What was interpreted as an incremental change in favor of diplomatic solutions
in the breakthrough in the Syrian chemical weapons crisis is most probably part
of a profound change in international relations. War has become futile and
archaic. A victory in war has become virtually impossible in the age in which
missiles and terror in the hands of the weak can deter the most powerful of
armies, as was the case with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
Israel in Lebanon and Gaza.
Even a winnable war can lead nowhere in the
age of the information revolution.
No country can withstand the verdict
of world public opinion with conquests of land or natural resources.
today’s world, there are more threats than enemies – threats of proliferation of
nonconventional weapons, of terrorism and of fundamentalist ideologies. These
cannot be controlled by a single country or army; collective action is
necessary, seldom by force, mostly by diplomacy; as we witnessed in Libya and
Syria. Collective diplomacy and security contend with collective
Diplomacy is highly supported by most international public
opinion, as in the cases of Syria and Iran. Collective terror, proliferation
efforts and fundamentalist ideologies depend on the support of relevant
constituencies; religious fundamentalist public opinion in Iran still sees the
United States as Satan.
Within this balance of constituencies – the
constituency of peace and economic growth and the constituency of religious war
and violence – a global policy must emerge to stabilize the international
President Barack Obama is indeed leading such a policy,
understanding the limitations of military power and the power of diplomacy. He
has redefined the components of power of a modern state – military might, while
still important, taking a back seat to economic power, technological and
scientific advance, democratic and social fabric, level of education,
He knows best how to adapt America’s world posture to scientific and
technological advances. America has the best universities and leads the world in
scientific and technological development. Those who predicted the demise of the
leading superpower are being proven wrong. It’s not about smart bombs anymore,
but about smartphones. It is this America that much of the world wants and
needs. Russia and China may be better in the traditional cynical power game, but
their policies are outdated compared to the US.
Obama also understands
the new democratization in the world. Not a copy of Jeffersonian democracies,
but a new form of vox populi through peoples’ ability to express themselves
freely, almost all over the world, on the Internet, and be empowered in relation
to less relevant government.
This has led to regime change in the Arab
world, Asia, Latin America and Africa. It forces governments to be more
attentive to their constituencies on social networks. Facebook is the ultimate
defeat of outdated intelligence services, hardly worth their name. Freedom of
expression by hundreds of millions on social networks cannot be
From these profound transformations Obama concludes that in
addressing international threats and problems, America must act diplomatically,
armed with new assets in coalition with the international community and in
respect of public opinion.
Obama is the president of “new diplomacy” with
a forceful and brilliant secretary of state on his side. He outlined his
diplomatic vision in his recent annual speech at the UN. He cautioned the
nations of the world not to underestimate the force of the US or its willingness
to use it as a last resort. He called on them to join the American-led
collective diplomacy in the fight against international threats. His three
priority areas were clearly outlined: the dismantling of the Syrian chemical
weapons arsenal, completely halting the Iranian nuclear program and putting an
end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since then the US has been on an
intense diplomatic offensive.
The Syrians are engaging actively in the
dismantling of their chemical arms arsenal, negotiations with Iran have begun
with a more serious than ever Iranian proposal and Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations have been intensified with more active participation by
In all three arenas, we are at the beginning of the
diplomatic process. It promises to be a three-track diplomatic roller coaster.
None of these negotiations can advance without serious crisis moments, as the
issues at stake are of great strategic importance to all relevant parties. Yet
American diplomacy these days is determined and passionate and plans to bring
about the endgame to these processes about half a year from now – spring
It may be an “American Spring.”
On Syria, there is little
doubt that Bashar Assad’s chemical arsenal will be dismantled.
political settlement is more difficult but possible if the coalition of
opposition groups will compromise with the Alawites.
In any case it seems
that Syria and Lebanon will not be Iranian satellites as
Hezbollah will weaken; the Sunni al-Qaida will be more potent. An
international Syrian deal must take into consideration the economic rescue of
Syria and an end to Syria as a terror base – Shia or Sunni. An American-Russian
Geneva II or III may lead there. The Syrian peoples’ well-being, after
horrendous suffering, must be taken into consideration.
difficult negotiations will probably lead to a watershed deal. It must
neutralize any Iranian military nuclear program by curbing uranium enrichment
and allowing for rigorous ongoing international inspections. In return,
international sanctions will be gradually lifted and Iran’s role as regional
power will be recognized.
Saudi interests will have to be taken into
The Iranian people’s well-being must be at the forefront
of international concern.
They have suffered economically and their basic
human rights were assaulted by the ayatollahs’ regime. Economic development
should be paralleled with a more open Iranian society, especially in relation to
the rights of women and minorities and the opening of social networks in
Iranians. It seems that Iranian society is ready for such changes, in which case
the regime may have to opt for at least incremental reform.
Tehran clerics must be more attentive to the people, which is the prime reason
that the sanctions had an effect.
Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is also of prime concern to Washington, as the continuation of the
status quo may lead to violent deterioration in the region. Furthermore,
America, Israel’s main ally, has learned to be attentive not only to Arab
leaders, but also to the Arab street.
The Arab people, from the Maghreb
to the Gulf, unlike the Arab leaders, care about the fate of the
For the sake of regional stability, we may very well
witness a dramatic endgame to the Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status
negotiations that are planned to take nine months. It may come about through a
series of summit meetings between Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas (with
John Kerry’s participation) and a possible Camp David Summit in the spring of
These will, in the best of cases, lead to a permanent-status
framework agreement, followed by a prolonged period of more detailed
negotiations and implementation of the two-state solution. Such an agreement
would be the basis for the creation of an independent Palestinian state with
borders based on the 1967 lines with mutual land swaps, stringent security
measures and cooperation, with temporary Israeli presence along the Jordan
River, recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and regional
cooperation arrangements. The identity issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian
refugees may then be postponed on the basis of American side letters, closer to
the Palestinian position on Jerusalem and to the Israeli position on the right
Just as conflict breeds conflict, conflict resolution can
breed other conflict resolution (between 1993 and 1998 we witnessed the Oslo,
Dayton (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Good Friday (Northern Ireland) peace
agreements and the peaceful transition in South Africa).
Palestine and Israel are areas from which much regional and international
instability can emanate. The alternative to conflict resolution in these areas
may lead with time to nonconventional ballistic warfare. This is at the basis of
the American administration’s strategic understanding and assertive
The regional leadership is not mature and courageous enough to
perceive the dangers and the opportunities to overcome them. Yet there is a more
profound reason why the American diplomatic initiative may be successful with
The majority of the people of the region are tired of war, they
understand its futility, they want to belong to a changing world (except for
those who purport to speak in God’s name), and the majority wants better
education, employment opportunities and basic freedoms. What has brought about a
new mindset by the young generation is that they are moving out from the
darkness of their seclusion and ignorance to being more informed than ever about
the opportunities the interconnected world has to offer.
There may not be
a democratization of societies, but there is a democratization of international
relations. Regular people want to live in peace and prosperity. Now they have a
voice. The societies in our region will be more affected by frustrations and
desires of the people and less by the selfishness and corruption of
Over time this is a profound change; a change that will give a
chance for American- led diplomacy to succeed in favor of strategic people’s
peace. The combination of the information revolution with assertive and creative
American diplomacy may indeed lead to progress in our region.
information revolution that came with the advent of the 1843 rotary printing
press, also brought about political revolutions such as the Spring of Nations in
The Internet and social network revolution may very well bring
about profound political transformation in our region and, indeed, we may
witness next year an American Spring.The writer is honorary president of
the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo
This article was edited by Barbara Hurwitz.