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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> January 2011
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 http://www.sellingavisionofhope.org/

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.