Savir's Corner: Looking ahead to 2013

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.

World (photo credit: Kurt Strazdins and Kurt Strazdins/MCT)
(photo credit: Kurt Strazdins and Kurt Strazdins/MCT)
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.
At the 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 people.
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 it.
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 issues.
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 lobbies.
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 groups.
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 Berlin.
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 planning.
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 coalition.
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 with it.
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.
The struggle 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 defense.
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 terrorism.
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.
The Palestinian 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 peace.
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 two-state solution.
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 of violence.
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 card.
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.
For 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 Accords.