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Peace Roadmap

Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

Look inside Nissim Dahan's book Selling a Vision of Hope with Google Books.

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Category >> peace in the Middle East
file under: self-interestSaudi Arabiapeace in the Middle EastIranHamas 12 Oct 2011 5:08 PM
Two Hints That Peace May Be Possible Posted by Nissim Dahan

In this increasingly hostile world of ours, it is only natural to search for even the slightest hint that peace may be possible. As I watched the news last night, two such hints came into sharp focus right before my eyes. The first is Iran's recent attempt to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. And the second is the imminent, God willing, release by Hamas of Gilad Shalit, a captive Israeli soldier, in exchange for the release of approximately 1000 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.


You may well ask: Why do these seemingly two unrelated news items point to the possibility of peace?


Iran's assassination attempt underscores the threat that the current regime poses to the Sunni Arab world, and for that matter, to the world at large. It is seemingly inconceivable, in light of the threats that confront Iran's leadership, that they would even attempt such a bold and brazen attack, against a Saudi diplomat, on U.S. soil no less. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? And yet, as the last few years clearly demonstrate, Iran's leaders have not hesitated to finance and carry out terrorist attacks of all shapes and sizes, including the bombing of a Jewish synagogue in Argentina, with over 100 killed, as well as the murder of over 100 dissidents throughout Europe.


And as we all know, Iran makes no secret of her desire to develop nuclear weapons, and to use that umbrella, and her proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, to wield an even greater influence throughout the entire region. There is no doubt that at least some of Iran's leaders wish to remake the Middle East in their image. Even if it turns out that this plot was perpetrated by a rogue faction, still: Would you want a rogue faction to have its finger on a nuclear trigger? Is that a risk we can afford to take?


It would be natural, therefore, for Saudi officials to be quite worried about Iranian intentions, especially considering the historical enmity between Shiites and Sunnis, the acts of terrorism sponsored by Iran, the attempt to become a nuclear power, and the recent attempted assassination of the Saudi Ambassador. Taken as a whole, the assassination attempt is just further confirmation of Iran's intent to take charge, and of her willingness to use extra-ordinary means to do so.


So why does this point to the possibility of peace? Because as Saudi looks around, and searches for a way to keep Iranian designs in check, she may have no choice but to look to Israel and the U.S., because only they have the wherewithal to accomplish such a mission, and the self-interest to do so. And therefore, a strategic alliance between Saudi, the Sunni Arabs, Israel and the U.S. may soon be in the offing. And what will be the price for such an arrangement? That is easy enough to fathom; assistance in closing the deal on peace between Israel and Palestine, and leveraging that into an overall understanding between Israel and the Arab world.


The second hint that peace may be in the offing is Hamas' apparent willingness to release Gilad Shalit in exchange for Israel's release of over 1000 Palestinian prisoners, 300 of whom are serving life sentences. Why does this prisoner swap bode well for peace, you may well ask. And the answer is quite simple. Because it shows, in a rather perverse way, that Israel and Hamas can cut a deal, even though both are sworn to each other's destruction, and have vowed never to negotiate with one another. Still, somehow, a deal was cut, and if that deal could be cut, it follows that other deals could be cut as well.


Ask yourself a simple question: Why did Hamas cut this deal? Because it wants to look good in the eyes of the people, and bringing home 1000 Palestinian prisoners looks good. Well, what if the people begin demanding jobs and a greater measure of freedom, which they are? What then? Is it just possible that if Hamas needs to deliver on jobs and freedom, that it too will look to Israel and the U.S. to help in this regard, because in reality, they are best able to do so? And if that is the case, what will be the price that Hamas has to pay? Well, that too is easy to fathom...peace! Nothing more, and nothing less. 


     So in the end, when push comes to shove, peace may be possible, not because people love one another, God forbid, or because they want a better world for their children, or because they believe in the sanctity of life. No, none of that crap. Peace may come one day because as we face some very common existential threats, we may finally come to realize that we actually need one another, for a change, to stave off these threats, and to save our very own necks.



file under: vision of hopepeace in the Middle Eastcivil disobiencea new model 28 Jul 2011 12:03 PM
A Day at the Beach Posted by Nissim Dahan

A friend of mine brought to my attention a recent article by Ethan Bronner in The New York Times, Where Politics Are Complex, Simple Joys at the Beach. The article describes a group of Israeli women who engage in civil disobedience by sneaking into Israel groups of Palestinian women to enjoy a day at the beach. The Israeli women, who call themselves We Will Not Obey, are willing to break the law to send the message that in their opinion, the occupation, with its attendent legislation, is unjust and should be brought to an end. The Palestinian women are willing to take the heat from their husbands, friends, and families, to enjoy a day at the beach, and to taste a small measure of freedom.


While the beach scene may seem idyllic on its face, not everything goes smoothly on such occasions. A Palestinian woman, who has five of her brothers in Israeli prisons, and whose other brother was killed when he entered a settler religious academy armed with a knife, said, "This is all ours," when she first entered Tel Aviv. The Israeli women reminded her, however, that his was their home. Another Palestinian woman admitted that her husband's family did not approve of her visits, "How can you be with the Jews, they ask me, are you a collaborator?"


So perhaps the deep seated divide between these two people is still there, only to be temporarily papered over by an occasional act of defiance, an occasional visit to the beach. But something about this story struck me as significant. Perhaps it was the fact that women, and not men, were taking the initiative to defy the law, but in a gentle, and non-violent manner. Women, on the whole, seem to have a keen sense of right and wrong, and are not naturally inclined to obsess over ideological differences. Women have better things to do with their time. They tend to build bridges, not walls.


Our daughter gave birth to her fourth child this week. At a moment's notice, my wife and she sprang into action, making the necessary arrangements to bring this child into the world, and to care for her as best they could. For the most part, the men sat back, watched, and marveled at it all.  Who are women, I often ask myself. 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, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.


There are many instances, around the world, of a disconnect between the policies of government and the aspirations of the people. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace, but their leaders seem disinclined to make the effort. In the Arab world, the man on the street wants a decent job and the personal freedom to live his life as he sees fit. And yet, the powers that be remain committed to a model that is repressive and out of step with the will of the people. In the United States, Republicans and Democrats, who are debating a solution to debt crisis, are willing to play a game of chicken with the full faith and credit of the country, which could wreak economic havoc in the U.S. and around the world.


Leaders, on all sides of the fence, get caught up in ideological traps, traps which imprison their thinking, traps which make it difficult to find common ground, and traps which make compromise a dirty word. At a time when global problems require global solutions, narrow-minded ideological positions keep us cooped up in our own little worlds. And it's going to take more than a Day at the Beach for us to enjoy the light of day.


One of the Israeli women mentioned Rosa Parks, "...I admire her, because she had the courage to break a law that was not right." Yes, but that was not enough. What was needed was a vision, a big vision of hope. Dr. King was a man possessed of such a vision, a vision of civil rights and equal treatment under the law. Ordinarily, Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on the bus, would have been a non-event. But Dr. King was no ordinary man. He was a man possessed of a vision, a big vision of hope. He saw in Rosa Parks an opportunity to give substance to his vision, and soon enough, the reality on the ground grew to fill up the space created by the vision. Such is the dynamic of change in the world, and such is the prescription for change in the Middle East.


So let us enjoy our Day at the Beach. Let us continue to push the envelope, just a tad, and without violence, to get our voices heard. But let us, as well, find the courage and the wisdom to give purpose to our passions. Let us embrace a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom, and let us give substance to that vision by changing peoples' lives for the better, with new realities that speak louder than words, and which help to break the walls of ideological divides.



file under: vision of hoperevolutionpeace in the Middle East 27 Apr 2011 4:29 PM
The Means to an End Posted by Nissim Dahan
Every once in a while we come to believe that the ends justify the means. But most of the time we scramble to find the means to a given end. And if we don't find the right means, then the end we seek will not be found, no matter how justified it is.


There is no question in my mind that much of what is happening on the Arab street can be explained as the fervent wish of some very well-intentioned people to shake off the oppressive yoke of the past, and to open the door to a brighter future. The people on the street have found the courage to embrace such noble aspirations as freedom and democracy. And to that end, they have put life and limb on the line, in an effort to dismantle established and entrenched regimes, in favor of new leadership which will be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.


And yet, as justified as these ends are, the means to these ends do matter, because the wrong means could very well spell a dead end to even the most justifiable ends. A revolution, almost by necessity, brings with it a period of instability and even chaos. After all, you can't very well bring change without disrupting the status quo. After a while, a certain measure of battle fatigue is bound to set in, and the revolutionary fervor of the man on the street can easily be overtaken by the political ambitions of political factions which are averse to freedom, which are authoritarian in nature, but which promise to restore some semblance of stability to the nation.


The revolution of 1979 in Iran is a case in point. The Shah of Iran lost favor in the eyes of the people, due in part to his repression of dissidents, even as he ushered in an era of gradual reform. His removal from power brought Shapour Bakhtiar into power, for only 36 days, supposedly with a public mandate to usher in democratic reforms. A period of instability ensued, only to bring to the fore another revolution, by which Ayatollah Khomeini took hold of power, and put in place a regime that was far more authoritarian than anything that preceded it.


It would be a travesty of justice for the people of the Middle East to have shed their blood, and to have invested their hope, only to be overtaken by the insidious agendas of ideological extremists. One way to avoid this, in my opinion, is for people to focus on goals which are realistic, which can be achieved more easily, which are not overly threatening to the powers that be, and which can help to bring about reform that coincides with the aspirations of the people. In short, the aims of the revolutions may have to take current realities into account. Even if a dictator is toppled, there are still those left behind whose agendas and ambitions must be taken into consideration.


I would focus on growing the economy, instituting economic reforms, and guaranteeing personal freedoms, as realistic means to achieving the greater ends of freedom and democracy. Economic growth and job creation may not resonate as dramatically as freedom and democracy. However, it could well be argued that business can be used to create a neutral pathway to freedom and democracy. A good paying job can go a long way to ease the burden of a hard life. But in addition, the same conditions which are needed to grow an economy are the same ones which will allow a viable democracy to take root and to flourish.


Once people across the Middle East are making money together, their lives will gain a good measure of dignity, and gradually, each person will become more humanized in the eyes of the other. Along with the empowerment that comes from personal economic well being, comes a natural inclination to demand and receive greater personal freedoms, and eventually, with the requisite institutions in place, will come a transition to democratic rule, not just in form, but in substance as well.


The economic path to democracy may seem, at first glance, to be a more circuitous path. However, in the long run, it may be the best way to get to where we're going, while minimizing the risk of getting lost along the way. Business is ideologically neutral. Business is something that most people have come to understand. And business is less threatening to the powers that be, who may decide to support the effort, as a way of effectuating positive change, in a more gradual and moderate fashion, while side-stepping  the prospect of chaos at their doorstep.

file under: vision of hopepeace in the Middle EastPalestineIsraelDemonstrations 6 Apr 2011 3:59 PM
Yes or No to Peace? Posted by Nissim Dahan
Peace between Israel and Palestine is becoming even more important now than ever before. There are, however, forces at work which are pushing the peace process forward, and others which are holding it back.


Both Netanyahu and Abbas are coming under considerable pressure to show some measure of progress on the peace front. Abbas has expressed his intent to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, in September 2011. Presumably, if such recognition were to be given, then a Palestinian state would come into being without resolving such contentious issues as the status of Jerusalem, and the "right of return" of the refugees. If Israel refuses to recognize Palestine, or refuses to cooperate in implementing the U.N. mandate, then Israel could find itself further isolated in the international community, with the resulting calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). And yet, without Israel's cooperation, it is hard to see how a Palestinian state could emerge and become viable.


Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority for that matter, are also under a great deal of pressure to move forward on peace. Fattah, the political faction in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, find themselves vying for power on an existential level. Much of the economic and institutional gains that have been achieved by Fayyad in the West Bank could be undermined by a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. Such a takeover is seen by much of the West Bank leadership as a dead end for their aspirations to build a free and prosperous Palestine. The dismal conditions in Gaza do not bode well for a Palestine run by Hamas. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that Abbas sees a peace deal with Israel as something which would give Fattah some measure of credibility in the eyes of his people, and as a way of consolidating political opposition to Hamas. On the other hand, Hamas could easily portray the search for peace as a sign of weakness on the part of Fattah. Alternatively, reconciliation between Fattah and Hamas, which remains unlikely, could lead to a sharing of power, and a more united approach in finalizing a deal with Israel.


The current unrest on the Arab street increases the pressure on Netanyahu and Abbas to negotiate a peace agreement. No one really knows who in the Middle East will end up assuming the reigns of powers. However, it is more likely than not, at least in some of the Arab countries, that the new leaders will be more responsive to the aspirations of the people. For example, for 30 years Israel could count on Mubarak of Egypt to keep the peace, even a cold peace at that. Now, however, with Mubarak out of the picture, the new leadership will probably take the will of the people more seriously. And if the people demand justice for Palestinians, then Egypt, and other Arab states, will reflect that attitude in their dealings with Israel, and with the West. A peace deal would therefore make relations much easier between Israel and her newly-constituted neighbors, and also between the Middle East and the West.


And of course, much of the West's obsession with the Middle East is about the oil. The free flow of oil is indispensable to Western economies. Therefore, to the extent that a peace deal between Israel and Palestine fulfills the aspirations of the man on the street, and takes away the convenient tool that extremists use to inflame passions, and improves relations between Arab States and the West, then to that extent, the free flow of oil will be assured, and the West can take comfort in being able to run its economic engines.


As if these considerations weren't enough, there is one more reason to push the peace process forward at this particular time. It could well be argued that under the right circumstances, Israel could end up playing a major role in revitalizing the Middle East with good paying jobs. The people on the street want two things in particular: decent jobs and the freedom to live their lives as they wish. To a great extent, these two noble aspirations are what Israel is all about. As an example, of the three judges who recently convicted President Katzav of rape, two are women, and the chief judge is an Israeli Arab. Where else in the Middle East would such a thing be possible?


Many choose to see Israel as the problem in the Middle East. But in reality, Israel is the solution for the Middle East. Israel has precisely what the Middle East needs. A peace deal between Israel and Palestine will help to neutralize at least some of the hate, and will open the door to allow Israel to partner with her neighbors to revitalize the region consistent with the will of the people.


Therefore, we call upon Netanyahu and Abbas to rise to the occasion and to leave no stone unturned in their quest for peace. No doubt there is a long history of failure in this regard. And no doubt there will be bitter pills to swallow on both sides of this conflict. However, the circumstances on the ground, even as we speak, all point to the possibility of a new beginning, a chance for peaceful co-existence, and the prospects for a new Middle East, where peace, prosperity and freedom reign supreme, and a Vision of Hope is finally allowed to take hold.



file under: vision of hopepeace in the Middle EastDemonstrationsbillionaires for peace 4 Mar 2011 4:24 PM
Doing Justice to the Martyrs Posted by Nissim Dahan

It's one thing to bring about a revolution; it's quite another to bring about revolutionary change.


There are people dying, even as we speak, on the streets of the Middle East.  Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia set himself on fire, and in one fell swoop, set the entire region ablaze. But to what end?


Like Martin Luther King, the man on the street has a dream. And his dream is not all that difficult to fathom. He wants the dignity of a decent job, and the freedom to live his life as he wishes. Are these aspirations in the cards for him, or will his dream be left in the dust, in the flurry of competing agendas?


One can only imagine what must be happening now behind closed doors, in the halls of political power; what promises are being made; what deals are being cut. When the dust settles, will the voices of the dead be heard?


Several possibilities come to mind. The old guard may find a way to reassert its grip on power, only in a new guise. Alternatively, the ideological extremists, who believe what they want to believe, could use the ballot box to gain control, only to impose a new regime of oppressive rule. Iran, after all, enjoyed a few months of democratic rule, after the fall of the Shah, only to usher in the Ayatollahs, who had a different idea in mind. One man, one vote, one time. Or so the motto goes. And finally, although there are no guarantees, it may actually be possible, this time around, to institute revolutionary change, the change that gives life to the aspirations of the people, and that does justice to the legacy of the dead.


What can be done to give substance to the hopes of the people? Three things. First, we should recognize the opportunity that exists for meaningful change. Second, we should embrace a vision which allows us to take advantage of that opportunity. And third, we should find a mechanism that allows us to give substance to the vision. In this way, we can finally make real what is now only a dream.


The opportunity that exists for real change in the Middle East comes from the fact that many of the key players are beginning to worry about the same kinds of things, and may actually need one another for a change, to stave off these very common existential threats. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." For example, many Arab leaders worry about two things in particular: the threat from a nuclear Iran, and the threat from the man on the street. These common threats could point to common interests, what I call a mosaic of mutual self-interest, which could in turn be used to create a strategic/economic alliance between the Arab states, Israel, the U.S., and Europe. The alliance will focus primarily on two things: providing security for the region and creating good paying jobs; jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which weaken the hold of extremist thinking.


What sort of a vision will be required to take advantage of the opportunity that exists for real change? It should be a Vision of Hope for the Middle East, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. It will be a vision which puts together all the pieces of a possible solution to our most intractable problems-the Economy, the Environment and Extremism-which packages those pieces in the most attractive way possible, and which allows us to sell that package to the man on the street. It will be a vision which inspires a sense of hope, and which delivers on that promise by giving everyone in the region a place at the table, a stake in his or her future. And it will be a vision which is complete, in that it addresses all the needs and aspirations of the people, from every point of view possible.


And what mechanism can best give substance to a Vision of Hope? Certainly, political leaders will be needed, who recognize the needs and aspirations of the people, and who know how to translate those intangibles into hard realities. But in addition, and perhaps even more importantly, business leaders will be needed as well, Billionaires for Peace, who will work behind the scenes to push the peace process forward, and to revitalize the entire region with good paying jobs, moderate candidates and requisite institutions. These visionaries will put in place a new model for the Middle East, a model that inspires a sense of hope, and that delivers on that promise.


More than any other group, it is perhaps the business community which is best positioned, most qualified, and most inclined to turn the Middle East around, and to do justice to the memory of the dead, by giving life to the aspirations of the living.



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