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Vision of Hope
Archive >> July 2010
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.

file under: Zionismpeace in the Middle EastIsrael 7 Jul 2010 10:59 PM
What Zionism Means To Me Posted by Nissim Dahan
In some circles, "Zionism" has become a dirty word, like some of the other "isms" which have been discarded on the ash heap of bad ideas. In other circles, however, Zionism is held in high esteem, as the redemption of the Jewish people, and as the fulfillment of the promise made by no other than God himself. So which is it?


What is Zionism? There are many definitions depending on your point of view. I prefer to think of Zionism as the political movement which made real the aspirations of the Jewish people to a homeland of their own in the land of their ancestors, the land of Israel. When Jews are asked to justify why they are entitled to establish a nation in the land of Israel, they often use several types of justifications, including: Biblical, historical, and ethical.


If you accept the Old Testament of the Bible as sacred, and many Christians and Muslims do, then you could say that about 3200 years ago Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to freedom in the Promised Land, the land of Israel. And who made that promise? None other than God himself. Using the Biblical approach, Jews justify Zionism as the modern day fulfillment of God's promise to allow them to settle in the land of Israel.


If you prefer the historical approach, you could argue that there has been a significant Jewish presence in the land of Israel for the past 3000 years. In fact, Jews believe that King David build the city of Jerusalem approximately 3000 years ago, and the city of Jerusalem appears some 600 times in the Old Testament. It is true that in the year 70 C.E. the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and most of the Jews were exiled. However, some Jews continued to live there, generation after generation, which lends historical credence to the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the land of Israel.


The ethical justification for Zionism has to do with how the Jews were treated during their exile from the land of Israel. Anyone who is the least bit aware of Jewish history knows that for the past 2000 years, the Jews in the Diaspora, or exile, were subjected to various forms of mistreatment and persecution: forced conversions, inquisitions, pogroms, inability to own land, discrimination, etc. Such persecution culminated in the Holocaust in which 6,000,000 Jews, or about one third of all Jews, were slaughtered.


In the late 1800's, people like Theodore Herzl, who is the father of the political Zionist movement, decided that without a homeland of their own, Jews were dead men walking. The Holocaust would end up confirming his worst fears. He and others like him organized a political movement to buy up land, in what was then called Palestine, and to work toward the established of a homeland for the Jews. The immigration by Jews to Palestine began in earnest in the late 1800's and continues to this day.


What hurt the image of Zionism in the eyes of some is that the establishment of the State of Israel caused approximately 700,000 Palestinians to leave their homes as refugees. Most of them left voluntarily, thinking that Israel would soon be destroyed by the seven Arab armies which invaded Israel just as she came into being. Some Palestinians, however, stayed in Israel, and today 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. In a recent poll, some 77% of Israeli Arabs say that they prefer to remain citizens of the State of Israel. It should also be remembered that while 700,000 Palestinians became refugees after the establishment of Israel, 850,000 Jews were also expelled from Arab countries where they had lived for centuries.


Despite all the justifications for Zionism, however, there is a lot of worldwide pressure being exerted on Jews in general, and on Israel in particular, to bring some semblance of justice to Palestinians. In the wake of such criticism, some people consider themselves to be "anti-Zionist." Being anti-Zionist could mean different things to different people. Some consider Israel to be illegitimate for the start, and call for the eventual dismantlement of the Jewish state. One version of this approach is to call for a "bi-national" state, which would consist of all the Jews and Palestinian Arabs in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and would therefore destroy the Jewish nation of Israel by creating a state in which the Arabs are a majority. Yet others consider themselves "anti-Zionist" because they disapprove of some of the actions taken by the Israeli government in protecting the State of Israel. The occupation of the West Bank, for example, with its checkpoints and security barriers, evoke a deep seated resentment in the hearts of a lot of people.


To counter the rising tide of criticism of the policies of the Jewish state, Zionist organizations such as AIPAC, or the Zionist Organization of America and the like, work hard to defend Israel in the public eye, and to protect the special relationship that exists between Israel and the U.S. The U.S. is one of the few allies that has consistently defended Israel, from the time that President Truman recognized the Jewish state just ten minutes after she was declared, until today.


So when we talk about Zionism, a whole range of emotions come to the fore, including those rooted in religion, in history, and in our notion of what is fair and just. Different people see things differently, and that is only normal. In the final analysis, I believe that there is plenty of justification for the establishment of Israel as a home for the Jews. However, there is also some measure of validity in criticizing Israel for at least some of the injustices that Palestinian Arab refugees have had to endure.


The answer in my view is not to destroy Israel. Destroying Israel would bring to an abrupt end the dream of Palestinians to live in peace, prosperity, and freedom. The answer is to use Israel's many talents to help bring justice to Palestinians; to create two states, living side by side, in peace, prosperity, and freedom. It could well be argued that there is no other country on earth that is better able, or willing, to bring a good measure of justice to Palestinians, and to have that become the impetus of a global effort to revitalize the Middle East. Of course, Palestinians would have to become open to that. People on both sides would have to let go of some of the hate, in favor of hope. But if a peace agreement is reached, and if justice is done, then the true promise of the Zionist enterprise will have been realized, and only then could Israel fulfill her Biblical destiny to become a "...light unto the nations..." At such time, and with God's help, Israel will no longer be considered the problem in the Middle East, but the solution for the Middle East.