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Obama, Saudi king discuss strained alliance, Middle East conflicts

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Saudi King Salman at Erga Palace upon his arrival for a summit meeting in Riyadh
By Roberta Rampton RIYADH (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama met Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Wednesday to seek joint action on security threats including Iran and Islamic State - and to talk through tensions between the two allies that have been laid bare in recent weeks. Obama's fourth and likely last visit to the world's top oil exporter has been overshadowed by Gulf Arab exasperation with his approach to the region, and doubts about Washington's commitment to their security. Most of the Gulf Arab monarchies have in private been sorely disappointed by Obama's presidency, regarding it as a period in which the United States has pulled back from the region, giving more space to their arch rival Iran to expand its influence.

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Vision of Hope
Category >> Middle East Peace
file under: Middle East PeaceDemonstrationsArab Spring 5 May 2012 5:12 PM
Change Don't Come Easy Posted by Nissim Dahan

Changing the Middle East can become quite frustrating to say the least. Suppose you believe deeply that change is in order. You rally the troops. You take to the streets. You dodge a bullet or two, if you're lucky. And when it's all said and done, new elections are held, the old guard may even be ousted from power, or so you think, and in come a new crop of leaders who leave you guessing as to whether the change that they have in mind is in sync with the change you were hoping for.

What's wrong with this picture?

People are putting their lives on the line, and so far at least, there remain strong doubts as to what it will all mean. There seems to be a dis-connect between the aspirations of the people on the one hand, and the kind of change that is likely to come about on the other.

What do the people on the street want? It's hard to say for sure. Maybe they don't even know. But there are hints. Mohamed Bouazizi, who started it all in Tunisia, wascollege educated and without a job. His was the story of many in the Middle East. He sold fruits and vegetables to support his mother and sister. When the police harassed him, and confiscated his cart, he set himself on fire, and set the Middle East ablaze. What was he telling us in that final act of despair? My guess is that he was saying that he needed a way to support his family, and he needed as well the freedom to live his life as he saw fit.

So it could be said that at the heart of the Arab Spring is a yearning for good paying jobs, and personal freedom.

And yet, as clear as this may be, there is still a gap between the change that people want, and the change that is likely to come about. So how do you bride this gap?

You can't depend on slogans. Slogans come and go, and are subject to the whims and fancies of those who set out to exploit them. You can't depend on violence. Violence begets violence, and you end up with leaders who assume power because it is in their nature to be even more violent than anyone else. You can't just hope that things will work out. Most times, power vacuums are filled in a grab for power, by leaders who are not inclined to listen to their people.

So what can you do to get your voice heard, and to bring about the kind of change you can only imagine? You build a model, a model that inspires a sense of hope, and that delivers on that promise with jobs, with dignity, and with personal freedom. We're not talking about a make-believe model. We're talking about a real model that you can see and touch, a model that will shine as beacon of light, for all to see, and for all to follow.

Want an example? Build a Green Industrial Zone in the most unlikely of places, in Rafah, Gaza, and use it as a new model for the Middle East. Make it an Arab initiative, to be funded by wealthy Arab investors. And let this model resonate with hope on as many levels as possible. If you believe in empowering women, then finance female entrepreneurs so that they can start their own businesses. If you believe in educating young people, then include a vocational school to teach needed skills. If you believe in sustaining the environment, then use state-of-the-art research and technology to address some of the environmental issues endemic to the region, such as: clean water, food production, healthcare
and green energy. Imagine Jews, Christians and Muslims showing up to work, on a daily basis, and building a new Middle East.

If you believe in the rich legacy of Arab dignity and pride, then reclaim it with a new model for the Middle East, one that can be replicated in a bid to revitalize the entire region with jobs, and with the personal freedom to which we are all entitled by virtue of our common humanity. A model of this sort will make very clear what we are fighting for, and how to get there.

file under: Visionaires for PeaceMiddle East PeaceGreen Industrial Zonea new model for the Middle East 18 Jan 2012 11:44 AM
Green Industrial Zones: A New Model for the Middle East Posted by Nissim Dahan


The following conversation took place between me, myself and I; three people I happen to know quite well:


What is your answer for the Middle East?


I would use Arab and Western capital and knowhow to build a Green Industrial Zone in Rafah, Gaza; where Gaza, Egypt and Israel converge, and where 300,000 Jews, Christians and Muslims would show up to work on a daily basis.


Why Rafah in particular? Isn't that a tough neighborhood, to say the least?


Rafah is the "wild west" of the Middle East. But because it's such a tough place, is why you want to build it there. Like Frank Sinatra sang about New York City, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere..."


Why a Green Industrial Zone? Why not a plain old, run-of-the-mill industrial zone?


Because we're not just building an industrial zone. We're building a new model for the Middle East, a model for positive change in that troubled region. We want to inspire a sense of hope, and deliver on that promise with jobs: jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help weaken the hold of extremist thinking. By focusing the project on the environment, and by working to improve the human condition, on issues such as clean water, food production, healthcare and green energy, we are more likely to garner worldwide attention and additional investment dollars. As such, we could replicate the project throughout the Middle East, in a bid to revitalize the entire region with jobs. What begins as a single solitary project could well blossom into a movement for change.


How about Hamas? Wouldn't they just blow up the place?


Even Hamas needs to create jobs. It's one thing to get elected. It's quite another to govern. As Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood, undertake to govern, and as they take note of what is happening on the Arab street even as we speak, they may come to the realization that job creation is in their interest as they attempt to consolidate political power. Therefore, while they may not agree to peace, they may agree to protect our Green Industrial Zone, as a way of inspiring the man on the street, and delivering on that promise with jobs.


What makes you think that wealthy Arabs and Westerners would likely invest in such a venture?


For the first time, in a long time, Arab, Israeli and Western leaders are facing some very common existential threats, namely, the prospect of a nuclear Iran, and the fury of the man on the street. These common existential threats, what we call a mosaic of mutual self-interest, could be leveraged into a strategic/economic alliance between the Arab states, Israel, the U.S., and Europe, with two purposes in mind: to provide security in the region, and to use Arab and Western capital and knowhow to revitalize the region with jobs. Millions of Western jobs could also be created in the process as we open up a new market for our goods and services.



Where would you get the green technology to run a Green Industrial Zone?


As it happens, counties like Israel offer quite a bit in this regard. My friend in the Technion, for example, just invented a way of engineering fruits and vegetables that are draught resistant and that use 70% less water. Imagine the possibilities for feeding people in places like the Middle East and Africa. And Israel would likely cooperate because she would much prefer to see positive change occurring in the Middle East, so that an already tough neighborhood does not become even more so.


Where would you find the workers with the necessary skills to handle green jobs?


We would build a vocational school, as part of our Green Industrial Zone, to train young workers, and to equip them with the necessary skills. We would also invest in female entrepreneurs and promote women's rights.


Why women in particular?


Empower Muslim women in ways that they deem appropriate, and you will have changed the face of the Middle East. Who are women? They are the givers of life and the caretakers of life, and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope.


Do you really believe that a new model of this sort is even possible?


Maybe, maybe not. However, some of the key players in the Middle East are quickly running out of good options. They may choose to join in, not because they necessarily love one another, or because they want peace, or because they want a better world for their children. No, none of that crap. They may join in because they're running out of options, as the old model that has been put in place is falling apart. The writing is on the wall for all the business and political leaders in the Middle East. We see the energy in the hearts and minds of young people. We either find a way to marshal that energy and point it in a positive direction, or it will all explode in our collective faces.


How long will it all take?


A new Middle East may take generations to pull off. However, the plans for the industrial zone in Rafah already exist. A wealthy industrialist in Israel, Stef Wertheimer, already drew them up, and was ready to break ground, when the second Intifada broke out in the year 2000, and the plans were scrapped. We could use those plans, put some serious capital behind them, and launch the project immediately with Caterpillar tractors showing up to clear the land. Even this first step would inspire a sense of hope, and would buy us time to effectuate positive chance gradually, as opposed to dealing with revolutionary change on our doorsteps.



A Green Industrial Zone in a wild and crazy place like Rafah will resonate with hope, and will deliver on that promise with jobs. It will be the model which answers the three greatest questions of our time: How do we grow our economies? How do we protect the environment? And how do we weaken the hold of extremist thinking? As such, it will capture the world's imagination and be replicated in a bid to revitalize the entire region with jobs and personal freedoms. It will restore the rich legacy of Arab pride and dignity. It will bring stability where chaos now reigns. And it will point to a place where, for a change, everybody wins.


file under: PalestineMiddle East PeaceIsrael 3 Nov 2011 10:18 AM
You're Also Right Posted by Nissim Dahan
A friend of mine, Sagi Melamed, wrote this article. As you read it, ask yourself this: What do you do, to promote the cause of peace, when both sides of a conflict believe they're "right?" Perhaps part of the answer is to put on a shelf somewhere, at least for a while, the issue of who is right and who is wrong. Let everyone think they're right. And in the meantime, create new realities on the ground, which speak louder than words, and which point to the possibility of peace. Why not build a Green Industrial Zone in places like Gaza, and see 300,000 Jews, Christians and Muslims working together to support themselves, to grow their economies, and to solve the environmental issues endemic to the region, such as clean water, healthy care, green energy and food production? After a while, when people begin making money together, they may finally find a way to get along. They will humanize one another in each other's eye. And little by little, the contentious issues that kept them apart may not seem as insurmountable as they once were. It's just a thought.  

You're Also Right

Sagi Melamed


There is a well-known story about a rabbi who was called upon to settle a dispute between two of his followers.  The first man poured out his complaints to the rabbi, and when he finished, the rabbi said, "You're right."  Then it was the second one's turn.  When he finished, the rabbi said, "You're also right."  The rabbi's wife, who had been listening to the conversation, said incredulously to her husband, "What do you mean, ‘You're also right'? They can't both be right!"  The rabbi thought for a few moments, and then replied, "You know, my dear, you're also right."


If an alien were to land in our general vicinity, his response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would probably be like that of the rabbi in the story: You're both right.


 The Palestinian people are right when they expect and demand independence.  The Palestinian father is right to long for a life in which he can sleep safe at home without fearing a midnight pounding on his door.  The Palestinian woman is right to want to go from place to place without having to go through security checkpoints or risk arrest.


The Jewish people were also right when they returned to their homeland after a 2,000 year exile, establishing their own national home.  Jews are right to fear hatred and persecution, right to believe that only by relying on their own resources, can they prevent the nightmare of another Holocaust.  Jews are right to state that they entitled to all they have achieved through their own efforts.  The Jewish people are correct when they point out that the world has totally unreasonable expectations of them, expectations that are never imposed on any other people.  And they are also right to fear that if they give away some of their land today, then tomorrow the Palestinians might demand it all.


Friends and neighbors may say, "Why do you, the grandson of a refugee from Germany, offspring of kibbutz founders, army officer, and member of a religious community in the Galilee, feel the need to justify the position of our enemies?"  I reply, "I don't have to justify anything, but I do have to understand."  It is not hard to find untruths, gross exaggerations and significant holes in the Palestinian version of the conflict.  But even the most extreme among us cannot deny that Palestinians lack freedom, live in very difficult conditions, declare themselves to be a people and are hungry for independence.


In the 90s I believed, along with many others, that we could find a way to live side-by-side.  We had the feeling that it was beginning to happen, that it would come to pass soon.  I remember that I was even somewhat concerned, during my MA studies in Boston, that peace would break out before I could return to Israel.  What would we only give to be able to have such concerns nowadays! 


The speeches of Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly might have been the last nails in the coffin of the dream of living side-by-side - if not actually in peace, then at least living without war.  But this does not seem possible any time in the foreseeable future.  Both speeches focused on why I am right/fearful/angry/threatened and why the other side is threatening/thieving/untrustworthy.  From their own perspectives, they were both right.  And with "right" like that, who needs "wrong"?


Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee.  He serves as Vice President of External Affairs at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, and as Chief Instructor (4th Dan) of the Hoshaya Karate Club.  Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. He can be contacted at:


September 2011


file under: Middle East PeaceFreedomArab Spring 25 Sep 2011 3:42 PM
So It's Freedom You Want? Posted by Nissim Dahan

People the world over cry out for "freedom," but how often do we sit down and think about what it really means to be free?


Over the years, different people the world over embraced different interpretations of "freedom."


Janice Joplin used to sing of freedom as "...nothing left to lose." Is that what it means to be free? Or is that the state of mind that is needed to put everything on the line, and to venture forth in search of freedom?


The framers of the U.S. Constitution thought of freedom as conferring certain inalienable rights to the citizenry, such as freedom of religion, speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association.


On January 6, 1941, President Roosevelt spoke of the four fundamental freedoms that people "everywhere in the world" are entitled to: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.


However you define it, the notion of freedom has captured hearts and minds of people in all four corners of the world. And still somehow, it is often difficult to define what exactly it means to be free. Yet we realize, as we fight for freedom, that it is important to understand what it is to be free, so that at the end of the day, we know what it is we're looking for, and recognize what it is when we finally find it.


Certainly there is a role for government to play in assuring to their people the basic right of freedom. Liberty is enhanced to the extent that governments undo the shackles of oppressive rule, external control, interference, regulation, etc. Freedom also grows as a person comes to believe that he is the master of his destiny and that he can make the decisions to chart his course in life, without excessive and unreasonable interference from government. And of course, freedom connotes a fundamental respect for human life, and the protection of a person's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."


However, just as government can play its role, the individual himself has a role to play as well, in fighting for and sustaining a sense of personal freedom. It could well be argued that the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to think. Rene Descartes famously said, "I think, therefore I am." Inherent in the human condition, and our existence as free human beings, is our ability to think, and I would add, our ability to think clearly, with common sense and personal dignity, unhampered by the biases, suspicions, prejudices and superstitions which are thrust upon us, at an early age, by the societies we find ourselves.


As we search for freedom in such diverse places as the Middle East, or the Far East, or the West, or wherever the need arises; if it is really freedom we're after, and if we dare to be true to ourselves, then we have no choice but to let go of past prejudices and wrong-headed thinking, in favor of what makes sense, and what promises hope for the future.


Our challenge, as freedom fighters, is not an easy one. All too often, we are called upon to put everything on the line, in hope of finding something that may never be found. But perhaps the greatest challenge of all, as we seek our freedom, and the freedom of others, is to break the chains that bind us to the thinking of the past, and that keep us imprisoned in the psychological cages that we have built for ourselves. If we find the courage and the wisdom to break these chains of the mind, then, and only then, will we shine the light on the path to freedom.

file under: vision of hopeTurkeySyrian SpringMiddle East PeaceHamasArab Spring 11 Aug 2011 3:58 PM
Are Turkey and Israel Kissing Cousins Again? Posted by Nissim Dahan


Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained to the breaking point, ever since nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara tried to run Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, and were killed by Israeli naval commandos in May of last year. In the years preceding this incident, relations between the two countries were relatively good, including strategic cooperation, tourism, economic cooperation, and the like. But since the Mavi Marmara affair, any attempt at rapprochement by Israel was met with; "apologize first," by Prime Minister Erdogan.


In light of this recent and contentious history, rumors that Turkey may be willing to help mediate the prisoner exchange by which IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, now being held by Hamas militants, would be released, seemed too good to be true. Why, in the face of such strong positions taken by Turkey, would Prime Minister Erdogan even consider helping Israel secure the release of her soldier, Gilad Shalit?


The answer may well be the "Arab Spring," or more specifically the "Syrian Spring." The turmoil in the Arab world is plain to see, and is most vividly brought home by the relentless killing of demonstrators in both Libya and Syria. Particularly in Syria, the killing spree by the government seems to know no bounds, and is affecting Turkey directly by the swell of refugees crossing over the border.


There is little doubt that Turkish attitudes have changed, as the current harsh realities of the Arab street are factored in. And in fact, as Turkey searches for some measure of stability in the region, is it a wonder that she may look to Israeli in that regard? The ups and downs of Israeli/Turkish relations may well pale by comparison, as compared to the existential threats posed by the "Syrian Spring," with its widespread and far reaching implications for the region as a whole. In short, a strategic partnership with Israel may be a bitter pill to swallow, but may also be the right medicine at the right time.


Rumors have it that we will soon see: the appointment of new ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara, a renewal of a strategic partnership between the two countries, an Israeli apology for last year's flotilla fiasco, and official confirmation of the Turkish mediation efforts in the Shalit affair. Much of the progress in this regard has been fostered and encouraged by President Obama and his administration, which is trying to bridge the divide between Washington and Ankara, and which sees a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey as indispensable in this regard.


If it is true that the "Syrian Spring" has played a significant role in bringing Turkey and Israel closer together, then this has widespread implications for the region as a whole. There is no doubt that the history of the Middle East is replete with enmity between Israel and much of the Arab world. Rightly or wrongly, and I believe wrongly, Israel and the U.S. have been blamed for much that has gone wrong in that troubled region.


However, the "Arab Spring" may have ushered in a new day, a turning point of sorts. Whereas in the past, Israel and the U.S. have served as convenient scapegoats, as a way of diverting attention away from the inadequacy of corrupt and oppressive leadership, today, in light of new realities on the Arab street, Israel and the U.S. may better serve as friends in need, as  partners who may be of help in averting existential threats, and helping to usher in a new age in the Middle East, based on a Vision of Hope for the region, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.


It would be quite ironic indeed if all this came to pass, but no less ironic than some of the other craziness that takes place on a daily basis in this mysterious place we call the Middle East.

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