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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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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: vision of hopeMiddle Eastextremismenvironmenteconomy 26 May 2009 10:45 PM
Are the Stars in Proper Alignment for a New Middle East? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Say what you will, the Middle East is a mysterious place. The person who says he knows what will happen there is either foolish of naïve. And yet, there are signs afoot which may point in a new direction, one that is more hopeful, and which hints of a better day and a brighter future.


Whatever else it was, 9/11 was a wake up call of sorts. The horrific events of that day said to the world that there are pent up resentments in various parts of the world, which are festering, which may explode at any time, and which, if taken to their ultimate extents, could threaten Western civilization at its core. 9/11 said to the world that certain basic assumptions about the Middle East may have to be looked at once again, and that certain models that have been put in place, with regard to the sharing of power, may have to be revisited.


Is it smart, for example, for the West to support corrupt regimes which oppress their own people? Is it smart for Arab regimes to pay off the extremists, in a bid to sustain the calm, at the price of teaching hate to a young, frustrated, and impressionable generation? Is it smart to live off of oil profits, without growing an economy and enabling people to earn a decent living? In these and other ways, 9/11 brought into sharp focus the flawed assumptions which underlie much of the Middle East, and much of Western thinking about that precarious place.


Partially in response to 9/11, Western and Middle East governments are beginning to see things from a new vantage point, one that keeps changing as circumstances dictate. The American reaction was initially to launch two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. But gradually the focus may be shifting somewhat in the direction of winning hearts and minds, not just military battles. Western insecurities about the free flow of oil, and about the viability and health of the environment, may result in a move toward energy independence and renewable sources of energy. Saudi Arabia, which sees a threat to its source of revenue, and which senses that the deal cut with the extremists, circa 1979, is beginning to threaten her own hold on power, may be more open to growing and diversifying her economy, and using oil profits to generate green profits, and using good paying jobs to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking.


The ambitions of some key players in the area may bring with them a realignment of alliances in the region. Iran perceives a power vacuum in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and intends to fill that vacuum with her foreign policy and ideological objectives, buttressed by a nuclear capability. She uses her proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, to test the waters for her ascendancy to power. In reaction, Sunni states like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, may realign themselves with Israel no less; the one power in the Middle East, which, along with the United States, could be looked upon to keep Iran's power in check. If such a military alliance could emerge, and if it could be strengthened with an attempt to revitalize the stagnant economies of the Middle East, could this bode well for a new Middle East?


And the women of the region are being called upon to play their part in pointing to the possibility of hope. The brutal assault on women by the Taliban of Afghanistan brought into sharp focus the plight of women around the world, including the Middle East. The video footage of a woman being executed in a soccer stadium made an indelible impression on millions around the world. The assassination of Benezir Bhutto was more than a minor footnote in the annals of the stifling of women, and the countervailing courage of women. The ineffectiveness of Zippi Livni spoke to the triumphalism of men in contrast to the moderation of women. And yet, women of courage are not hesitating to speak out, even as they face the countless perils entailed in doing so.


What do these, and other such trends, tell us about the direction that the Middle East is likely to take? No one can know for sure. And certainly, human intention is only a small aspect of human destiny. And no one person is in a position to orchestrate the future of the Middle East. But even given all that, in the overall scheme of things, one could argue that there is at least a decent chance of better things to come.


It is not that things will get better just because of the good intentions of some well intentioned individuals, although everyone of goodwill has a part to play. It is rather that the nature of the problems at hand all point in a certain direction, such that the solutions to these problems will necessarily mean that a new day has dawned in the Middle East. For example, could the global economic downturn mean that the Middle East could be seen as a potential economic engine, as a new market for the goods and services of more developed economies? Could the threat to oil rich Arab regimes posed by ideological extremists mean an investment in growing Arab economies, and using good paying jobs to weaken the hold of extremist thinking? Could the threats to the environment mean an investment in green technology, and green jobs, in a bid to diversify strictly oil economies, and to wean the world from its dependence on fossil fuels? Could the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremists be the impetus for new alliances in the Middle East, and even for peace, including an accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians?


No one really knows the answers to these and other such questions. But there is at least a strong possibility that the answers will require the realization of a Vision of Hope, by which, in partnership with the Middle East: we will use a new ideological framework to speak to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity, we will begin to invest in one another to create jobs which grow our economies, protect our environment, and help to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking, we will use an Ideology of Common Sense along with some well placed Investment Dollars to sell one another on a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom, we will sustain the hope by launching a series of public diplomacy programs, including empowering women, which will prop the vision up and carry it forward, and when necessary, and it will be necessary, we will fight against the forces of extremism, and fight hard, but we will also position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We will raise the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. We are not fighting a "war against terror." We are fighting a war of ideas, a war for hearts and minds, a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.


Will all this come to pass? I don't honestly know. But it seems that the solutions to our most intractable problems seem to coincide nicely with a more hopeful vision for the Middle East. Of course, things could get a lot worse before they get any better. But if the stars align themselves just right, and if enough people of goodwill are willing to breathe life into a new vision for the Middle East, then there is at least a good chance that the impossible will happen, and that the broken pieces of the Middle East will come together in a new and better way, one that inspires a sense of hope for generations to come.






file under: Obamahopeextremismenvironmenteconomy 6 Nov 2008 3:02 PM
Can Barack Obama Deliver On A Vision of Hope? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Barack Obama is the president-elect; a momentous event in the annals of American history, and an inspiration to people all around the world. President-elect Obama campaigned on a vision of hope, and in many ways, his life's story inspires a sense of hope: born into relative poverty, raised by a single mother, abandoned by his father, turning away from the reckless abandon of his youth toward the pursuit of the finest education, turning away from the pursuit of profit toward helping his own community, inspiring his nation with a vision of hope, and through that hope, becoming the first African American elected President of the United States.


But even though his life inspires a sense of hope, and even though he campaigned on a vision of hope, will Barack Obama be able to deliver on his vision? The problems he faces are daunting to say the least: an economic meltdown, huge budget deficits, two wars being waged simultaneously, the threat from ideological extremism, and a planet that is in peril due to environmental degradation. How can a vision of hope be given substance in the face of such seemingly insurmountable challenges?


To my mind, for what it's worth, there is still room for hope, and Obama hinted at the reason in his victory speech. He said something to the effect that this historic election was not really about him, but more about the people wanting to break from the past, and opting for change instead. And he said that his victory is not really the change we need, but is rather a chance for us to bring about the change we all hope for. And he said that it will not be he who brings the change, but the people themselves who will do that, just as they brought him to the presidency.


One commentator said of Obama that he is somehow able to deflect attention away from himself, and to shine a light upon the people instead. That sense of humility, and that ability to empower others, is why there is still hope to turn things around in America, and to set the stage for change around the world.


Take Global Warming as an example. I am reading Tom Friedman's book, Hot, Flat and Crowded. He sees climate change as the moral imperative of our time. But he does not think that government can effectuate the change needed, even though tax incentives, regulation, and leadership are indispensable in this regard. Instead, if we're looking for a clean, renewable, and cheap source of energy, it will come from innovation on a personal level. It will come from thousands of companies, and thousands of inventors working in their garages, to come up with new technology. It will take the engines of our economies to select which innovation is best suited for commercial production. And it will take hard working employees to produce the products which can save our planet, or more accurately, our place on it. So government can help, but it will be for the people to pick up the slack, and to make things happen.


And just as with Global Warming, so too will it be up to the people to solve our current economic crisis. I read an article today about Credit Default Swaps. These are financial instruments which, along with bad mortgages, are at the heart of the economic mess we're in. The writer wrote, "When you see people earning $100 million dollar bonuses from using money to make money, instead of real things, start worrying." Instead of making money by making real things like houses, bread, shirts, cars, and computers, we decided to make money by shuffling papers. So here again, the answer may be inspired by a President Obama, but the ultimate solution will come from the hard work of workers, who by their productivity, will create economic growth based on real value, not empty pieces of paper.


And so too with ideological extremism, which threatens much of the world. Yes, government can fight wars, and yes, sometimes there is no choice but to fight; but in the final analysis, the answer for extremism will be in the hands of the people, who will talk to one another with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity, who will invest in one another to create jobs which protect the environment, who will use those jobs to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking, who will sell one another on a vision of hope which is given substance in reality, who will sustain the hope with public diplomacy, and who will fight against the forces of extremism, the forces which would render the possibility of hope null and void.


And so, if everything works out well, God willing, and if the stars become aligned in just the right way, then Barack Obama, whose life has come to symbolize a vision of hope, and who campaigned by selling us on a vision of hope, will inspire us, each in his own way, to realize a vision of hope, not by depending on him, but by depending on ourselves to make true what is now only a dream.  

file under: vision of hopeextremismenvironmenteconomycommon sense 2 Oct 2008 8:29 AM
In Search of New Frontiers Posted by Nissim Dahan
America has always been a land of new frontiers. From the time that Columbus first set foot here, to the time that pioneers set out to settle the West, to the time that Americans set out for the moon, there has always been a sense here that there are new frontiers to explore. And yet, America now finds herself somewhat at a loss, and the promise of new frontiers is becoming illusory at best. Where do we go from here? The question lingers in the public mind.


America faces some grave threats in our time, and by implication, so does the world at large. The threats we face seem to fall into three general categories: the threats posed by Extremist ideologies, the threats to the Environment, and the threats to the Economy. I call these threats the 3-E's, for short.


Extremist thinking is not limited to groups like Al Qaeda, but exists wherever people put their personal beliefs above the needs of the people at large. It could well be argued, for example, that the meltdown in Wall Street was the result of personal greed trumping the needs of a healthy economy.


The threats to the Environment are beginning to loom large in the public mind. The Environment is quickly assuming the role of the ideological imperative. The decision, some 150 years ago, to run our economies on fossil fuels, may well have been the greatest mistake ever made, a mistake with dire consequences for the destiny of man.


The threats to our economy have been made quite clear in the last few days, with grave implications for the economic wellbeing of the entire world. The global economy, while it does hold the promise of great benefits for the world at large, also means that the downfall of one economy could trigger the downfall of others as well. What is clear is that the model embraced by Wall Street, and by other financial institutions, may need some fine tuning to say the least, if not a major overhaul.


Even to the cursory observer, the threats we face-Extremism, the Environment, and the Economy-are all inter-connected, and inter-related. They feed upon one another, and into one another. They are a package deal, of sorts. You literally can't solve one, without addressing the other two. And since they are so related to one another, it is possible that a solution can be found which solves all three in one shot.


The search for answers to the problems which we face may well mean a search for new frontiers, for new ways of thinking, and for new actions taken pursuant to new ideas. It is as if our problems are beginning to point to a new paradigm for organizing ourselves as we make our way into the 21st century. As John Gardner put it, we face "...a series of opportunities disguised as insoluble problems."


The cure for many of the ills which plague us may well be to usher in a Green Revolution, by which we use our technological and economic power to create jobs which are specifically designed to protect the Environment, which will help to curb the hold of extremist thinking, and which will help us to partner with nations around the world to grow our economies, but in a way that is sustainable for countless generations to come.


Think about it. If the threats we face are Environmental, Economic, and Extremist in nature, isn't the answer to grow our economies by producing green technology goods and services, and by using the jobs created in this regard to give everyone on earth a place at the table, a stake in his or her future, and by hoping that such an outcome will automatically help to neutralize extremist thinking?


It is as if the position that America finds herself cries out for a new frontier to be found and explored. However,  this frontier is not about embarking on a journey to a distant land. This frontier is about looking at our current situation, and fashioning a solution which addresses all that is wrong with our world, and with our nation.


Many around the world still look to America as the last remaining super-power, and as the last best hope for mankind. By all means of measure, America has much to be proud of: the most successful democracy, the guarantor of freedom and personal liberties, the strongest economy, the most powerful military, the most renowned academic institutions, the leader in technological advancement and research, the leader of the free world, the cultural trend setter of the world, the country that others look up to and depend on. But looking at America's many accomplishments, the question still remains: To what end did America achieve her greatness, and to what purpose will she put her strength?


In the past, even in the darkest of times, America has risen to the occasion, and has cast her light on the right path, for all to see, and for all to follow. Like the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor, America has often been a beacon of hope for countless millions around the world. But having been a light unto the nations in the past, many now fear that America may have lost her way. And it is precisely at this time, and under these dire circumstances, that America is once again called upon to assume the mantle of leadership in the world, and to show by example the best way forward. Failure to do so could not only undo the fabric of our nation, but could well mean the undoing of the destiny of man.

file under: vision of hopepeaceextremistsenvironmenteconomy 22 Jul 2008 8:32 PM
Don't Laugh: Can Saudi Arabia become the "Mecca" of Green? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Even the title sounds a bit out there. What, the Middle East, the world's largest producer of oil, becoming a center for green technology, and renewable energy? Sounds crazy, doesn't it? And yet, the sheer incongruity of it all may just be enough to make it work. In a world of increasing uncertainty, sometimes it is the unexpected that is to be expected.


Look at the world, and what do you see? A lot of good things, that's for sure. Beauty surrounds us wherever we choose to look. But increasingly we are also facing a gathering perfect storm in the form of three types of threats: the Extremism, the Environment, and the Economy. We'll call these the 3-E's for short. Since these three threats are inter-related, and inextricably linked, like spaghetti and tomato sauce, it makes sense that a solution can be found which solves all three in one shot.


How are the 3-E's related to one another? In all sorts of ways: Extremist ideologies prevent people from coming together to tackle environmental and economic problems. The degradation of the environment can spur extremist thinking and economic woes. A declining or unjust economy can become fertile ground for extremist thinking and can push people to further degrade the environment. And the list of inter-connections between the 3-E's goes on and on.


Since the threats we face are closely connected, it makes sense that a solution can be found which addresses all three in one shot. What would such a solution look like? Well, at least part of the solution could be to revitalize the stagnant economies of the Middle East, and to neutralize some of the ideological extremism that is found there, by investing to create good paying jobs, jobs which are geared toward the protection of the environment. In short, invest in the Middle East to create jobs which protect the environment.


Conditions on the ground seem to be ripe for such a solution: Rising oil prices have made it possible for green technology and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind power, and geothermal, to become competitive and even profitable. There is also, as we speak, a gathering consensus with respect to the threats we face, as a species, from Global Warming. It is becoming increasingly possible, for example, that by the year 2050, if we do nothing, the sea level may rise some 20 feet, thus flooding 60% of humanity. Or at least, the risk of such an outcome may be great enough to warrant decisive action now, even if we're not completely sure. At the same time, the threat from ideological extremism has been perceived, experienced, and acknowledged, worldwide, and the world seems poised to adopt solutions which will curb such threats.


So how do we put together all of the pieces of a possible solution? Let's start by focusing on what resources and motivations we have available to us as we speak. Oil producing countries, like Saudi Arabia, have untold billions to invest, but as yet have not invested their funds to create thriving economies, and are themselves beset by the threat posed by ideological extremists. Israel is on the cusp of cutting edge green technology, and is enjoying a thriving economy, but has not as yet come to enjoy the security that can only come from peace. America and other Western nations have plenty of public and private investment dollars, as well as business and technological expertise, but they feel insecure in a world threatened by extremist ideology, environmental harm, and economic uncertainty. The West may also be overwhelmed by the amount of investment that is will take to switch over to green, especially as it faces current economic realities on the ground.


So how do we make it all work? How do we move the immoveable? We start by convincing the world at large that change is in the air. And we do it not just by talking, but by creating facts on the ground which speak louder than words. We build a project, a special project that resonates with hope, a project for all to see, and for all to follow.


Start with a single solitary project in the West Bank, a very unique place in the Middle East, a place that resonates with symbolism. Use Israeli technology, Arab and Israeli management, Palestinian workers, and Saudi financing, to build a factory that produces a green energy product which is technologically significant in some innovative way. Promote the project around the world to attract more such funding, for more such projects, for more such jobs, for more such environmental protection, for more such neutralizing of extremism, using funds from the West, and from the Arab world as well. Pretty soon, if everything goes as it should-stranger things have happened-your project won't just be a project anymore, but rather a movement for change. Your project will say to the world that a Vision of Hope could be made real if people simply choose to make it so, one project at a time.


How would you convince America and the West? You would say that the writing is on the wall with regard to Global Warming. You either change, or you're all going down. And the economy is not in such great shape either. You need to create some good paying jobs, both here and abroad. But even if you go green, and even if you fix the economy, those things by themselves won't be enough, not if you continue to have ideological extremists on your back. So the answer for America is to go for the complete package: Create good paying jobs here and the Middle East, jobs which will protect the environment, jobs which will help to neutralize ideological hate, and jobs which help to cure your economic woes.


How would you convince Israel? Israel is a coastline country, and if the sea level rises 20 feet, by 2050 no less, what will become of your country? It's time to make something happen with regard to Global Warming and with regard to peace. Skirting around the issues with empty talk will not do. Use your technological prowess and your economic drive to help revitalize the stagnant economies of the Middle East. Help to design and build projects in the West Bank, and throughout the Middle East, which protect the environment, and which help quell the ideological fervor of extremist thinking. Your ultimate security rests in brokering a peace, a peace based on fulfilling mutual needs and creating mutual economic interdependence.


How would you convince Saudi Arabia and other nations of the Middle East? The current model that has been put in place will not hold. We all know that. Sooner or later, the oil will run out. And even before then, the West will be forced to find new sources of energy given the pressure of climate change. Global Warming weighs heavily on us all. Why not dare to dream the impossible, and to make the impossible come true? Why not create a new model, a model based on a Vision of Hope. Have the foresight and the courage to diversify your investments by becoming a big player in going green. Get in on the ground floor of the world wide demand for renewable energy. Convert oil profits into green profits, by creating jobs which protect the environment. Use good paying jobs to revitalize your economy, and to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking. Inspire a sense of hope in your people, and restore a sense of pride in the Arab world.


Is any of this possible? You're asking me? In all honesty, no one can know for sure. But my sense is that there is no alternative. We either confront the threats we face head on, or we're going down. It's that simple, and everything we know and love hangs in the balance.  Confronting all these three threats-the Extremists, the Environment, and the Economy-in one shot, makes a lot of sense, because: each threat is related to the other two, a solution for one can be part of a solution for all three, and a solution for one will not work unless it is tied to a solution for all three.


We find ourselves in a fix of immense proportions, a fix we've created for ourselves. We're in a real pickle, so to speak. If we are to survive, and that is quickly becoming an open question, we will have to aspire to the wisdom of God, as we put together all of the pieces of a possible solution, not unlike how He has put together all of the pieces of His creation. Only then could it truly be said of us that we were created in "the image of God," which is perhaps what He is waiting to see in us.


If you are at all interested, or if you have a rich Saudi uncle, please let us know.