Savir's Corner: 2014 – a make or break year?

The one political conflict that threatens international security and will be high on the 2014 agenda is the Israeli-Palestinian one.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and John Kerry. (photo credit: GPO/Haim Zach)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and John Kerry.
(photo credit: GPO/Haim Zach)
As in 2012 and 2013, I will offer an educated guess about the international situation for the year to come. In 2013, I predicted some events accurately – the third Netanyahu government, the leading American role in the peace process, the stabilization of the global economy, the victory of François Hollande, and was wrong about others, such as the disappearance of Bashar Assad. Often, the most important events are those not predicted at all, most significantly in 2013 the election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran, and the Geneva agreement, although last year’s article spoke about American-Iranian negotiations.
This year will see the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. He once wrote: “it is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.” In predicting the events of the next year, we have to remember, as policy planners should, that the future is very much up to people’s decisions, both in and out of government, in relation to existing historical process.
We, in the beginning of 2013, live in a time of transformational historical process that resulted from scientific advance as well as the technological and information revolutions. International relations have profoundly changed as informed and empowered constituencies are more empowered and governments find it more difficult to govern. The global village has been extended to the Internet.
The new year will be the first one in which there will be more mobile phones than people. We live more than ever with a dichotomy between unprecedented globalization and more empowered individuals.
Men and women the world over can express their views and values and protest on a daily basis, ignoring or debating with the government, and creating coalitions with peers the world over. The individual reaps the fruits of globalization, but must also adapt to its structures, rules and general beliefs.
It is a new era we could define as “glocal” – the individual in his or her locality and as part of a global network. In the local context, the individual relies on local culture, norms and values. In the global context, a new common language is developing among people and societies who are the engine of change. As such, in the 2014 world, country, leader, flag and military will become less relevant, especially in the great majority of the more secular world. The aspirations of young people all over the world are to study, find adequate employment and above all enjoy basic civil liberties and freedoms.
They understand, more than their elders, that their freedom is dependent on the freedoms of others.
This transformation will in 2014 lead to an even more diffused power structure of international relations. Together with the United States, we will see the influence of other relevant state powers such as the EU, Russia, China, Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, etc. and non-state powers in the private sector and in civil society.
Governments will not be able to dictate, but will rule, domestically and internationally, with greater consensus.
Barack Obama is the leader of this new “glocal” world, as he governs with people – individuals – in mind. This is not yet recognized by the conservatives in the world, who still believe in governing by force. In 2014, Obama will reinstate the American global leadership position, although he will not necessarily be recognized as such, not by the Republicans in the US or the conservative regimes in the Middle East – from Binyamin Netanyahu to the princes of Saudi Arabia.
Obama, together with Secretary of State John Kerry, will be the orchestrators of collective diplomacy that will effect world change.
Most dramatically, there may be a permanent deal on Iran. It may not happen until the fall, but will give the international community enough assurance that Iran will not develop a military nuclear option. Much of the infrastructure, not all, to develop such arms, will be paralyzed; transparency and international inspection will be increased substantially.
This will happen mostly through secret American-Iranian negotiations that have already begun. The formal negotiations will know many crises, if not breakdowns, in a Persian style of give and take. Netanyahu will criticize and accept. The no-less-important outcome will be the growing effectiveness of the P5+1, despite some natural cracks in the coalition. These powers are interdependent, as are their economies. China’s role will be enhanced, and Angela Merkel will dominate the European scene with German efficiency. Vladimir Putin will continue to give expression to Russian schizophrenia of strength and weakness and of being a ruthless despot and open to the world.
In all these powers’ agenda, diplomacy, not force, will be the means to collectively achieve aims.
With the paralysis of the nonconventional options, the main international plagues to deal with will be international terror, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
International terror is mostly led by extremist fundamentalists Islamic organization such as the Sunni al-Qaida and the Shia Hezbollah. Most of their killings and damage are to their own people and societies. With time, they will become more potent, they will probably attempt something spectacular in 2014, and less popular. The world, even in its more radical corners, has ceased to see them as freedom fighters and a collective military action is possible in 2014 in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.
The one political conflict that threatens international security and will be high on the 2014 agenda is the Israeli-Palestinian one.
Peace in Jerusalem will mean a more peaceful Middle East; war over Jerusalem threatens the whole region, if not the world. This may very well be a make-it-or-break-it year. There are Israelis and Palestinians who can thrive on conflict forever, but the international community will not acquiesce to this open wound much longer.
In the beginning of 2014, John Kerry will present bridging proposals for a framework agreement on permanent-status issues. This will reflect known American positions regarding the 1967 lines as basis for the border with an independent Palestinian state, with mutually agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as two capitals and one city, security arrangements along the borders, no realization of the right of return to Israel, but to independent Palestine, mutual national recognition and regional cooperation. These positions will maybe be clearly outlined or more likely watered down somewhat as terms of reference for a one-year detailed negotiation (with a settlement freeze). Gradualism may be a key in this plan. Both sides, overly suspicious of Obama, will give their traditional ‘no, but’ response followed by intense diplomacy (including summit meetings), only with the aim that the other side will be blamed for failure.
It is hard, if not impossible, to see the Netanyahu government in its current configuration accept a realistic framework agreement or understandings for acceptable terms of reference for negotiations.
Given such a scenario, the prime minister could ask the Labor Party to replace Naftali Bennett or, fearing to lose the Right, going to what he likes best – early elections. A possibility for the end of 2014, Israeli elections and American congressional elections, a dream comes true for our serial peace escapists.
Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) may show greater flexibility as this is probably his last chance to create an independent Palestinian state under his leadership.
The result of a failure in the peace process would be cycles of violence in the region, with Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. This could very well become a dramatic year of missed opportunity with serious political, security and economic repercussions. In any case, the Americans proposals will become the new basis for an eventual solution once leaders in Israel and in Palestine come to their senses.
The European Union will play an important role in this process as its geopolitical interests are also at stake.
In case of progress or even agreement, Israel and Palestine will be upgraded to the highest non-EU status.
In case of failure, the Palestinians risk donor fatigue and Israel risks boycotts of settlements, if not worse.
In this interdependent, globalized world, the question before Israel and Palestine will be: to belong or not to belong to the more advanced and progressive club of nations.
This question stands also before the region in general. The Arab world is swinging between spring and winter. It may, given the technological and information revolutions, opt for more open societies, with more countries following Egypt in closing the door to the religious Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey is faced with a similar dilemma and 2014 could become the year of the Turkish spring.
On the international scene, the global economy, in 2014 will continue to stabilize with slow growth in the richer countries and an average 5 percent growth in the developing world. There will be exceptions with low growth rates and high unemployment rate leading to social unrests, mainly in Turkey, Greece, Spain, Brazil and India.
China will continue to lead in economic growth, at 9%, a more private sector leading the economy in the big cities, a somewhat more open society, and growing global aspirations due to international investments (such as in Africa).
The United States will remain, in 2014, the center of global, economic and political attention. It is going through important social changes, with fast growing Latino and African- American communities. The old structures are less respected, such as Congress due to its paralysis and the intelligence services due to their invasions of privacy revealed by Edward Snowden. It will be a year in America in which civil society will play a major role for social good and civil rights (with same-sex marriage adopted by many states) and a private sector feeling more compelled to be less selfish and contribute more to society. The economy will grow by 2.6% due to growing consumer confidence, the dollar will be stronger and unemployment may drop further beneath 7% and the deficit will be reduced to under $700 million.
These economic figures may just suffice for the Democrats to hold on to their Senate majority in November, while the Republicans will probably strengthen their hold on the House of Representatives. In the aftermath of these elections, the presidential campaign of 2016 will take off with Hillary Clinton as the front-runner and other surprise candidates in the wings (possibly John Kerry with the Democrats and Sen. Marco Rubio with the Republicans).
In Europe, economic growth average will be slower – 0.8%, with stronger German and British economies and weaker ones in southern Europe.
The surprise continent of 2014 may very well be Africa, with an average growth rate reaching 6%, surpassing South East Asia, lower inflation and more trade, attracting new investments to countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, etc. The continent is still suffering from the most severe crises of malnutrition and health, yet it is beginning to rehabilitate itself, with less corrupt governments despite the still inadequate international aid policies.
The Western developed world will give much attention, in 2014, to technological advance and to how it changes lifestyles. Some people will subscribe to space tourism, other will use robots to replace humans (such as in the security field); the smartphones and YouTube will dominate people’s communication and information.
YouTube will start to replace the old-fashioned TV screen. These technologies attract the young who look for instant gratification and will turn the world into an e-Global Village.
Scientific advances may be dramatic, mainly in the field of health, in understanding better the human brain and discovering cures for cancer and AIDS. Life expectancy will continue to grow.
The year’s celebration will be in Rio de Janeiro, with the 2014 soccer World Cup in June and July. It is expected and actually hoped for that the host country will gain the precious trophy, leading to an unprecedented Brazilian Carnival.
By the last day of the year, American and British troops will leave Afghanistan, part of Obama’s peace policy.
Speaking of peace, in July 2014, Israel’s best president in recent history, Shimon Peres, will leave office to continue contributing to peace.
There will be, no doubt, 2014 surprises.
Examples could be: an Obama-Rouhani meeting, the pope sanctioning the use of condoms for the prevention of AIDS, Catalonia voting for independence from Spain, Yuval Diskin joining politics or Yair Lapid finally taking a position on peace… Who knows? Happy New Year! The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace.