Friday, October 12, 2007

Back to the Future...

Greetings and salutations, my trusted readers. As many of you know, I've begun writing for the Diplomatic Post which, unfortunately, is not online at this stage. Since a few of you have been clamoring to see my columns, I received the approval of my editor to post them here. The column below appeared in the second issue of the magazine, which was distributed on August 31st (to Jerusalem Post subscribers only). The column is known as "Page Before Last".


When it comes to dealing with the future of Israel and the Middle East, it seems that there are primarily two kinds of people – those who like to talk about it and those who try to do something about it (and then, there's a fringe third group – those who like to talk about the fact that they're doing something about it, a group comprised almost solely of politicians. But I digress...). Seminars and conferences focusing on the subject of Israel and the Middle East abound, and indeed, the complexities of this region provide a never-ending supply of fodder for think tanks and institutes around the world.

What is it about this region that causes the ears of otherwise apathetic individuals to perk up at its mention? The lad who probably can't tell you where the Middle East is located fancies himself an expert, and the local English professor goes apoplectic whenever the subject comes up in conversation. The quest for knowledge is seemingly insatiable, and academics and politicians hot on the lecture circuit make the rounds, recycling nuggets of information to wide-eyed audiences hungry for information. After all, the future of the Middle East has been a hot topic for thousands of years, and while the names and faces change, one fact remains constant – nothing ever changes.

Okay. Maybe that's not completely accurate. On the plus side, Israel (whose creation itself was certainly one of the bigger changes the region has seen during the past 100 years) has garnered peace agreements with two of its neighbors and maintains low-level ties with several other countries in the region. Changes for the worse are too numerous to mention. They're also too repetitive to mention; when it comes down to it, the changes don't really change. You'd think that given all the time spent discussing the future of this region, we'd have been treated to far more success.

Which brings us (albeit rather circuitously) back to our main topic – the proliferation of conferences purporting to shed light on the future. One can't help but be amazed, not only by the diversity of sub-topics, but also by the diversity of approaches to each sub-topic. Who knew? Who knew that there were so many ways to discuss the intricacies of the Arab world? Who knew that there were so many perspectives for analyzing Israel's prospects for peace? Who knew that these same subjects would be dissected ad nauseum for generations without resolution, with each speaker trying to put a unique spin on things, attempting to sound original?

The past few months in Israel have seen at least two events on this subject, one entitled, "Israel and the Middle East at a Crossroad", and the other creatively named "The Future of the Middle East", a symposium that included a staggering number of panels on a wide variety of topics. These affairs were organized by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations – organizations that might not catch your attention were it not for their voracious ability to organize conferences and produce a dizzying array of publications.

It's starting to become a bit too predictable, these conferences. "The Future of the Middle East"? "The Middle East at a Crossroad"? The names say it all. Or perhaps they don't say anything. I suppose these names allow for a certain amount of latitude with regard to subject matter, but seriously. We need a new angle, something to get us into the proper frame of mind given the grand scheme of things.

First on the agenda is a unique line-up: We’d need someone like Jimmy Carter, Shimon Peres or Bill Clinton telling us how great the future can be, and someone from the World Bank to extol the virtues of how lucrative it will be. Then, we need a few historians to explain whose fault it is that we’re still in this mess (without alienating anyone, of course). This would, of course, be followed by the resident Arab-basher (probably from the Foreign Office or some such, in order to lend a degree of credibility) explaining how dangerous Iran is becoming and – just to make it even – your token Arab (preferably a poet). For a change, maybe the venue should be a Bedouin tent or perhaps a casino… in New Jersey (or possibly a Bedouin-themed casino in Vegas...). Oh, and we need a catchy title. Something that broadcasts a new trend in thought.

I was thinking along the lines of "The Future of the Middle East: Rehashing it all yet again", or perhaps "Israel and the Middle East: Past, Present and Future – It's all the same, really". Or maybe, someone should just make a movie.

Back to the Future, anyone?


Sage said...

A bit cynical today, are we? But seriously, I do wonder if there ever will be an end to the strife. My instincts tell me that Lebanon would join in friendship with Israel in a heartbeat if it weren't for the impossible situation with Hezbollah and Syria breathing down the government's neck. Perhaps it's not a stretch to think that the Palestinians might also, if it were not for Hamas.

Beyond that, it seems there are too many who are committed to never making peace with Israel. Perhaps not the Arab or Persian people themselves but certainly their governments and many powerful clerics. Even Egypt is going to hell in a hand basket - once the most liberal and westernized country in the region.

The time is fast apporoaching when no one will be left alive who remembers a time when there wasn't constant tension and strife in the region. Maybe then there will be fewer who can imagine anything but a permanent struggle. Maybe then the conferences will disappear too.

Good article, Liza. I have always enjoyed reading your stuff.

Dan C.

Liza said...

Hi, Liza,
I've returned to check out how many of your readers wanted my head served up on a platter. It wasn't too bad. Thanks for your most gracious response.

I am American, originally from the Deep South. I grew up in the civil rights era. Most of my "klansmen" live in Florida. I am definitely angry about US foreign policy in the Mideast and some other places, but I am not an angry person in general.

It is interesting how the actions of governments often give the wrong impression about what the citizens really think, isn't it?

But people are just so divisive these days. I often comment that I have to go back to the civil rights era to remember anything close to the levels of hatred and racism that are so prevalent anymore here in the US. It's really sad.

I can't imagine living in the Mideast, but I will read more of your blog as you suggested. I would imagine that what the citizens want is often very different from what the governments are doing in their name. Most people want peace, don't you think? Certainly most women want peace. I could never believe otherwise.

Take care.
Liza (visitor)