As I did at the beginning of 2012, this column will provide a forecast of the
world, regional and Israeli scene in the coming year.
In 2012, I was
right in some departments: the elections of Barack Obama and François Hollande,
relative international economic stabilization, tensions in the Middle East, the
fact there was no war on Iran; and I was wrong in others – I predicted the fall
of Bashar Assad prematurely and did not foresee the rise to power of the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt.
Yet what is most important in this exercise, this
year as in the last, is the analysis of the underlying factors that will shape
the world: a world of fundamental changes in political and economic governance,
the nature of warfare, inter-connectivity among societies, scientific
breakthroughs and profound socio-political transformation.
beginning of 2013, the citizen of the world have a right to be cautiously
optimistic, as we witness some promising processes – most of the world is
undergoing economic growth, and luckily more so in the developing world; we are
seeing a diminishing of warfare, with the ending of the Iraq and Afghanistan
wars; a greater democratization in all continents, more than ever before;
scientific and technological developments are breaking new ground with progress
in health sciences and modern education; and most important with regard to
change is the information revolution, as the world is more interconnected than
ever through the Internet and social networks.
Two and a half billion
people are on the Internet, almost 10 times as many as in the year 2000. Of
those close to a billion are interconnected through Facebook alone, creating,
even with 6,500 spoken languages in the world, a greater common language among
Still, all is not rosy. Extremist and religious fundamentalism
are on the rise, and proliferation of non-conventional weapons is rampant, in
future also to terrorist organizations. While the world is witnessing a kind of
new, positive order – or rather disorder – there are those who wish to destroy
The citizen of the world is generally torn between new global
progress and opportunities, and archaic, ineffective government. The year 2013
will further this process, and nongovernmental actors will become more important
and more relevant. The world will mostly be better to live in, and more
difficult to understand.
The country to adapt to a changing world best in
2013 is the United States, as the US is both a microcosm and a leader of this
process: Barack Obama is clearly the most important leader on the world scene
and understands best the transformative process taking place. He will be a
president who will reach more across the partisan aisle on economic issues, yet
be his very own man and probably make a historic imprint on value-related
On fiscal and economic issues, he will, one hopes, sooner rather
than later, reach a deal to raise taxes on the wealthy on the one hand, and cut
down on some social services on the other, thus stabilizing the American
economy, and with the growing American energy production, renew economic growth
and reduce unemployment. He will stick to Obamacare as a matter of principle of
governmental intervention in favor of the middle class, and fight to enact
important and rather unpopular anti-gun legislation – opposing powerful
Obama’s America is more multicultural, and we will see a greater
role for Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians in positions of power. The same
ought to, and probably will be, true of women. In 2013 we will hear of new
presidential candidates for the 2016 elections from these
Analysts who predicted the end of America’s leadership role in
the world were and continue to be wrong. Obama believes that the United States
should lead, not on its own, but through collective diplomacy, and as a last
resort through collective military action. For that purpose he will improve the
dialogue and relations with Moscow and Beijing, despite differences on human
rights and trade issues. Whenever possible the American administration will work
through multinational vehicles such as the United Nations. It will also reach
across the ocean to work with the European Union, mainly with London and
Obama’s main partners on the global scene are mostly preoccupied
with domestic problems – Vladimir Putin will have to check liberal,
nationalistic and Communist oppositions in Russia and elsewhere in the former
Soviet Union, acting as a modern-day, pragmatic tsar with an ailing economy
plagued with corruption.
The Chinese are seeking to modernize their
economy and society gradually, with a 7.5-percent annual growth rate, increasing
privatization and urbanization, as well as less-rigid family
The European Union, still the best example of post-World War II
peacemaking, will find itself in a weaker global posture, focusing on the weaker
links of the union such as Greece, Spain and Portugal.
Its foreign policy
will remain more declarative than operative. There will be important elections
in Italy (next month) and in Germany (in the autumn). The swing to the Left that
began in France will continue with the social-democrats gaining power in Rome,
and the SPD possibly in Berlin, or in the least forcing Merkel into a grand
On the other continents, democratization will be on the rise,
as dictators find it virtually impossible to enforce their reign on a more
empowered, informed and connected constituency. The ending of dictatorship or
military rule will continue: in Latin America, with the possible disappearance
of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro; and in Asia, with a more democratic Burma; and
with elections in Pakistan and Bangladesh, where civilian contenders will
probably have the upper hand over the generals.
Life for dictators will
continue to be quite miserable in the Middle East, even for the monarchs who
remain in power, with the rise of oppositions – young liberals, inspired by the
Arab Spring and Islamist forces using and abusing the new freedoms that come
In Egypt, Mohamed Morsi is not a modern-day pharaoh, or an
Iranian-style mullah, or a pro- American democrat, but rather somewhat a mixture
of the three. He will be attentive to his Islamist ideology and to his brothers
in the Brotherhood, but probably even more so to the streets and squares of the
more liberal Cairo, a tension between the presidential palace, Al-Azhar
institutions and Tahrir Square.
Morsi’s agenda will be dominated by an
ailing economy, severe poverty and high unemployment.
In this situation,
he will be reluctant to press through Shari’a law or any unilateral changes to
the peace treaty with Israel.
Syria’s Bashar Assad will, in 2013, join
the deposed despots Hosni Mubarak, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Muammar Gaddafi,
as the end of the Alawite regime is a matter of weeks or months. He will not be
lamented, as he has become a brutal war criminal, killing tens of thousands of
his own people and destroying his own country.
There are those who claim
that things after Assad could get worse in Syria. They are wrong: Nothing is
worse than a dictator who kills innocent children.
We will most probably
see a shaky coalition in Damascus formed by the Syrian opposition forces – of
Sunni factions, young liberals, Islamists and parts of the army – inheriting a
destroyed country. Syria will have to focus on its reconstruction, economically
and politically. For that it will improve relations with the West and with
Turkey, and distance itself from Tehran.
The chemical weapons arsenal
will most likely fall into the hands of the new leadership.
with Islamist and fanatic forces may very well be exported to Lebanon, by
Hezbollah, the main remaining ally of Iran, leading to lack of stability in the
country and possibly also vis-à-vis Israel.
As for Tehran – an Iranian
Spring is unlikely, but the economic sanctions are crippling the country, and
it’s therefore likely that parallel to the G5+1 talks with Iran, secret
negotiations will take place between the second Obama administration and
representatives of the so-called supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. We may see,
toward the end of 2013, an agreement for a gradual lifting of sanctions in
return for an Iranian verifiable commitment to develop only a civilian nuclear
option that will satisfy the West more than calm the suspicions of Israel, but
at least postpone the military nuclear option for years to come. This can come
only with a real threat of the use of force by the United States. This will be
the No. 1 issue on the agenda of the new secretaries of state and
Not much less important will be the Palestinian issue, as its
resolution, too, contributes to the American strategic interest to stabilize the
Middle East and contain the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, extremism and
In Palestine, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) will have to face an
uphill battle, given a dire economic situation, the rise of the clout of Hamas
after Operation Pillar of Defense and the deadlock in the peace process. He will
face unrest and demonstrations, which will also be directed at Israel, in a kind
of uprising of the frustrated West Bank young generation.
Authority will turn to the international community and the Arab League for
economic help and for a viable peace process, without which it loses in the
power struggle with Hamas.
Also Israel, without such a peace process,
will in all likelihood turn on January 22 to the rejectionist Right. Binyamin
Netanyahu will remain prime minister, with a weaker and more right-wing Likud
Party, and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett, the dangerous star of these
elections, will ask to turn the coalition toward religious belief in the value
of the settlements, and toward religious views dangerous to our democratic
values and institutions.
The reelected Netanyahu, in fear of a serious
rift with Washington and Europe on the settlements issue, will opt for national
unity with two or three Center-Left parties, and empty promises of
The center of power in the Israel of 2013 will be, to a growing
degree, in the hands of the nationalistic religious on one side, and a
moderating security establishment on the other; a combination familiar in this
neighborhood. Will there, then, be an Israeli Spring of a young, liberal middle
class in 2013? Probably not.
Domestically, our agenda will be dominated
by economic crises, given the necessary budget cuts, and by an onslaught against
our legal institutions, especially the High Court of Justice, as some of the
right-wing comrades of Bibi and Avigdor Liberman will assume ministerial posts.
On the regional and international fronts, the main issue will be the
settlements, as there is a world consensus that settlements are the main
obstacle to peace, as they curtail the ability on both sides to reach a
The Obama administration will be called in by the
international community to intervene. It may be too little and too late, and
will probably end up in a frail peace process. The Americans will have to decide
if the Obama speech of 2011, calling for a Palestinian state based on the 1967
borders, will turn into an Obama plan of 2013, probably only after the eruption
The Middle East in 2013 will still be an island of despair
and frustration, as the world is moving toward greater globalization,
democratization and technological progress – a world in which GDP will grow at
rates varying from 1.5% in the G7 economies to 5.7% and 7.2% in sub-Saharan
Africa and developing Asia, respectively.
The world is torn between
backwardness – as more than 5 million children will die from starvation in
Africa in 2013 – and progress brought about by science and technology, be it in
nanotechnology breakthroughs or innovations in the cure of disease, or the
worldwide spread of mobile phones. It is hard to say if people will be smarter
in 2013, but mobile phones definitely will be, contributing to a more
interconnected world. The smartphone will be the instrument of the year in 2013,
as it will take over many of our daily functions, such as replacing the credit
In 2013, Person of the Year could very well go to Shimon Peres, as
he celebrates his 90th birthday, he remains Israel’s and one of the world’s
youngest minds, a strong believer in the predominance of science and technology,
and in the human ability to make good out of scientific innovation.
those seeking a more democratic, prosperous and peaceful 2013, it is worthwhile
listening to our own president. Happy New Year, 2013!
The writer is president of
the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo