Sunday, 30 June 2013

Hamas's real enemy

No, not Israel. Hamas knows full well that, provided it continues to desist from unprovoked and indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilian targets, Israel poses no threat – which is why, ever since the Pillar of Defense cease-fire, it has largely refrained from mounting such attacks itself, and undertaken considerable efforts to prevent wilder activists within Gaza from launching them either.

And no, not the Palestinian Authority, though Hamas leaders undoubtedly have their eye on the possible prize of eventually taking over the PA and its presidency and thus controlling the whole of the Palestinian body politic. They denounce PA President Mahmoud Abbas at every turn, declare that his term of office expired six years ago, reject outright his approach to the United Nations last autumn for recognition of Palestine within the context of a two-state solution, and seek to undermine his authority within the West Bank at every opportunity.

Hamas’s real enemy is the enemy within – within Gaza, that is – the al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist groups, such as the Majlis, who call themselves “Salafi jihadists” to the fury of leading Salafi scholars. In fact Salafi is a religious movement within Sunni Islam which looks back to earliest Muslim practice, and leading Salafist clerics have gone so far as to issue fatwas condemning suicide bombing and the killing of innocent civilians, declaring it to be totally forbidden in Islam.

The extremist organisation the Majlis was launched as recently as June 2012 by way of a video, released from the Sinai Peninsula. It featured seven fighters, two of whom had carried out a suicide cross-border attack on Israel. The Majlis has subsequently embarked on a policy of vying with Hamas for public support. Criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood in general, and Hamas in particular, has been a recurring theme. It is utterly opposed to Egypt’s political accommodation with the US, which has been maintained – for good financial reasons – despite the access to power of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its objections to Hamas in Gaza are twofold: failure of Hamas to apply Islamic law rigorously enough, and outrage at the crackdown by the Hamas administration on Salafi activists, who continually attempt to seize the anti-Israel initiative from Hamas by firing “unauthorised” rockets from within Gaza.

Defiantly, a senior Salafist in Gaza recently stated: 'We will continue the jihad, regardless of the stance of Egypt or Hamas,' adding that the Majlis has 'precise knowledge on the complete cooperation between Egypt and Hamas in the war against the Salafists.' In a similar vein, the Majlis recently released a statement calling for the release of all Salafist detainees held prisoner by the Hamas government.

Salafist pressure within Gaza to enforce Islamic law more rigidly seems to have some effect on Hamas policy – one example is the recent move to institute gender segregation in Gaza schools. Yet in the eyes of the Salafist militants, these Islamization moves are merely cosmetic, do not compensate for imprisoning and torturing Salafist brethren, and so cannot alter the Majlis efforts to recruit public opinion within Gaza against Hamas and in favour of its own proactive stance towards Israel.

As David Barnett reports in the Longwarjournal, tensions between Hamas and the Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip are on the increase, especially since April 30, 2013, when Hithem Ziad Ibrahim Masshal, a well known jihadist, was targeted by Israel and killed. On May 1 a jihadist media unit suggested that Masshal had been set up by elements within Hamas, echoing a Facebook posting claiming that Masshal had been offered by Hamas to Israel "on a golden platter".

On the same day as Masshal's death, the Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat reported that members of Hamas's al Qassam Brigades had been "deployed in the border areas of the Gaza Strip replacing policemen with the aim of preventing the firing of rockets from Gaza." A report in Al Ayyam stated that Hamas has warned Salafi jihadist groups in the Gaza Strip that those who fire rockets will be arrested and that the firing of rockets should not occur "without a general national consensus" on the issue.

The antagonism between Hamas and the jihadists within Gaza continued to rumble on. On May 2, Hamas's Interior Ministry announced the arrest of six Salafists, four of whom were accused of stealing rockets from other terror groups in the Gaza Strip. The jihadist media unit repudiated the charge, and said that those detained had been arrested only because of their beliefs.

More recently Salafi jihadists in the Gaza Strip have been complaining about the Hamas-run Field Control Force, which has increased deployment in the Gaza Strip to prevent the firing of rockets into Israel. According to Al Ayyam, the Field Control Force "has managed to foil many attempts to fire rockets over the past two weeks."

To bring the story of fraternal strife more or less up to date, the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad Movement, reported on June 24 that Abu Al-Qassem, one of its leaders, had been shot and killed in Gaza by security officers of the Hamas-led Ministry of Interior. The Brigades said that, by killing Abu Al-Qassem, the security forces of Hamas “granted Israel a free service whether they intended to or not”, since Al-Qassem headed Israel’s assassination list. It added that it would not remain idle while “certain groups” are attacking it, trying to confiscate its weapons, or trying to prevent it from defending Palestine and its people. Accordingly, its reaction to Al-Qassem’s assassination was to suspend contacts with the Hamas rulers of Gaza.

The Hamas interior ministry said Al-Qassem had opened fire on police, prompting them to respond, while Hamas government spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein said: "I hope everyone will await the results of the commission of inquiry which has begun its work."

Meanwhile Gaza jihadists continue to defy the Hamas administration. On June 24 six rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel, two of which were launched towards Ashkelon and were successfully intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Israel, which holds Hamas responsible for what happens inside Gaza, responded with airstrikes against four military targets in central and south Gaza.

Since Hamas gets all the pain, and none of the gain, from these jihadist initiatives, it is no wonder that Hamas is exerting every effort to prevent “unauthorised” rocket attacks against Israel, and is cracking down hard on ultra-extremist groups which are opposed tooth and nail to its policies. Hamas, bidding for widespread Palestinian popular approval, has a snarling dog yapping at its heels.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 30 June 2013:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 27 June 2013:

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The world's refugees - and Palestinians

June 20 is the date decreed by the UN in 2000 as World Refugee Day. It was established to draw international attention to the increasingly desperate world-wide problem of displaced people, and to honour the courage, strength and determination of those forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.

Last week the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR, or United Nations High Commission for Refugees) issued its report for 2012. It shows that last year the number of displaced people hit a 14-year high, to reach 45 million. These new figures include 28.8 million people forced to flee their homes within their own countries, nearly a million asylum seekers, and 15.4 million internationally displaced refugees – a figure boosted during 2012 by some 7.6 million people becoming newly displaced.

As many as 55% of these refugees come from only 5 countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and now Syria. The report does not, of course, include those forced from their homes in Syria during the current year which, it is estimated, will reach 3 million by the end of 2013, topping the 2.5 million Afghans who have fled conflict over 22 years.

“These truly are alarming numbers,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees and head of UNHCR. “They reflect individual suffering on a huge scale.”

A notable omission in the UNHCR report is any mention of Palestine or Palestinian refugees. There is a simple explanation. For historic, and now largely obsolete, reasons UNHCR has no responsibility for Palestinian refugees. A special UN body deals wholly and exclusively with them on a basis, and according to rules, quite different from those applying to all other displaced persons. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – UNRWA – began its work in May 1950, seven months ahead of the establishment of UNHCR. As a result, Palestine refugees have been designated and treated quite differently from − and much worse than − all other refugees, the world over, ever since.

Whereas a main function of UNHCR is to resettle those millions of unfortunate people who have left their homes, willingly or unwillingly, over the years (voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement are UNHCR’s three key solutions). a major effect of UNRWA’s humanitarian activities has been not only to maintain millions of people in their refugee status decade after decade, but to expand the numbers as generation has succeeded generation. Since UNRWA bestowed refugee status upon "descendants of Palestine refugees," regardless of how much time had elapsed, the number of Palestinians registered by UNRWA has mushroomed from the original 750,000 to 5 million today. The numbers continue to multiply existentially, year by year. Whereas UNHCR’s approach is to foster independence and a better life for refugees, UNRWA’s efforts have simply subjected Palestinians to lives of permanent dependence for themselves and their children unto the third and fourth generation.

The result is expenditure by UNRWA on an ever-increasing scale to maintain more and more Palestinians in refugee status. If these spiralling costs were being met by Arab countries – fabulously wealthy as some of them are – there might be some logic and justification in the situation. But virtually none of the Arab countries contributes significantly to UNRWA’s soaring budget. The list of UNWRA’s top contributors is exclusively North American and West European countries. Funds which could have gone to relieving the world’s vast refugee problem are being diverted to maintaining millions of Palestinians in dependency.

Nor have the Arab countries in which Palestinian refugees largely reside allowed them to gain full citizenship. The reason? From the moment that the State of Israel came into being, Arab leaders determined to use the Palestine refugees as a pawn in the deadly game of trying to eradicate the Jewish state from the map of the Middle East. To resettle and absorb these people into their new places of residence would remove a formidable bargaining chip from the table, and have the effect of legitimising Israel. For its part, and to its shame, UNRWA has consistently gone along with this policy, washing its hands of any involvement in “final status” considerations.

The result? In Jordan today some three million Palestinians and their descendants are living as “registered refugees” (registered, that is, by UNRWA), about half of them still occupying some 58 refugee camps. Lebanon’s 400,000 Palestine refugees have been barred from 73 job categories including the professions, are not allowed to own property, are denied access to the healthcare system and even need a special permit to leave their refugee camps. Although some partial relaxation of these harsh conditions was granted in 2005, the Lebanese government has said repeatedly that it would not allow Palestine refugees to settle,.

As regards Syria, there are nearly half a million Palestinian refugees in that benighted country, and they have become totally embroiled in the civil war. Many have been on the run for nearly two years. If Syrian refugees are going through a truly horrific experience, the fate of Palestinian refugees is markedly worse. Palestinians are without the basic rights of passport-holding Syrian citizens – they are stateless and in legal and political limbo. "Stuck", "stranded" and "imprisoned" are some of the terms used to describe their condition.

All in all, the Palestine refugee story is one of heartless exploitation of Arabs by Arabs – the callous manipulation of powerless victims for political ends, without any regard to their welfare or human rights. This inhumanity must be brought out into the open, the UNRWA farce of “refugee status” accorded without any sort of limit must be ended, and steps must be taken to allow people and their families who may have lived in a country for up to fifty years, to settle and become full citizens.

The practical effect of UNWRA’s modus operandi is for vast and increasing amounts of money to be siphoned off to support young Palestinian families who should have been absorbed into their countries of residence long since. This diversion of funds on a massive scale to support the anti-Israel political aims of Arab nations is becoming increasingly untenable. Steps to stop it are long overdue. UNWRA should be disbanded, Palestinian refugees should be taken under the wing of UNHCR and treated on an equal basis with the rest of the world’s refugees, and the vast funds released should be used to help alleviate the vast and growing global refugee problem.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 25 June 2013:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 24 July 2013:

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Rohani may propose; Khamenei will dispose

A bizarre fact of modern life is that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a regular tweeter. Just before the presidential election on 14 June 2013, this message appeared on his Twitter page: “a vote for any of these candidates is a vote for the Islamic Republic [and] a vote of confidence in the system.”

Believe it. He made the statement with assurance, knowing better than anyone that the forthcoming election was pretty much of a charade. No less than 39 men registered originally as candidates (the very idea of a woman putting herself forward as a potential president being outside the realms of the conceivable). Each was then subjected to rigorous scrutiny by the Guardian Council – the unelected but supremely powerful body positioned at the very heart of Iran’s body politic. The Guardian Council, which is able to veto any legislation passed by the Iranian parliament, is also empowered to bar candidates from standing in any election.

As a result of their scrutiny, no less than 33 of the candidates who had registered were barred on various grounds from standing, and a meagre six finally presented themselves to the electorate. All six, Rohani among them, had cleared all the hurdles – total loyalty to the régime, namely to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and complete adherence to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In Rohani’s case, his loyalty was underwritten by more than twenty years as part of Iran’s vicious national security establishment, while his nuclear credentials as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator spoke for themselves – he it was who had held the UN, and indeed the West, at bay with soft words for month after month, while allowing Iran’s uranium enrichment programme to forge ahead.

The charm offensive, which worked so well in keeping the UN at arm’s length during Iran’s nuclear negotiations, worked equally well for Rohani during the presidential campaign. Khamenei had his reasons for allowing this man into the race speaking, as he did, of liberating society, promoting freedom of expression, freeing political prisoners and opening a dialogue with the West which could lead to an easing of the sanctions that had recently been biting hard. No doubt the Supreme Leader had in mind the near-revolt that followed the previous presidential election, when arch-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been shoe-horned back into the presidency for a second term.

If the Supreme Leader believed that sweet words during the election would deflect popular discontent after it, he was more than justified. Rohani’s spectacular trouncing of his opponents demonstrated the strength of feeling within the country for some loosening of the restrictions, both religious and economic, that have been oppressing the nation.

The extent to which Rohani can turn his honeyed words into action – assuming he wishes to do so – is extremely limited. In the domestic arena he would be subject to the restrictions placed on him by the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC, founded in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution to defend the Islamic Republic against internal and external threats, today presides over a vast power structure dominating almost every aspect of Iranian life. More than 100,000 strong, the IRGC is in entire control of Iran’s military operations, but also manipulates the nation’s strategic industries, commercial services, and black-market enterprises.

Rohani will know that he needs to mind his Ps and Qs as far as the IRGC is concerned. In 1999 the Revolutionary Guard sent a threatening letter to President Khatami, who instituted far-reaching reforms, in which they warned against continuing a policy that threatened the Islamic nature of the régime.

In the foreign policy field Rohani’s freedom of manoeuvre is virtually non-existent. Rohani does not formulate Iran’s foreign and nuclear policy; it is dictated by the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard. No problem here, though, since there is no reason to believe that Rohani dissents in any way from either Iran’s nuclear aspirations nor its ultimate aim to achieve regional hegemony.

Nevertheless many leaders and opinion formers in the West have seized on Rohani’s election as on a gift from heaven – a chance to avoid grasping the nettle of Iran’s unacceptable ambitions and to by-pass outright confrontation. The 24-hour TV news screens have been filled with optimistic spokesmen equating the Iranian presidential vote to some democratic expression of the people’s will, although a truer picture would be an electorate making the best of a bad job.

“Iran’s new president is brave and outspoken,” trumpets Norman Lamont, one-time British Chancellor of the Exchequer and now a member of the House of Lords. “The West should see him as a Gorbachev. Hassan Rohani is a man we must do business with.”

His is far from a lone voice. The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who chairs the nuclear talks between Iran and major powers, said voters had given Rohani "a strong mandate".

"I remain firmly committed to working with the new Iranian leadership towards a swift diplomatic solution of the nuclear issue."

The White House said: “We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process, and their courage in making their voices heard. It is our hope that the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians."

Rohani is scheduled to take office on August 3, 2013. If thereafter the world observes a softening of current policies in Iran, either domestically, or – as reported in the world’s press on June 19 – by a possible suspension of 20 per cent uranium enrichment, then assuredly it would be because the Supreme Leader has judged it opportune to use the election of “moderate” Hassan Rohani in this way to strengthen his régime’s grip on the nation and further advance its unaltered policies.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line edition, 23 June 2013:
Published in the Eurasia Review, 19 June 2013:

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Applying the Duck Test to Turkey

Some media commentators have been at great pains to point out that the riots and popular unrest in Turkey, still scarcely being contained by the government, cannot be equated with the so-called Arab Spring that flickered into life in Tunisia in December 2010, and then spread like a raging forest fire across the Middle East.

Professor Dirk Matten, for example, asserts categorically that what is happening in Turkey is far from those popular protests against repression, human rights abuses, state censorship and the other trammels of dictatorship or absolute monarchy which the Arab masses had endured for decades. Turkey’s popular revolt, he maintains, is much more comparable to what happened in Iran in 2009, following the last presidential elections. Both Turkey and Iran, he says, are Islamist régimes that, despite all their rhetoric, subsist on neo-liberal capitalist policies and are infringing democratic freedoms in order to implement them. He points to the enormous personal fortunes acquired by the ruling élite in Iran from involvement in the state’s major industries, and the rumoured “fairytale fortune” acquired by Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his wider family “which puts him on a par with the Ayatollahs next door.”

Two cables from Eric Edelman, a former US ambassador to Turkey, released in the Wikileaks scandal in 2010, refer to Erdogan’s personal wealth. in July 2004 he told Washington that an anonymous source and Erdogan had both “benefited directly from the award of the Tupraş privatization to a consortium including a Russian partner.” The Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation, or Tupraş, is the state petroleum refinery. A Russian-Turkish consortium paid nearly $1.3 billion for the privatization of the country’s largest-capacity refinery in 2004.

In a second cable to Washington, in December 2004, Edelman wrote: “We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son, and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the US purely altruistically, are lame.”

Professor Matten is not alone. Other Turkey observers also emphasise the enormous differences between Turkey and the countries that underwent – and those that are still in the throes of – the Arab Spring.

To start with, Turkey is a democracy, and Erdogan’s AK party received an impressive 50 per cent of the vote in the last general election. It is unlikely that the whole of this popular support could be eroded in one fell swoop. Then, since 2003 when the current AKP government took power, Turkey has had the fastest-growing economy in the OECD and, unlike the Arab Spring countries, has been generating jobs for its people – 4.2 million jobs, more than the UK, France and Italy put together. A flourishing economy is not the most obvious basis for revolution.

Yet Erdogan has undoubtedly been moving his country ever closer to an Islamist stance, both internally and in the world arena. Inside Turkey, restrictions on press freedom have been growing, and individual freedoms have been encroached on. It was an apparently innocuous announcement on May 28 that the government intended to build a shopping mall on Gezi Park in Taksim, one of the last green public spaces in Istanbul’s cultural and political hub, that proved for many the last straw – the latest unacceptable item on the AKP’s Islamist agenda to curtail people’s freedoms.

The movement against the demolition of Gezi Park, started by a small organisation called the Taksim Platform, called for transparency from decision-makers and the opportunity for citizens to have input into the design of public space. But the initial justification for public protest opened a Pandora’s box of disaffection with the government’s conservative stance on a whole range of issues, including recent restrictions on the use of alcohol and on human rights. Protesters are also worried about Turkey’s support of Syrian rebels, and Erdogan’s plans to strengthen the office of the president, a position he hopes soon to occupy.

As the protests continued, and as the police began using gas shells, rubber bullets, pepper spray and water cannons, the protest caught fire. Thousands of citizens across 67 cities took to the streets, despite arrests and the violence used against them. The extent of the violence was condemned by human rights groups.

“The use of violence by police on this scale,” said John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International, “appears designed to deny the right to peaceful protest altogether, and to discourage others from taking part.”

Now journalists and observers have begun to note calls for prime minister Erdogan to step down. And still the protests continue, if anything growing in strength.

Erdogan left Turkey on June 3 for a visit to North Africa in a defiant mood, dismissing the protesters as looters and declaring that the unrest would be over in a matter of days. He returned, following six days of protests that left two dead and more than 4,000 injured in a dozen cities, to face demands he apologize over the fierce police crackdown and sack those who ordered it. By any count, this has been an unprecedented show of defiance against the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his Islamist AK Party.

People often maintain that things are not what they seem to be. There is a down-to-earth and commonsense way to counter such arguments. It is called the “duck test”. It goes like this: “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Has Turkey latched on to the Arab Spring rather late in the day? Time will tell.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 9 June 2013:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 8 June 2013:

Monday, 3 June 2013

Israel-Palestine: breaking the impasse

Back in 1987 Lawrence Susskind, then professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published along with co-author Jeffrey Cruikshank a pioneering book about the techniques of resolving public disputes. Its title has subsequently entered the language: “Breaking the Impasse”.

“Breaking the Impasse” is the name chosen for a new business-led initiative aimed at fostering Israeli-Palestinian peace and prosperity. The project was launched at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Jordan on Sunday, 26 May 2013, by a group of prominent Israeli and Palestinian businessmen. The initiative is led jointly by Munib al-Masri, a billionaire member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Israeli high-tech guru Yossi Vardi.

Vardi, chairman of International Technologies Ventures, said: “Last year I celebrated my 70th birthday. When the conflict began I was an ambitious young man of 25. This conflict has gone on for too long. Enough! Our group includes business people and academics from the whole spectrum – secular and religious – and all of them are determined to help with a two-state solution.”

“Breaking the Impasse” represents some 200 leading Israeli and Palestinian businessmen and also a number from other Arab states including, for example, the head of the Hikma pharmaceutical firm in Jordan. Its leaders have been meeting in private for the past year under the umbrella of the WEF and, according to Palestinian journalist Elias Zananiri, finally agreed a joint paper with parameters acceptable to both sides.

US Secretary John Kerry, who addressed the WEF meeting, was fulsome in his praise of those participating in the initiative: “They represent a courageous and visionary group of people, civic and business leaders, Israelis and Palestinians, who have I think the uncommon ability to look at an ageless stalemate and actually be able to see opportunities for progress. And even as they found plenty to disagree on – and I understand they did in the course of their discussions – even as they fully understand the difficult history that is embedded in this conflict – they refuse to underestimate the potential for the future.”

Kerry, who has proved himself tireless in this current push to reactivate the peace process, clearly sees in “Breaking the Impasse” a valuable instrument for furthering his policy, convinced that fostering economic growth will profoundly improve the chance of the political peace process.

He has, accordingly, taken a firm grip on the initiative and invested it with both US cash and dynamic leadership. He has got Quartet representative, one-time UK prime minister Tony Blair, to head a bold and ambitious plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy intended to transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state, “…but also, significantly,” said Kerry, “transform the possibilities for Jordan and for Israel.”

In the six weeks prior to the WEF meeting, the leaders of “Breaking the Impasse” brought together a group of business experts from around the globe representing some of the world’s largest corporations. They spent their time analyzing the opportunities for developing tourism, construction, light manufacturing, building materials, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology (ICT) within the Palestinian economy, with the aim of mobilizing some $4 billion of investment both internationally and regionally.

Some might question the inclusion of ICT within the list, for the size and extent of ICT within the Palestinian economy is not widely known. It is, in fact, a thriving element with its own trade association – the Palestinian Information Technology Association of Companies (PIT) – representing more than 150 major ICT companies in Palestine’s emerging technology and startup system. In all, there are approximately 250 ICT companies in Palestine, with a market size of around $500 million.

Said Kerry: “The preliminary results already reported to me by Prime Minister Blair and by the folks working with him are stunning.”

And indeed they are, for the group of experts apparently believe that the Palestinian GDP could be increased by as much as 50 per cent over the next three years, and unemployment reduced by nearly two-thirds, with up to a three-fold increase in the value of agriculture and tourism.

Kerry clearly believes in the potential upsurge in commercial and economic activity that “Breaking the Impasse” could unleash, and feels passionately that economic advancement is a vital key to success in the political process. Not least of its benefits is the knock-out blow it would deliver to the malevolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, that cloaks the current upsurge in “respectable” anti-Semitism worldwide.

“Think of all that can change,” said Kerry. “That’s what should motivate us. With renewed and normal relations between Israel and the Arab nations, we could end the regional boycott of Israeli goods. New markets would open up and would connect to one another, and jobs would follow in large numbers. With renewed strength, the new neighbor states of Israel and Palestine could actually become another hub in the Middle East for technology, finance, tourism.”

In short, think of a new Hong Kong or Singapore on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean – a thriving commercial and financial enterprise zone comprising Israel, Palestine and Jordan in the first instance, and perhaps later extending to include a Hezbollah-free Lebanon. The vision is inspiring; the political slog of attempting to achieve it daunting, not to say totally discouraging.

The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu, provides us with a calm, rational approach to conquering such overwhelming despondency: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Published in the Eurasia Review, 30 May 2013: