Savir's Corner: 2015

In 2015, we will continue to live within this dichotomy, in an even more intensified way.

Shimon Peres speaks at JPost Annual Conference (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Shimon Peres speaks at JPost Annual Conference
Two dates symbolize the trends according to which today’s world is conducting itself:
• September 11, 2001, the attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan, which stand for a new phase of global terror that aims to undermine world order, attack the West and control – also territorially – areas of influence in the Islamic world, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria.
• February 4, 2004, the foundation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg, marking the beginning of a new global interconnectivity in which the digital networks have become social. It is the beginning of a world in which people interact beyond borders and share common values, interests and activities.
These two trends symbolize the contradiction in which we live – in between a borderless world with greater individual empowerment, less government control, a safe environment of communication and widespread connectivity, on the one hand; and one that threatens societies and individuals through seemingly incurable acts of organized terrorism, on the other. It is a world with great togetherness that threatens to fall apart.
In 2015, we will continue to live within this dichotomy, in an even more intensified way.
In 2015, there will be more mobile phones than people, more than seven billion. The digital gap will be reduced with the greater introduction of smartphones, also on the African continent. A more interconnected world is a more informed one, a world that will become more difficult to govern for dictatorships and democracies alike. Dictatorships have a hard time in the information age. The year 2015 will see the introduction of some Western social media in China and even in Iran. In Russia, we may find greater resistance to Vladimir Putin’s new form of totalitarianism. In all countries, the Y Generation, born into the information revolution, will question government and aspire to greater protection of civil rights and better jobs. It is the generation of change and progress.
There is another rebellious generation born into the 21st century, who feels threatened in its identity by “Western cultural colonialism.” Especially in Islamic countries, this generation is exploited by religious clerics and brainwashed to participate in “holy wars.”
To them, 9/11 is about the potency of organized terror to compete with the West. The terror organizations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran and Somalia fight to dismantle the nation state. Today, Islamic State is the front-runner among these religious fanatics and expresses its message of hate and violence on social networks, as well. The world is between these two challenges – the growing globalization and empowerment of the individual, on the one hand; and the threat to the state by the nihilists of terrorism, on the other.
The United States remains the world’s leading superpower.
President Barack Obama is the leader who has adapted best to a changing world. He is conscious of these two great disorders – the borderless interconnectivity among people and societies and the fragmentation of the nation state by terrorist groups. He skillfully brings into play American assets – related to American capacities in academia, technology, science and culture – that can influence a world driven by both individualism and globalization. The world is still attracted by these American assets, be they Facebook, Microsoft, Silicon Valley, Carnegie Mellon University or Hollywood.
In Obama’s eyes, the military is a less important asset since wars have become invisible. In 2015, he will continue to opt for collective diplomacy or, at least, to resort to collective military action against terror (primarily against Islamic State and al-Qaida). Collective diplomacy (the P5+1) will probably achieve a historic agreement with Iran in the summer of 2015, a deal that will prevent Iran from becoming a military nuclear power, leave it with some nuclear capacities that go beyond civilian needs, have a relatively effective verification mechanism and gradually lift the economic sanctions. This can become a watershed agreement, resulting in the improvement of Western (mainly US)- Iran relations. Israel will be vocally critical but probably quite in isolation from the international community.
The struggle against terror will be at the forefront of the international agenda. Not much success can be predicted in this field. The terror organizations feel vindicated by the enormous global attention they are getting. Forces composed of several thousand terrorists, such as Islamic State, are able to psychologically terrorize Western societies by spreading videos of the cruel beheading of Western journalists and development workers on YouTube. They have succeeded in pressuring the West into spending billions of dollars each year on counter-terrorism, turned airport security into a nightmare for travelers, and put big cities, such as London and New York, periodically on hijack alert.
It seems that President Obama has developed the right approach to this struggle by restraining American military involvement (as opposed to George W. Bush).
By refusing to become the sheriff of the world, he has spared the West further psychological defeats at the hands of these terror groups.
Terror is about driving societies into fear. In reality, it is far less dangerous than domestic crime. For example, in 2012, 11,000 people were killed by terror (fewer than 5 percent of them in OECD countries). The same year, 437,000 were killed by homicide, globally. The year 2015 will witness more terror attacks (plans for another 9/11 are under way) and an embattled Obama policy to restrain US military involvement. The American president is more focused on reaping the benefits of globalization and interconnectivity than on a hopeless battle with Islamic State.
Obama handles the situation in an impressive way by not giving in to mass hysteria about terrorism, understanding that this is precisely what the terrorists want. This is his achievement for which he will also be most criticized in 2015. America will mainly focus on its economy. Obama has rescued the economy with a reduced deficit and lower unemployment. According to IMF projections, in 2015, there will be 3% growth in the US, double that of the European Union. Europe is struggling with problems of increased immigration and unemployment. In the UK, we may very well see a Labor government in power with a Jewish prime minister, Ed Miliband (the first since Benjamin Disraeli), in May 2015. The emerging markets will continue to grow, with China at the top thanks to a 7.4% growth rate and a gradual, controlled privatization. The forgotten continent may gradually be rediscovered due to economic reform and a projected 5.8% growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet the world is still marked with gross inequality between the haves and have-nots, which is probably the chief source of political instability.
The main axis to watch in 2015 will be between Washington and Beijing, mainly on trade, but also in favor of collective diplomacy in a changing world.
The Middle East continues to be backward, both economically and in terms of governance. The region will continue to be plagued by Islamic Shia fundamentalism, factional radicalism and political pragmatism, namely, at the hands of the Sunni axis of countries – Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. All Arab countries struggle with economic hardship and galloping youth unemployment, resulting from a crisis in governance.
The Arab Spring has failed for the time being with the exception of Tunisia. Yet, the young generation that ignited the rebellions of 2011 will still push for greater political pluralism and freedom of expression. Egypt will regain its traditional leadership role in the Arab world in 2015, fighting Hamas and al-Qaida terror and promoting the Palestinian cause. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will continue to offer the services of the Egyptian army for the stabilization of the West Bank and Gaza.
For the Palestinians there is little hope in 2015. The Fatah-Hamas cleavage will continue to a point that the unity government might collapse. Mahmoud Abbas will place his hopes with the international community and the UN resolutions. Frustrated with the Netanyahu settlement policies, Europe will mostly side with Abbas.
In Israel, the election will reflect the struggle between the nationalistic-messianic right wing and the pragmatist- secular one, and the ongoing struggle between the “states” of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
While secular, moderate Israel understands the danger of the country becoming more nationalistic and religious at the expense of democracy and equality – and that this can result in violent conflict with the Arabs (terror, intifada, war) – the Center-Left lacks commitment and energy in this battle over Israel’s identity. This will be reflected in election results that will probably favor the Right. And, yet, there may be two silver linings. The first may be seen in a great effort to replace Benjamin Netanyahu, who seems more and more incompetent. It is impossible to predict if the “Anyone but Bibi” movement will succeed. But surprises may come from an unpredictable Avigdor Liberman.
The other glimpse of hope lies with the leader of Labor, Isaac Herzog, a man who could become the necessary bridge to the world – he may, in fact, be the next foreign minister (or even prime minister), thus in charge of peace negotiations.
In 2015, Israel will find itself part of the worldwide struggle between globalization and interconnectivity, on the one hand, and religious fanaticism, on the other, with no clear outcome in sight.
While it is difficult to predict the trends for 2015, here are some tips that may be useful:
• Don’t exaggerate the danger of terrorism: “They” want us to be terrified;
• Respect leaders, such as Obama, who do not pretend to police the world but work realistically for its well-being;
• Learn Chinese;
• Be up-to-date on scientific and technological breakthroughs; this is the future;
• Be active on social networks; this is where global communication takes place;
• Contribute your talent and values to the nonprofit world; it helps to better the world. Politics does not;
• Learn about climate change; air and water are still the main ingredients of life;
• Contribute to Africa; citizens of the world must help the weakest link, plagued with poverty and disease;
• Have the courage to help peacemaking; it beats the alternative;
• Learn from your children; they know better; and
• Listen to Shimon Peres, our ninth president; he is Israel’s wisest statesman.
Uri Savir is the co-founder of the Peres Center for Peace and the founder of YaLa Young Leaders.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.