Savir's Corner: 2012 - A look ahead

Some may argue that the reality will be more or less in the middle of these two scenarios. I firmly believe that in principle it’s either-or.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas 311 (R) (photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
We are about to enter a new calendar year, with the United States in economic crisis during an election year; with the European Union desperately attempting to rescue the euro; with the Middle East going through a political earthquake with dictators toppled every two to three months; with a world in social unrest, given the economic hardships and the weakening of leadership, facing an empowered young generation, from Wall Street through Tahrir to Rothschild and even Red Square; with Israel suffering from a right-wing assault on its democratic institutions; with Palestine yearning for statehood, and Iran for a nuclear weapon.
2012 promises to be a critical and eventful year, affecting issues of world security, economy, socio-political structures and technological progress, and definitely a critical year for the Middle East in general, and Israel in particular.
The underlying factors which will have a strong impact on what kind of a year 2012 will be are:
• The whole notion of governance is going through a fundamental change. Governments are simply weaker the world over – dictators are toppled by thousands of young people communicating on Facebook, and democratic leaders are facing massive demonstrations by the young middle class.
• With the change in the military balance of power, given nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and the change in the world economy, it is difficult to speak of a unipolar system of international relations. Rather, we are seeing a multi-polar one with the United States as the leading power, a growing Chinese influence and important roles for the EU, Russia and Japan.
In other words, it is a more diffuse world, harder to govern. This is exacerbated by the fact that in four of the permanent members in the UN Security Council, elections are to take place in 2012 – the United States, Russia, France and China.
The Talmud says that the “prophecy was given to fools,” yet it is important to analyze the eventful international processes as a basis for policy considerations. I will take the risk of a forecast, based on the aforementioned premises.
a. The world in general will be affected by the growing empowerment of people, mainly the young generation; government will feel more compelled to listen to the vox populi. Economically the international crisis risks to deepen, given greater social dissatisfaction.
b. In the United States, we will witness left-wing demonstrations on one side, namely the Occupy Wall Street movement, and right-wingers on the other, namely the Tea Party. This will make for a virulent, sometimes even vicious, and costly election campaign. I believe that chances are that Barack Obama will be reelected for a second term, as the silent majority will look for a continuation of the administration’s policies rather than change. Obama’s focus will be mostly on domestic considerations, the international economic crisis and stringent sanctions against Iran, with no Middle East peace efforts to speak of.
c. Change can be predicted in three important countries – Russia, France and China. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin will most likely be elected president, but face greater public and political opposition than previously. A “Russian Spring” is not out of the question. In France, given the economic crisis and the personalities of the contenders, it is likely that François Hollande, the socialist candidate, will be the man in the Élysée from spring 2012.
In China, younger nationalistic technocrats will become more influential in the power structure, after the Communist Congress in October. China seems to undeniably be the world power on the rise.
d. The “city of the year” will most probably be London, home to the 2012 Olympic Games. The Person of the Year – young women the world over, who will be the dynamo for social change in 2012.
Regarding the Middle East, 2011 was a a watershed year, with the Arab Spring and the toppling of four dictators, in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. 2012 will see the continuation of this wave, and with time, no dictatorship in the region will survive. In Syria, Bashar Assad will most probably be replaced by a Sunni regime, which will weaken Iran’s clout in the region.
The monarchic regimes are more stable, yet unrest can be foreseen to some degree in Jordan, possibly even in Saudi Arabia. As a result of this, the world will have to move towards alternative energy.
As for the countries where revolutions have occurred, we will witness a long period of instability and shaky balances of power between Islamist forces, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, the liberal young forces and the militaries. Amr Moussa may very well become the next president of Egypt, and Tunisia the next model for Arab democracy.
All of this brings us to Israel; surrounded by the shifting sands of our region and a diffuse international system, 2012 will depend greatly on us. I will focus my analysis from this point on best-case/worst-case scenarios.
Worst-case scenario
We just need to continue on the current path – the onslaught of the Right against democratic institutions continues, the eroded rights of minorities and women will be further diminished; the “price-tag” vigilantes will confront law enforcement; freedom of speech will be further curtailed; and our already-shaken democracy will be questioned by the world.
Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, possibly with Ehud Barak as a new “Likudnik,” will in 2012 continue settlement building, risk a confrontation with the Palestinians and shake Mahmoud Abbas’s moderate rule. This will, in turn, risk our peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, as well as our ability to mount an effective coalition against Iran.
Hezbollah and Hamas will sense they have an opportunity to attack us. Our national security, in such scenarios, may be endangered. Without much support from the world. This is a catastrophic scenario which Netanyahu may want to escape by elections in 2012.
Best-case scenario
Netanyahu can prevent doomsday scenarios. He has to divorce the extreme Right, create a national unity government with Kadima and Labor, on the basis of a fundamental policy shift vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue – including offering direct negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines, and a freeze on settlement constructions. This will rescue our strategic relations with Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, strengthen our alliance with the United States, improve our relations with the world and make an anti-Iranian coalition possible.
Some may argue that the reality will be more or less in the middle of these two scenarios. I firmly believe that in principle it’s either-or.
Like every year, 2012 will open with hope for the better – but as stated above, 2012 may very well become a year of instability in relation to peace, economy and government. Nothing is deterministic, much depends on leaders and societies. Some of my forecasts will most probably be proven wrong, others right. In any case, the reader is invited to test them a year from now.
Happy New Year 2012!
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.