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Peace Roadmap

Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

Look inside Nissim Dahan's book Selling a Vision of Hope with Google Books.

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Obama plans 250 more U.S. troops for Syria, boosting force to 300

U.S. President Obama gestures as he makes a speach during the opening ceremony of the Hannover Messe in Hanover
By Roberta Rampton and Arshad Mohammed HANOVER, Germany/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will announce on Monday he plans to send as many as 250 additional U.S. troops to Syria, a sharp increase in the American presence working with local Syrian forces fighting Islamic State militants, U.S. officials said. The deployment, which will increase U.S. forces in Syria to about 300, aims to accelerate recent gains against Islamic State and appears to reflect growing confidence in the ability of U.S.-backed forces inside Syria and Iraq to claw back territory from the hardline Sunni Islamist group.

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> April 2011
file under: vision of hoperevolutionpeace in the Middle East 27 Apr 2011 4:29 PM
The Means to an End Posted by Nissim Dahan
Every once in a while we come to believe that the ends justify the means. But most of the time we scramble to find the means to a given end. And if we don't find the right means, then the end we seek will not be found, no matter how justified it is.

 

There is no question in my mind that much of what is happening on the Arab street can be explained as the fervent wish of some very well-intentioned people to shake off the oppressive yoke of the past, and to open the door to a brighter future. The people on the street have found the courage to embrace such noble aspirations as freedom and democracy. And to that end, they have put life and limb on the line, in an effort to dismantle established and entrenched regimes, in favor of new leadership which will be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.

 

And yet, as justified as these ends are, the means to these ends do matter, because the wrong means could very well spell a dead end to even the most justifiable ends. A revolution, almost by necessity, brings with it a period of instability and even chaos. After all, you can't very well bring change without disrupting the status quo. After a while, a certain measure of battle fatigue is bound to set in, and the revolutionary fervor of the man on the street can easily be overtaken by the political ambitions of political factions which are averse to freedom, which are authoritarian in nature, but which promise to restore some semblance of stability to the nation.

 

The revolution of 1979 in Iran is a case in point. The Shah of Iran lost favor in the eyes of the people, due in part to his repression of dissidents, even as he ushered in an era of gradual reform. His removal from power brought Shapour Bakhtiar into power, for only 36 days, supposedly with a public mandate to usher in democratic reforms. A period of instability ensued, only to bring to the fore another revolution, by which Ayatollah Khomeini took hold of power, and put in place a regime that was far more authoritarian than anything that preceded it.

 

It would be a travesty of justice for the people of the Middle East to have shed their blood, and to have invested their hope, only to be overtaken by the insidious agendas of ideological extremists. One way to avoid this, in my opinion, is for people to focus on goals which are realistic, which can be achieved more easily, which are not overly threatening to the powers that be, and which can help to bring about reform that coincides with the aspirations of the people. In short, the aims of the revolutions may have to take current realities into account. Even if a dictator is toppled, there are still those left behind whose agendas and ambitions must be taken into consideration.

 

I would focus on growing the economy, instituting economic reforms, and guaranteeing personal freedoms, as realistic means to achieving the greater ends of freedom and democracy. Economic growth and job creation may not resonate as dramatically as freedom and democracy. However, it could well be argued that business can be used to create a neutral pathway to freedom and democracy. A good paying job can go a long way to ease the burden of a hard life. But in addition, the same conditions which are needed to grow an economy are the same ones which will allow a viable democracy to take root and to flourish.

 

Once people across the Middle East are making money together, their lives will gain a good measure of dignity, and gradually, each person will become more humanized in the eyes of the other. Along with the empowerment that comes from personal economic well being, comes a natural inclination to demand and receive greater personal freedoms, and eventually, with the requisite institutions in place, will come a transition to democratic rule, not just in form, but in substance as well.

 

The economic path to democracy may seem, at first glance, to be a more circuitous path. However, in the long run, it may be the best way to get to where we're going, while minimizing the risk of getting lost along the way. Business is ideologically neutral. Business is something that most people have come to understand. And business is less threatening to the powers that be, who may decide to support the effort, as a way of effectuating positive change, in a more gradual and moderate fashion, while side-stepping  the prospect of chaos at their doorstep.

file under: vision of hopeMiddle East Peaceextremism 19 Apr 2011 7:40 PM
Extremism Knows No Bounds Posted by Nissim Dahan
 

            It seems, at times, that there are no limits to extremism. I guess that's why they call it "extremism."

 

            The recent murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, age 36, comes to mind, although there are numerous examples to be found in all the nooks and crannies of the Middle East. Vittorio was an Italian activist and journalist, who chose to live in Gaza since 2008, and who championed the rights of Palestinians for the last several years. He was abducted quite recently by a radical Islamic group inspired by al Qaeda, and was used as a bargaining chip to pressure Hamas, the ruling political faction in Gaza, to release some political prisoners, including a Sheikh whom they consider their leader.

 

            The group threatened to kill Vittorio if their demands were not met, and a short deadline of 30 hours was put in place. Perhaps the victim tried to convince his captors that he too was fighting for justice for Palestinians. But in the end, the group decided to mete out its own brand of justice. In an unfortunate turn of events, the group's demands were not met, and Vittorio was strangled to death, even before the deadline had elapsed.

 

            Up until several days ago, I would have thought that Hamas was pretty extreme, calling for such tidbits as the destruction of the State of Israel, and death to the Jews. But now, however, it seems that this Salafist group may be even more extreme than Hamas, murdering an advocate for the Palestinian cause, even as Hamas watched in disbelief, and was rendered powerless to stop it from happening. Is it possible that this extremist group, which has become a thorn in Hamas' side, could be a wake-up call to Hamas, that maybe there is a better way to move forward? Perhaps, but I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

 

            Such is the nature of extremism. There is no stopping it once it takes hold. One act of terror begets another, as the cold-hearted calculus of our cause takes us to a place where there is no mercy, where almost anything goes, and where almost any heartless act of violence is deemed justifiable in the name of a greater purpose.

 

            Aristotle taught us, a long time ago, that the truth is rarely to be found in the extremes. Rather, truth is usually to be found somewhere in the middle. In short, truth is not an extremist position. For example, if you were to ask Aristotle to define courage, he would probably say that it is somewhere in the middle between being foolhardy on the one hand, and being a coward on the other. It is somewhere in the middle, somewhere that Aristotle called The Golden Mean.

 

            As we search for new paths in the Middle East, paths that are more likely to take us to a better place, we should never lose sight of the fact that there are people out there who will tell us "No!" at every turn. These are people who are very committed to their cause, and for whom failure is not an option. Many of them have convinced themselves that God is on their side, and they have no qualms about killing in His name, even though it is precisely His creatures they are killing.

 

            We should keep the extremist agenda in mind as we venture forth to realize a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. An opportunity exists, this time around, to make something happen along these lines. But the extremists will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to derail us. Therefore, we will have no choice but to commit ourselves as strongly to our cause as they are to theirs. We will embrace moderation as tightly as they embrace extremism. We will dare to see the world in shades of gray, as they see only black and white. We will accommodate ourselves to our sense of self-doubt, as they convince themselves of the certainly of their cause.

 

            To triumph over extremism, we will chart for ourselves a course that is likely to take us to a new Middle East, and we will not deviate from our journey, even as fear and intimidation are thrust upon us. We realize that much of what preceded us has led us astray, and we know too that there are those among us who would wish to confound our sense of right and wrong, but we will be true to ourselves as we venture forth to what promises to be a promised land.

 

 

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.