The battle over the destiny of Ukraine threw us back to the days of the Cold War, definitely as far as Vladimir Putin is concerned. He challenged the international community, not unlike Nikita Khrushchev did in the last century – "might is right".
Many in Europe were anxiously reading up in their history books about World War II and the Cold War. Angela Merkel was worried that Putin, with his Czar-like rhetoric, had lost touch with today's reality. Some right-wing xenophobes rejoiced like in the "good old days". Only Barack Obama did not play along in this rewinding of history. He is adamant about advancing his collective diplomacy doctrine and did not revert to the Truman doctrine.
It felt somehow like a boxing match – in the right corner Vladimir Putin, listing his attributes to the public: in favor of military intervention and the use of force as a first resort; little tolerance for democracy and freedom of speech – long live "Pravda"; social justice only for wealthy oligarchs; discrimination against minorities and homosexuals; back to the days of spheres of influence in conflict with each other; Russian nationalism at its best, the language of force, not of Tolstoy.
In the left corner: Barack Obama, the man of diplomacy and mutual understanding, a fervent liberal and democrat, a believer in social equity, caring for the "have nots", civil and human rights; adhering to regional coalitions and economic globalization that with time will yield better fruits than the use of force. Leading from behind, but leading.
The crowd is split – backing the Russian leader are many Iranians, Syrian Alawites, some Republicans and Likudniks who despise Obama and the leaders of Crimea. The supporters of Obama are American Democrats, members of the European Union and other democracies. In between are the undecided, who feel compelled to applaud Obama, but in their heart of hearts prefer the forcefulness and ruthlessness of Putin – mainly Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.
When the match begins, to the chagrin of many, Putin jumps into the ring, ready to fight, but Obama approaches him to shake hands – a mismatch. The confrontation is ultimately resolved in the backrooms by negotiations between Kerry and Lavrov. The Russians, too, have to be attentive to their own dissatisfied public opinion and their stock market.
The trophy of this newest U.S.-Russian confrontation is not only Ukraine. It is about how to reach international influence, economic assets and the advantages the world has to offer for their own Russian and American constituencies.
As to Ukraine – in the short term, after some mutual muscle-flexing and possible Russian military movement, a diplomatic compromise will be reached. It will guarantee the independence of Ukraine, the Russian security and economic interests in the country, and the economic assistance and elections that will lead to a new balance of power, better than in the days of the Russian puppet Viktor Yanukovych. In the longer run, while Ukraine will maintain strong cultural and economic ties to Moscow, it will get closer to the European Union. The people of Independence Square in Kiev demand economic progress and that, ultimately, is linked to the E.U.
Obama has a historical outlook on such a process and reacts with patience, not hysteria. The Americans, under this Administration, are on the right side of history. With the greater empowerment of societies in the information age, the time of dictators is coming to an end. The voice of the people is not subservient to the commands of government and it is demanding social gains more than national ones. Countries have to aspire to respectability within the family of nations, or deteriorate into a pariah state.
Barack Obama understands that with this international equation, the use of force is futile, if not counterproductive.
Most countries are indeed attempting to belong to constructive regionalism and globalization. For those who refuse – tough luck, but America will not intervene in their favor or against them with military force (see the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan).
Those in the international community who still do not understand the new rules of the game are bewildered and confused. Their old world thinking concludes that Obama's America is on the losing or weak side. The contrary is true – Obama's America and Americans are the winners in this new world. The United States is the leading player on all continents and in collective diplomacy (mainly with the E.U.) in conflict areas. Obama's diplomatic doctrine is gradually winning the day vis à vis the chemical disarmament of Syria and is the only way to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear military capacity.
Most importantly, those observing this international confrontation have to ask themselves where would they rather live – in New York or Moscow, in Novosibirsk or San Francisco? For most citizens of the world, except maybe for those from Pyongyang, the answer is obvious.
Obama and Kerry deserve much credit as they adhere to peaceful diplomacy. It is less popular than pretending to be the sheriff of the world, with useless pistols and tanks. In this era, opting for the moral high-ground is also the right choice for influence and growth.
As for Israel and Palestine – undecided between the old and the new world – the time has come to decide. The decision point starts with the answer to the American framework. Today it seems that both sides might be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the continuation of peace negotiations, and will mumble a half-hearted "yes, but" to John Kerry. That is not making a real choice, unfortunately. Peace is not the lesser of two evils. It is a matter of identity.
For Israel, the choice must be for a democracy with a clear Jewish majority and equal rights to its Arab citizens. This means putting an end to the occupation as a political and moral choice, not as a "surrender" to American pressure. One cannot belong to the new world as an occupying power in the post-colonial era. The settlements are rejected by the whole world because they are perceived as outposts of neo-colonialism. Our choice must be in favor of real democracy, based on equality, basic civic and human rights, freedom of expression, as well as a free market economy, with equal opportunity and social justice.
The alternative is to belong to the old world – to Putin's world – with an immoral occupation, without a real democracy, led by the messianic religious forces from the settlers to the Haredim. The modern world, while respecting religion, divides clearly between religion and state.
The Palestinians face a similar crossroads – belonging to the new world means creating a democratic, open society with respect for human rights and minorities, and a free market economy. It also means giving up on religious and national rejection of others. The new world is characterized by multiculturalism and it won't hurt the Palestinians to have a more objective and curious view of their Jewish neighbors.
There, like in Israel, religion is an obstacle, actually more the religious than religion – those who speak in the name of God against the infidels and for religious wars.
In Israel and Palestine, there were many who applauded Vladimir Putin for his use of force. This comes from people and leaders who live in the past.
The future is with America, but not by America. It cannot and does not want to enforce a solution. The choice to get a passport to the new world is ours, and it touches on our very identity. It's time to choose.
The writer, Uri Savir, is founder of YaLa-Young Leaders, a peace movement of Middle Eastern and North African youth who are fostering dialogue and change and is also the honorary president of the Shimon Peres Center for Peace. As Director-General of the Foreign Ministry from 1993 to 1996, Savir was Israel's chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords; he was a member of the Israeli delegation for negotiations with Jordan, as well as head of the delegation for talks with Syria from 1995-1996.Savir also served as an Member of Knesset from 1999-2001 representing the Center Party.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.