aug 2010 12:37 PM
I Believe Posted by Nissim Dahan
Many of us hold on tightly to our core beliefs. In a world where it is easy to get lost in the shuffle, we use our beliefs, our worldview, to carve out an identity for ourselves. It is only natural. Our core beliefs give us a sense of grounding in the shifting sands of the modern world. And yet, the writing is on the wall. If we are to survive as a species, and more than that, if we are to bring a sense of hope to this world, we owe it to ourselves to ask if at least some of our deeply held beliefs make any sense. Because in a very real sense, it may very well be that our clinging on to false belief is at the heart of what is wrong in this world.


We come to believe the things we do in a variety of ways. Most of us are born into a certain worldview, a belief system, and we naturally accept as true the things we are taught at a young and tender age. It is certainly easier join in and play along than to defy conventional wisdom. Others come to believe in certain notions because they want those notions to be true. In other words, some people believe what they want to believe, and for some of them at least, the truth is just a side issue. And still in other cases, a person's mind and imagination can be hijacked by people with a certain agenda or ulterior motive. In this case, a person could be persuaded to believe certain things, things he would not ordinarily come to believe, because he has been persuaded to do so by those who would manipulate his thinking for their own purposes. Suicide bombers are a case in point.


Regardless of how we come to believe the things we do, some beliefs make sense, and some do not. Many of us have come to believe things that make no sense, and that would be difficult to justify using rational thought. There are numerous example of false belief: the belief that God would have us kill one another in His name no less when it is precisely He who created us in the first place, the belief that there is any measure of "honor" in "honor killing," the belief that holding on to yet another piece of land is more important than brokering a just and lasting peace, the belief that a weapon of mass destruction will bring security to a regime that is out of step with the will of its people, the belief that it is just dandy to keep running our economies on fossil fuels, the belief that our set of religious beliefs make us somehow superior to those of a different point of view, the belief that it is okay to keep women down even as we need them so desperately to lift us back up, and the list goes on and on...


We don't have to be prophets to read the writing on the wall. The stubborn clinging to false belief is bringing us ever more closely to the edge of the abyss. Previously local problems, like water shortages, or climate change, are quickly becoming global problems. Environmental threats are growing exponentially. Political and economic instability in one country can easily wreak havoc in an entire region. Weapons of mass destruction in the wrong hands can be used to re-write the destiny of man. Religious discord, which has been around for thousands of years, takes on added dimensions in a world where technology has not kept pace with what is wise and prudent.


There was a time, not too long ago, when people used more of their common sense. Civilization has been around for some 10,000 years, yet we have been around as a species for some 2,000,000 years. Before there was religion, and politics, and technology, there were the cavemen, who had nothing to rely on but their common sense to survive yet another day. They hunted and gathered, and since no one really had much of anything, there was no real reason to kill or steal. It made more sense, in the hostile environment they found themselves, to help one another out, to "...treat others as you would have them treat you..." A movie on The Discovery Channel called The Rise of Man makes the point that The Golden Rule underscored the thinking of the cavemen.


To my mind, common sense is what we were given, by our Creator, to bring a semblance of order to our lives. People think of common sense in different ways: the wisdom of the common man, the wisdom born of shared experience, etc. I think of common sense as the intuitive wisdom to conform our thoughts and actions to universally shared truths and values. Don't blow a circuit, it's not all that complicated. The intuitive wisdom is the wisdom that comes from within. It's inside you. Thoughts and actions because it is not enough to think straight, you have to act on what you know to be true. Truths and values; truths are the realities we perceive, values are the realities we aspire to. And why are these truths and values universal? Certain truths and values are so rational, so logical, and so self-evident, that they are universally perceived as true, and therefore universally accepted.


As an example, here are three universal truths; the big three so to speak: The Golden Rule, The Golden Mean, and The Greatest Good. I call these the 3-G's for short. The Golden Rule tells us to treat one another as we would have them treat us. The Golden Mean tells us that truth is not an extremist position, but is to be found somewhere in the middle between two extremes. And The Greatest Good would have us do what brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number.


What if we could use our common sense, including the 3-G's, to inspire in one another a sense of hope, and to bring a sense of order to this dangerous and often volatile world? What if The Golden Rule would have us treat each other well by Investing in one another to create jobs: jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking? What if The Golden Mean would have us think straight by using our common sense as our Ideology? And what if The Greatest Good would have us maximize justice by organizing ourselves around a vision of Hope, a vision of peace, prosperity, and freedom? Put it all together, as Thomas Jefferson might have done, and the answer for world peace becomes not all that complicated, "We find this truth to be self-evident: Ideology plus Investment equals Hope, and with hope all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.


Yes, we find ourselves in troubling times. We sense that things are coming to a head, that history is playing itself out even as we speak. And we know that if things go wrong, they will go very wrong indeed. So what is the answer? What is the answer that could inspire a sense of hope in things to come?


Well, no one has the entire answer. That would be asking too much. But my sense is that at the heart of the matter is a need to re-think at least some of what we happen to believe, in favor of what makes more sense. We all believe in this or that. It makes us who we are. But it may be necessary, at this point in time, to filter our beliefs through the filter of common sense, to let go of some of our beliefs, in favor of something we can believe in even more. It may be necessary, in our time, to let go of who we are, so that we can discover an even better version of ourselves. It may be necessary to re-create ourselves in a new light, a light that shines as a beacon of hope, and that points to the realization of a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom.



file under: Regional RealignmentPalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 11 Jul 2010 3:02 PM
A Knife To Your Throat Concentrates The Mind Posted by Nissim Dahan
Some leaders in the Middle East are facing existential threats, and as we can well imagine, a knife to your throat concentrates the mind. In chemistry an unstable chemical solution seeks a way of stabilizing itself. Could the volatility of the Middle East find a way to stabilize itself in a way that points to the possibility of peace, prosperity, and freedom?


If you look at the varied political landscapes of the Middle East you will begin to see a whole host of hidden dangers lurking in the midst. The Mullahs in Iran, for example, have quite a lot on their plate: an angry citizenry demanding change, a weak economy, the onset of international sanctions, and the looming threat of a military attack. Iran's answer is to pursue nuclear capability, to sponsor terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, and to forge new alliances with countries such as Turkey, Syria, and perhaps even Iraq. We may soon see an alliance of like-minded countries which have come together to project influence in the region, and to protect themselves from both domestic and international threats.


What will Western countries do in response? They will have no choice but to react. If left unchecked, a political alliance with Iran at its center could easily develop a nuclear capability, and use that as a means of stifling domestic and international dissent, and consolidating control of the entire region. A nuclear capacity will act as a protective shield to protect nations like Iran from any outside interference with regard to domestic policies and foreign policy agendas. The ability to discourage outside interference is precisely why Iran is so hell bent on producing nuclear weapons.


The West will have to react. Too much is at stake including access to oil, as well as the looming threat of a further radicalization of extremist groups. But what can the West do, short of war, to counter the threats posed by an alliance of the more fundamentalist elements in the Middle East?


The West will have to find a way to ally itself militarily and economically with the Sunni world, with countries that see an Iranian backed alliance as equally threatening to them. How can all of this be accomplished? My guess is that we will soon see a peace deal struck between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Fattah in the West Bank is a lot more worried about an Iranian backed Hamas takeover of the West Bank, than it is about Israel. In fact, Israel is probably the only military force in the region that can actually protect the West Bank from such a takeover. And Israel is a lot more worried about a nuclear Iran, allied with Syria and Turkey, than it is about the West Bank Palestinians, who seem fully committed to growing their economy, consolidating their security, and establishing a Palestinian state within the span of two years.


A peace deal struck between Israel and Palestine will reverberate across the region and around the world. New alliances will be forged, and a massive effort will be launched to revitalize the region as a whole, by consolidating security and growing the various economies. Saudi Arabia, for example, along with the other Sunni states, would likely use the Israel/Palestine deal as a pretext to recognize Israel in accordance with the Arab Peace Plan of 2002. Egypt and Jordan would likely join in, having already signed peace agreements with Israel, and also facing daunting challenges from within and without, including the possibility that a nuclear Iran could foment internal opposition throughout the Arab world.


And how would Western countries react to a realignment of this sort in the Middle East? The U.S. would probably continue to back Israel, especially as a peace deal is consummated, and would probably lend its support to a military/economic alliance which would counter the Iranian threat, and which would include Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and a great many other Arab states.


Will the realignment of the Middle East into two camps necessarily mean war? In my opinion, not necessarily. If a peace deal is forged between Israel and Palestine, and if such a deal is used as a springboard to revitalize the region economically, and if a military/economic alliance is forged between the Western world and much of the Sunni world, then such a result could actually stabilize the region. The Western/Sunni alliance could conceivably be much more powerful than the Iranian alliance, both in terms of military strength, and economic prosperity. As a result, Iran would have to think twice and maybe three times, before taking on such a powerful opponent. Under such circumstances, a certain sense of stability may ensue.


Eventually, if a Vision of Hope is realized in parts of the Middle East, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom, then countries which may have had no intention of following suit, would likely reconsider their approach in light of increasing domestic pressure. "Hey, where is our share?" the people on the street would ask. In other words, if the military option is no longer on the table, and if terrorism begin to lose its luster, and if there begins to emerge shining lights of success in the Middle East, then everyone in the region will be forced to follow suit, and jump onto the bandwagon of job creation, including: jobs which grow their economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking.


Granted, there are an awful lot of "ifs" in this scenario, and perhaps a healthy dose of wishful thinking to boot. And granted, people emboldened by an ideological agenda often make the wrong choices. But I would argue that there is at least a pretty good chance that things could work out this way. And given the dismal alternative-a mixed fruit salad of death, destruction, and despair-it is a chance we cannot afford to lose.