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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> January 2009
file under: President ObamahopechangeAmerican Dream 26 Jan 2009 11:48 AM
Reflections on the Inauguration Posted by Nissim Dahan
The inauguration of President Obama occurred just a few short days ago, but already, some of the memories of that momentous event seem to be fading. What I do recall in particular, are the countless smiles which lit up the faces of the two million people in attendance, and the countless tears which rolled down their faces. For many, the election to the presidency of an African American was the fulfillment of a life-long dream that they thought would never come. The day marked not just an inauguration, but indeed a new beginning with regard to race relations in America, and a reawakening of national, as well as racial, pride.

 

As happy as the occasion was however, so too did it resonate with a sober assessment of things yet to come, and the challenges which lie ahead. In the first few sentences of his inaugural speech, the new President made it painfully clear, that the problems we face are unprecedented in their scope. He talked about many things, but in particular: the threats to our economy, the threats to our environment, and the threats posed by ideological extremism.

 

I remember vaguely only a few scattered phrases from the speech. But I do recall his saying that the solutions to the problems we face will not come from government, but will come instead from our citizens, in whom the real instruments of power reside. He said as well that our economic ship will take time to right itself, and that there will be pain in the process. He said that the stewardship of our environment has to be given top priority. He said, to the ideological extremists around the world, that they will be remembered for what they build, not what they destroy. He said that our resolve in the face of extremism will not diminish even with the passage of time. And he offered America's helping hand to those who opt to unclench their fists, and to partner with us for the sake of a brighter day.

 

The words of the speech were powerful and poetic, fitting for the moment, and carefully chosen to convey the urgency of the challenges we face. But I think as well that a comparison can be drawn between the door that was opened by the election of an African American to the presidency, and the door that will have to be opened if we are to meet the challenges which lie before us. In many ways, the bridge that has been built across the racial divide is a harbinger of things to come, of the many bridges which will have to be built to solve the seemingly intractable problems which lie at our doorstep.

 

Many of the economic problems will be solved by restoring a sense of trust, and a sense of confidence, in our financial and economic system; in who we are, and who we choose to become. To find our bearings once again, we will build a bridge that spans the legacy of the American Dream with the future we dream for our children. Our economy cannot be just about short-term profits and the accumulation of creature comforts. We should use this opportunity to build an economy that is fair, and that gives everyone on earth a place at the table, a stake in his or her future. We will bring prosperity to ourselves by investing to create prosperity for others.

 

Similarly, to protect our environment, we will have to build a bridge between the natural world and the world we create for ourselves. We can no longer afford the delusion that we can do whatever we wish to the natural world, and call it a day. There is always a price to pay for our neglect. We are the stewards of the natural world, not its masters. It is only fitting that our survival as a species is intimately linked to our treatment of the world in which we live. We will protect the world not just because it is the right thing to do, but because our own survival lies in the balance.

 

And in a similar vein, the ultimate solution to ideological extremism and terror is to build bridges between Israel and Palestine, between the disparate countries of the Middle East, and eventually, between the Muslim world and the Western world. These bridges will have as their foundations the five elements of a Vision of Hope: the willingness to talk to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity, the willingness to invest in one another to create good paying jobs, the willingness to inspire one another with a vision of hope, the willingness to sustain the hope with diplomacy, and the willingness to fight against the forces of extremism but within the context of a vision of hope.

 

President Obama's election to the Presidency is a light unto the nations with regard to new possibilities for race relations. Similarly, at this point in time, and under such dire circumstances, the U.S. will be called upon to sail uncharted waters, and to build the bridges which will restore our economies, which will sustain our planet, and which will bridge the ideological divide for the sake of peace. In these unprecedented times, an unexpected man has come to power, as if to remind us that words like "change" and "hope" are not simply campaign slogans, but are rather the prescriptions for what ails us. If there is a silver lining to the grave situation we face, it is the chance to create a new version of ourselves, the chance for a new beginning.

 

And so, we celebrate the inauguration of President Obama, and wish him well, with the hope that a new face will inspire a new direction, and that the bridges will be built by all of us to connect the best version of who we are, with the promise of who we can become.

file under: peaceIndustrial ZonehopeGaza 16 Jan 2009 3:05 PM
They Beat Their Swords Into An Industrial Zone Posted by Nissim Dahan
In the Bible, Isaiah, in one of his more memorable prophesies, says that there will come a time when, "...They beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation does not lift a sword against nation, and they no longer learn war." Quite a profound sentiment, if you ask me, but how realistic is it, given the recent violence in Gaza?

 

In recent days, in the midst of the ghastly fighting in Gaza, I've heard about a proposal to build an industrial zone on Gaza's border with Israel, which will employ as many as 200,000 Palestinians. At first blush I thought, "That's crazy." But upon further reflection I thought, "That's brilliant." And actually, come to think of it, the line between "crazy and brilliant," is often a thin line.

 

As we speak, Hamas and Israel seem very close to concluding a truce. Israel is probably facing insurmountable international pressure to the point where further military gains will be outweighed by extremely bad PR. And Hamas has probably reached the point where it can still claim some sort of victory, having survived the onslaught, without tipping the balance toward utter military defeat. So both sides may have reached the point where a truce makes sense.

 

My guess is that the truce will call for an end to the rocket fire by Hamas, in exchange for an easing of borders on the part of Israel. To that end, international monitors would probably be put in place to verify compliance on both sides. But what if we could use this opportunity to create new realities on the ground, realities which will help to insure the continuity of the ceasefire, without having to rely solely on the agreements reached?

 

And so, in recent days, an unusual idea has surfaced; Why not build an industrial zone on the border between Gaza and Israel. The more I think about it, the more I think it could work, not only to help the people in Gaza, but actually, as a symbol of hope which will point in a new direction for the Middle East, a new direction that points to the possibility of peace.

 

As part of the ceasefire, and of the truce, a demilitarized zone will have to be created between Israel and Gaza. Why not use this zone to build an industrial zone? Such an outcome will afford ordinary Palestinians the opportunity to find employment, and to support their families. Gaza, by implication, will no longer face the prospects of an economic blockade. Economic prosperity would breathe new life into that troubled region. People on the street will begin to embrace the possibility of hope, and with hope, all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.

 

But will Hamas buy in? Believe it or not, I think there's at least a good chance they will. Hamas may spew forth a lot of ideological rhetoric, but in the final analysis, what they are most interested in is power, raw political power. An industrial zone, with its resulting economic prosperity, may be the easiest way for Hamas to consolidate its hold on political power.

 

Every political party needs some basis for its political legitimacy. If Hamas continue to rely on its hatred of Israel, and on its campaign of terror, they will continue to face Israel's retaliation, and they run the risk that ordinary Palestinians will become fed up. But if Hamas can show that its efforts have brought about economic prosperity, then now they have a source of legitimacy which actually satisfies the man on the street. Hamas may then find it comfortable to rule on the basis of political and economic gains, as opposed to empty rhetoric and terror.

 

Will Israel buy in? I think they will. To many around the world, Israel's military attack may seem irrational, and certainly not related to any reasonable notion of self-defense. But Israel may look at self-defense from a different point of view than most. For example, in light of its 2006 defeat in Lebanon, Israel may sense that she is losing her credibility with regard to military deterrence. She may conclude that if her enemies see her as weak, then she is done for. In addition, Israel may have launched the attack in Gaza for internal consumption. If her own citizens see her as weak, in response to Hamas' barrage of missiles, how could she hope to maintain her legitimacy to rule her own people?

 

However, having launched and concluded the military onslaught, Israel may quickly come to the realization that in the final analysis, only peace will bring her security. And therefore, peace may ultimately be the best form of self-defense. If an industrial zone on Gaza's border could help secure the peace, by creating jobs and by giving Palestinians a place at the table, a stake in their future, then Israel will not only buy in, but will help to make it happen as well. The most dangerous man is a man with nothing to lose. Give Palestinians a sense of hope that their lives could indeed get better, and they will give you back their hearts in return.

 

What about Abbas? An industrial zone in Gaza, along with its resulting economic prosperity, could well threaten the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in its existential struggle with Hamas. Hamas sees the West Bank as the ultimate prize. Therefore, as has been suggested, it will be important as well, to grow the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, so that both territories will come to enjoy the hope that comes from job creation and economic growth.

 

Business creates its own ideological imperative. When people are making money, they have little time or inclination for ideological nonsense. And people will think twice about allowing violence to rock the boat. If both leaderships, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, come to embrace economic growth and political freedom as their legitimate sources of power, then it will be up to the people to decide who should rule the new nation, and under what terms. And no matter who wins, the decision will be left to the people, who will have to live with the decision they made. Such an outcome is at least preferable to the irrationality and unpredictability of war.

 

Isaiah's vision may still be a long way off. But an industrial zone in Gaza may well be a step in the right direction. What do you think?

file under: passions vs solutionsMiddle East Peace 7 Jan 2009 1:59 PM
You've Just Been Appointed U.S. Middle East Envoy...Now What? Posted by Nissim Dahan
With the bloody fighting in Gaza, emotions are running high in the region, and around the world. The ghastly images we see on the news evoke a wide range of emotions: sympathy, empathy, regret, guilt, remorse, and yes, anger. All this is understandable. And yet we sense that strong passions and unbridled emotions, in and of themselves, will not bring peace.

 

What is needed is a rational and concerted effort to broker a peace deal which maximizes justice, and which creates new realities on the ground that will help to sustain the peace once it is in place. And so, if you get a call, in the middle of the night, from President Obama, informing you that you have just been appointed U.S. Middle East Envoy; what would you do to bring peace to the Middle East? Here are a few suggestions. Perhaps you have something to add.

 

Gaza: Negotiate a ceasefire, and then a truce, between Israel and Hamas, on the basis of an Israeli pullout, accompanied by a cessation of missile and mortar fire by Hamas, to be monitored by U.N. observers. Suggest to Hamas to give up their military ambitions in exchange for: an easing of border restrictions, a lifting of an economic blockade, and an opportunity to partner with Fattah to provide a democratic government for the Palestinian people. If Hamas agrees, launch an international investment program for Gaza, with the purpose of: creating jobs, building infrastructure, growing the economy, and weakening the hold of extremist thinking. Along with the hope that comes from economic growth, launch a series of programs to sustain the hope: a more balanced and modern approach to education, a student exchange, a cultural exchange, an empowerment of women, an expanded Peace Corps presence, a media campaign, international conferences, etc.

 

West Bank: Continue to train Palestinian soldiers, so as to enable the duly elected government to defend itself from outside threats, including the threats posed by Hamas and other extremist factions. Encourage Fattah to reach a workable agreement with Hamas so that the two could work together to negotiate a comprehensive peace deal with Israel for the creation of a Palestinian state, along the lines of the understandings that have been reached between President Abbas and Foreign Minister Livny, and reminiscent of the deal offered by President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barack to President Arafat in the year 2000. Continue to develop the four industrial zones in the West Bank, and launch an international effort to invest in good paying jobs, jobs which grow the economy, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to neutralize extremist thinking. Work to inspire Palestinians with a Vision of Hope, and support that economic effort with Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop the vision up and to carry it forward. Use an Ideology of Common Sense to speak to Palestinians with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity.

 

Israel: Encourage Israel to embrace and enhance the possibility of peace, and to take positive action in that regard by: negotiating a truce with Hamas, allowing Hamas to partner with Fattah for the sake of democratic rule, helping Hamas to build infrastructure and to grow Gaza's economy, and helping Fattah to do the same in the West Bank. Encourage Israel to negotiate a final status agreement, one that protects Israel's security, but one that also allows Palestinians to achieve at least most of their political aspirations. To the extent possible, convince Israel to become actively involved in orchestrating the economic growth of the new fledgling state so that the ordinary Palestinian citizen is finally given a place at the table, a stake in his or her future.

 

Syria: Encourage Syria to negotiate peace with Israel on the basis of an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights, along with a U.N. monitored military free zone in that area. Structure a series of economic and diplomatic incentives to lure Syria away from Iranian control, and to cause Syria to stop its support of terrorist organizations, and to stop interfering with internal Lebanese affairs.

 

Lebanon: Continue to bolster Lebanon's democratically elected government. Try to steer Hezbollah away from military confrontation, in favor of a political role as part of a duly elected government. Use a Vision of Hope to empower the Lebanese people to embrace the possibility of peace among themselves, and with Israel.

 

Egypt: Encourage the international community to continue to invest to grow Egypt's economy and to create good paying jobs. Support Egypt's efforts to mediate regional disputes. Empower the man on the street with the notion that his life could get better, and use that hope to weaken the hold of extremist thinking. Push for warmer relations between Israel and Egypt on the basis of peace in Palestine, and on Israel's efforts to help orchestrate an economic revitalization of the Middle East with her technological know-how and her economic drive.

 

Saudi Arabia: Give Saudi Arabia credit for proposing a comprehensive peace deal with Israel. Encourage Saudi Arabia to continue mustering Arab support in this regard. Encourage Saudi Arabia, in light of lower oil prices, and worldwide green demand, to diversify its investment portfolio by investing in green technology in Palestine, and throughout the Middle East. Use oil profits to create green profits, and use these profits to create even more good paying green jobs, jobs which will grow the economies, jobs which will protect the environment, and jobs which will weaken the strangle hold of extremist thinking. Use a growing economy, and the prospects for Middle East peace, to shift the thinking on the street from an extremist ideology to an ideology of common sense. Use the momentum of change to gear the educational system to a more modern and balanced approach, and to gear religious practice to be more in keeping with the more peaceful aspects of Islam.

 

Iran: Try to convince Iran that its nuclear ambitions are not in keeping with Iran's best interests long term. Make the point that a nuclear Iran will be in the crosshairs of many a potent foe, and that the least bit of miscalculation could spell a doomsday scenario. Use diplomacy and economic incentives to convince Iran to give up its nuclear aspirations. As such, Iran could begin to play a vital role in pushing a comprehensive peace process forward, based on mutually shared economic and political interests. Iran could also cooperate by having Hezbollah and Hamas play political, as opposed to military roles. Iran would also be able to quell dissatisfaction from within by delivering to its people the promise of a better day.

 

With this much on your plate, you may think twice about taking the job. But don't you agree that a chess game of this sort is what is called for, given current realities on the ground? Don't we have to table at least some of the emotions and passions, for there to be even the slightest chance for peace? And do we have any choice but to try, even against all odds?