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Economy, crises in focus as Obama heads to Germany

U.S. President Barrack Obama takes part in a Town Hall meeting at Lindley Hall in London
By Roberta Rampton LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is set to visit Hanover, Germany on Sunday to hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of his closest allies in dealing with a shaky global economy and security crises in the Middle East and Ukraine. It will be the last stop on a six-day foreign journey where Obama has sought to shore up U.S. alliances he views as key to grow trade, defeat Islamic State militants, and offset Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria. Obama, who is in the last nine months of his presidential term, spent three days in London where he urged Britons to remain part of the European Union in a June referendum, a vote that could send shockwaves through the economy.

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file under: IranGreen Movement 10 Feb 2010 4:49 PM
Who Will Win In Iran? Posted by Nissim Dahan
I had the opportunity recently to read the Manifesto of the Green Movement in Iran. It's quite an impressive document; very reminiscent, in many ways, of American democracy, as spelled out in such historic documents as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson would have approved. The trouble is, however, as the violence on the streets demonstrates, that the Green Movement's vision for Iran is very much at odds with the vision of the Ayatollahs and political leaders who hold the reigns of power. It may be helpful to compare and contrast these two very different visions.

 

The Green Movement talks about human rights: the right to be equal before the law, the right to freedom without discrimination, the right to participate fully in government, the right to own property, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of thought, religion, education, opinion and speech, the right to a free press, the right of assembly, the right to work with just and favorable conditions in the work place, the right to unionize, the right to intellectual property, the right for a decent standard of living, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury with due process and with the assistance of counsel, and the right not to be punished in a cruel and unusual manner.

 

So what would the Ayatollahs say about these various human rights? Well, their actions speak louder than words. They send forth their riot police to quell dissent. They beat some people and imprison others. They torture as they see fit. They make a mockery of judicial proceedings, and sometimes, they choose to execute the innocent. Actions speak louder than words. My guess is that the Ayatollahs tolerate human rights, but only to the extent that such rights don't interfere with their hold on power. They readily choose to sacrifice human rights, and human beings for that matter, to the extent necessary to consolidate their strong grip on the levers of political power.

 

The Manifesto of the Green Movement talks quite a bit about democracy. It states that in a true democracy the people are sovereign; they are the highest form of political authority. Democracy requires compromise among competing factions. "Everyone has a right to be heard." We can choose our leaders and hold them accountable. "Laws and policies require majority support, but the rights of minorities are protected in various ways." There should be a balance of power between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of power. Free and fair elections should be held at regular intervals. All parties and candidates should be able to campaign freely. As for religion, the Green Movement believes in a separation between church and state: "We believe God has no need for politics...the Mullahs would have more influence if they focused on religion." And as for the economy, they state, "The economy should be based upon free market principles, and its aim should be economic development, increase of productivity, improvement of the standard of living, and achievement of prosperity for all citizens in Iran."

 

What would the Ayatollahs say about these notions of democracy? Well, here again, actions speak louder than words. As for the idea that the power to rule comes from the people, they would say that the power comes from God, and as it so happens, God has entrusted that power to them. As for everyone's right to be heard, they would say that their voice embodies God's will, and should therefore be heard above all others. As for the rights of minorities, they would point out that minorities are out of step with the will of God, and are therefore not worthy of much consideration. As for free elections, they would allow the semblance of elections, but only among candidates which they approve. As for the separation between church and state heaven forbid, they would recognize no such separation since the power of the state is derived from God, and only they are entitled to define the nature of God and the substance of what He requires of us. And as for the economic resources of the nation, these too, as it happens, have been entrusted to them to do with as they wish, in the pursuit of goals to which they aspire.

 

So the question remains: Who will win in this existential struggle between these two competing visions for Iran, and beyond? The answer is: He will win who has the greatest faith in the truth of his convictions.

file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 10 Feb 2010 4:30 PM
The Peace Puzzle Posted by Nissim Dahan
Peace in the Middle East has long been an illusive dream, but there are hints in the air that peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israel may soon be underway, and that this time around, some measure of success may be in the offing.

 

What indications do we have that negotiations are imminent? In late December, for example, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a convention of Israeli diplomats and made it clear that his intent is to conclude a peace deal based on two states for two people. He said, "The time for excuses is over. Now's the time for action." Such words could easily be dismissed as self-serving, but perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye. At around the same time, Netanyahu invited Zippi Livny, the leader of the opposition, to join his government. Was this simply an empty and cynical gesture, or could Netanyahu be seriously interested in enlarging his coalition, to counter a defection by some of his supporters in the wake of peace negotiations and the concessions which will have to be made? In addition, Yossi Beilin, one of the chief architects of the Oslo Accords, said recently that Netanyahu is very close to finalizing the terms of reference (TOR), or preliminary understandings, for a renewal of talks.

 

There are other indications that talks may soon be underway. With respect to reducing the number of roadblocks, and curbing settlement construction in the West Bank, Netanyahu has gone further than any previous Israeli government. Is this due simply to pressure from the U.S., or could it be something more? In addition, after Netanyahu met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on December 31, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit offered rare words of praise for Netanyahu, thanking him for raising new ideas and advancing the peace process. Reportedly, Netanyahu was quoted as saying, "Help me with Abbas and I will be ready to go for a far-reaching deal."

 

These and other indications all point to an imminent resumption of peace talks, but the question still remains: What reason is there, this time around, to expect a successful outcome from the negotiations which may soon be underway? The answer may be that a peace deal may be in the offing not because the two sides love one another, but because for the first time, they need one another, in a substantial way, and this sense of mutual need may be shared by many of the key players in the region, and beyond.

 

Why would Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank, be inclined to conclude a peace deal at this time? It is clear to many observers that Fatah and Hamas find themselves locked in an existential battle for survival. The more moderate and secular Palestinians in the West Bank, including members of the Fatah leadership, do not want to see a takeover by Hamas fundamentalists, as occurred in Gaza. To stave off this threat, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has launched and is implementing a two-year state-building plan, which is similar to Netanyahu's vision of peace through economic prosperity, and which includes General Dayton's training of Palestinian security forces. Economic prosperity and job creation, along with a consolidation and strengthening of the security apparatus, would be an effective way of containing Hamas. Israel could play a major role on both these fronts, economy and security: helping with job creation, taking down more roadblocks, bringing in foreign investment, and helping to consolidate Palestinian security, perhaps as part of a regional military and economic alliance, in exchange for a peace deal.

 

But why would Israel be inclined to push the peace process forward at this time? The answer is relatively straight forward: Iran. Just as Hamas poses an existential threat to Fatah, so too does Iran, with its nuclear and foreign policy ambitions, pose an existential threat to Israel. And Israel, in order to stave off this threat, will need international support from the region, and from the international community at large. Such support will be needed even if Israel acts unilaterally to destroy Iran's nuclear installations. The negative repercussions from such an attack will be significant, and Israel will require international consensus and support to mitigate the effects of these repercussions. A peace deal with Palestine will give Israel some measure of credibility, as she undertakes to contain the Iranian threat.

 

And why would the nations of the region be likely now to support a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, when in the past it served their interests to block such an agreement? The answer, once again, is relatively simple: Iran. The existential struggle between Hamas and Fatah, and between Israel and Iran, is even more pronounced between Iran and many of the Sunni states of the region. Iran undertakes, on many levels, to challenge many of the quiet understandings that have been reached in much of the Arab world, and poses a credible threat to many of the regimes in the region. Iran does not hide her intention to foment unrest using her various proxies, and a nuclear Iran would render that threat even more palpable. A regional nuclear arms race would likely ensue, bringing even more instability to an already volatile region.

 

And why would the United States, the Europeans, and large segments of the international community, be likely to support a peace deal between Israel and Palestine? The answer, once again is not difficult to fathom: To insure the free flow of oil, and to gain a measure of credibility in the fight against ideological extremism. Peace in the Middle East would go a long way to mitigate the volatility of the region, and would bring some semblance of stability to the price and supply of oil. In addition, an historic peace deal of this sort, along with the regional cooperation and even prosperity which would be engendered as a result, would go a long way to weaken the appeal of extremist thinking, even though much more would have to be done in this regard.

 

In sum, while it is always difficult to predict what will happen in the Middle East, especially when it comes to peace, there may be some reason for optimism due to the unique alignment of self-interest among the key players in the region, and beyond. Usually, self-interest takes us in different directions from one another. In this case, however, it may be the key to bringing us together in common purpose.

 

 

 

 

file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 4 Dec 2009 1:39 PM
Peace in the Middle East Posted by Nissim Dahan
Peace in the Middle East is still only a dream, but the actual terms of a final peace agreement between Palestinians, at least in the West Bank, and Israelis, are not all that difficult to imagine.

 

Security: Israel would prefer for the new Palestinian state to be demilitarized. Palestinians in the West Bank, however, do not want to see a Hamas takeover there. They see what happened in Gaza, and have a very different vision for the West Bank. Therefore, a deal may be possible by which Israel, as part of a multi-national force, including several Arab states, will agree to guarantee the security of Palestine, even against Hamas, in exchange for an agreement to keep the new Palestinian state demilitarized.

 

Settlements: The vast majority of settlements will be turned over to Palestinians. Some of them, however, will become part of Israel, in exchange for an equal amount of Israeli land. Let's look at the numbers. There are approximately 300,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Some 220,000 live in several settlement blocks, which will probably become part of Israel, as part of a land swap. That leaves 80,000 settlers, 40,000 of whom will agree to leave the settlements in exchange for compensation, and 40,000 of whom are die-hard believers. The Jews who refuse to leave can become citizens of Palestine, just as Arabs are citizens of Israel, to the tune of 20% of the population. Prime Minister Fayyad has said that he would not be opposed to Jews becoming citizens of a new Palestine.

 

Borders: Once the issue of settlements is resolved, the final borders between Israel and Palestine can be drawn up accordingly. The final borders will likely be very close to the 1967 borders. Approximately 4-6% of the West Bank will be retained by Israel in exchange for land swaps of Israeli land. Some the land swaps could include a roadway to Gaza, for example.

 

Jerusalem: Jerusalem is a contentious issue, to say the least, because of the religious significance she holds for all three Abrahamic religions. Israel would probably insist that Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of the Jewish state. However, this issue could be finessed by giving Palestinians a certain measure of sovereignty in the areas where they predominate, as well as control over Islam's holy sites. This could be done without technically "dividing" the city, but simply recognizing, in a formal way, the demographic divisions that already exist there. If Jerusalem is truly the City of Peace, then why not use her to usher in an age of peace?

 

Refugees: Israel will not allow the Palestinian refugees and their descendents to enter Israel and become citizens. Such a move would destroy Israel as a Jewish state. However, a certain number of Palestinian refugees, as determined by Israel, could be allowed to return to Israel for humanitarian purposes. The vast majority of Palestinian refugees would be entitled to become citizens of a new Palestine, and would be compensated by Israel for the losses which they and their families suffered. The number of 30 billion dollars was discussed in previous negotiations. Some of this money could be used to build institutions in Palestine, including: revitalizing the economy, promoting education, instituting the rule of law, sponsoring student exchanges, etc.

 

Gaza: It is unlikely that Hamas would buy into such arrangements, at least for the time being. Therefore, a Palestinian state could be declared in the West Bank only, at least for now. However, as peace, prosperity, and freedom begin to take hold in the West Bank of Palestine, Hamas would be under extreme pressure to follow suit in terms of job creation, or face the wrath of its people in Gaza. As such, if Hamas decides to legitimate its hold on power, with good paying jobs and the like, it too can become part of the new Palestinian state, or declare its own statehood.

 

So you see, on the surface, at least, the terms of a peace deal are not so difficult to fathom. What is difficult is to get people on both sides to take a second look, to become more open, and to embrace the possibility of peaceful co-existence. Getting that to happen will require us to stop blaming each other, and to look inwardly, and to ask ourselves what sort of future we want for ourselves, for our children, and for the countless generations of children yet to come.

 

 

 

 

file under: PalestineIsraeleconomy 15 Nov 2009 9:36 PM
Palestine: Birth Pains of a Nation Posted by Nissim Dahan
 

This post includes information drawn from Shlomo Maital who wrote an article entitled The Palestinian (Almost) State.

 

As politicians busy themselves with endless debates; business people, both Palestinian and Israeli, are creating economic realities on the ground, realities which speak louder than words, and which point to the possibility of peace, and to a new Palestinian State.

 

Economically speaking, the Palestine of the West Bank already has the makings of statehood. This year the West Bank economy will grow 7%, twice the rate of Israel's economy. The Palestinian Monetary Authority is quickly evolving into a Central Bank. The Palestinian stock market is flourishing. Car sales doubled in 2008. A new town for 40,000 residents is about to be built north of Ramallah, the first such project in decades. Paltel is a thriving telecom company. Foreign aid this year will be $1.8 billion. Unemployment is still high at 18%, but is falling.

 

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank official, is a financial maven who is making things happen for his people. He represents a new class of managers and investors, who thrive on competition, even against Israeli firms, and who hope to replace the Fattah leaders, whose corruption in the 1990's all but guaranteed Hamas's success in the 2006 election. For example, Mohammad Mustafa runs the Palestinian Investment Fund with transparency and business sense, as opposed to Yasser Arafat who controlled such funds secretly and corruptly.

 

In many respects, Israel is cooperating with and encouraging Palestinian economic growth. The number of check points and restrictions has been decreased dramatically, thus enabling the free-flow of goods and services. Trade is on the upswing. Approximately 80% of West Bank exports go to Israel, and similarly, 90% of West Bank imports come from Israel. As Ali Aggad, who heads APIC (Arab Palestinian Investment Company) puts it: "We have business partners in Israel...We are on excellent terms. It is the politicians who won't leave us alone."

 

Palestine still has a way to go on the road to statehood, but is should be recalled that years before David Ben-Gurion declared Israel an independent state, on May 14, 1948, the Jewish Agency and Hagana had put in place the needed infrastructure. Economy and infrastructure are prerequisites for a new state, and can help overcome a great deal of enmity. As Bernard Avishai, a noted author who writes about Israel puts it: "When people have reasons to dislike each other, they can at least like each other's money." Or as I like to put it: "Business creates its own ideological imperative."

 

What is missing from all this is the issue of security. Economics is definitely one side of the coin, but security is the other. If Israel, by itself, or as part of a multi-national force, including several Arab partners for good measure, is able to guarantee Palestine's security, even against such threats as Hamas, and if Palestinians, at least in the West Bank for now, can somehow become comfortable with such arrangements, then this could well close the deal on peace, and bring into being the birth of a new nation, the nation of Palestine, living in peace, side-by-side Israel, with secure and defined borders, while enjoying the prosperity of a booming economy. Is such an outcome even conceivable or is it just another dream? As Theodore Herzl used to say: "If you will it, it is no longer a dream."

file under: peace in the Middle EastPalestineIsrael 30 Oct 2009 2:04 PM
The Enemy of My Enemy Posted by Nissim Dahan
My wife and I just returned home from a three-week visit to Israel. To be accurate, we also visited the Palestinian West Bank for a day; a profoundly memorable day at that.

 

In some ways, our trip followed familiar patterns: visiting family and friends, taking in the wondrous landscapes and vistas, and enjoying the delicious foods with utter abandon. But in other ways, at least some of our experiences seemed to defy normal expectations, and seemed to negate the usual narratives we have come to know.

 

In the West Bank, for example, we were honored to meet a man who is probably the wealthiest Palestinian on earth, who lives in a palatial mansion he built, and who employs some 60,000 people, second only to the government itself. Did you know that such people live in the West Bank? In Nazareth, we met a Christian Israeli Arab, a builder who has constructed thousands of homes in Israel and Europe, and who hosted us for a delicious meal, along with some 200 Jewish Israelis, as a sign of friendship, and as a willingness to build bridges. At the Dead Sea we spoke to a Jewish billionaire who builds industrial parks for Jews and Arabs to work together because he believes that jobs will bring peace. In Jerusalem, we met the director of a think tank, a Jew who devotes himself to exposing discrimination against Israeli Arabs, in an attempt to perfect Israel's democracy. In these and other ways, our trip defied normal conventions.

 

But what of the prospect for peace in the Middle East; the perennial question of our time?

 

Actually, I came home even more convinced than ever, that there is at least a decent chance for peace, but not because of what you might expect. You might think that people on both sides are tired of war. Well yes, but that will not bring peace, in and of itself. You might think that Israel is sick and tired of world condemnation. Well yes, but that too will not bring peace.

 

So what then will bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians? What is likely to work now, when so many other attempts have failed before? Only one thing: the need to thwart a common enemy.

 

It comes as no surprise that Fattah and Hamas are engaged in an existential struggle for survival. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Hamas is a knife at the throat of Fattah. The more moderate elements of Fattah in the West Bank do not want to see a Hamas takeover of the West Bank, as took place in Gaza. To meet the threat of Hamas, Fattah has decided to do two things: to consolidate its security apparatus, and to create jobs. General Dayton, of the U.S., in cooperation with Jordan and Israel, is working on the security issues. Prime Minister Fayyad, a financial maven of some renown, has been quite successful in creating jobs, and can take pride in a 7% economic growth rate this year. Netanyahu is cooperating in this regard by reducing the number of checkpoints and by advocating on behalf of what he calls "an economic peace."

 

If you ask me, the threat that Hamas poses to Fattah opens a window of opportunity for Israel, and for the prospects for peace. If Israel plays her cards right, she will play an active role in this regard, and become a willing partner to help Fattah to consolidate its security, and to create jobs. Israel could use her economic, educational, and research capabilities to help revitalize the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. She could agree to all this on one condition: a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians of the West Bank. The Palestinians would likely agree, not because they love Israel, God forbid, but because they need Israel to stave off a common threat, the threat of Hamas.

 

A partnership between Israel and the West Bank would be a way of putting pressure on Hamas. Ordinary citizens in Gaza would see the prosperity in the West Bank and would naturally say to themselves: "Hey, where is our share?" They could pressure Hamas in ways that Israel can't. When Israel fights Hamas she creates martyrs. But when their own people pressure Hamas, now that's horse of a different color. After a while, without the support of the people, even Hamas could decide to moderate its views, and join the bandwagon of job creation, as a means of legitimating its hold on power. At such time, Fattah and Hamas could become two legitimate political parties, each using legitimate means to consolidate political power. Each creating jobs, instead of instigating terror.

 

There is a saying in the Middle East: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Could this be a case in point, and could it mean peace?