It has been six months since my first Israeli publication of the Grand Bargain– A Zone of Peace. During that time, many things have happened to move the Middle East closer to all-out regional war. First and foremost has been the total inability of the members of the UN Security Council to cooperate and coordinate their foreign policy in a direction of peace. Whether the issue is Syria and the balance of power in the Middle East, the Iran nuclear program, the military future of Europe, the global climate challenge, the maritime disputes of East Asia, or the crisis of permanent capitalist growth, the US, Russia and China have shown next to nothing in the way of creative ideas to alter the disastrous course toward which humanity is headed. The entire world laments what the absence of this leadership means. People everywhere feel a distinct powerlessness over the potentially cataclysmic events that appear to shape our times.
Like the ancient Hebrew slaves of the Passover story, now the world awaits its Moses to lead us all toward a new history and a new promised land. And while we Jews celebrate this festival of liberation, we also understand that key inflection points of history make these times more than just troubled. The earth has always been troubled. But this time around, the very future of civilization remains in doubt as weapons of mass destruction proliferate, and as the planet warms due to our unworkable human political and economic institutions. Even a new Cold War appears on the horizon. Yet the powerful politicians do little to offer the common people true hope. Their speeches are one- dimensional and their promises shallow. Over time, the human community has allowed for negativity to set in. And as global alienation leads us toward violence, extremism and xenophobia now shape a political landscape reminiscent of past world-wide confrontations.
But unlike the past, we now live in a nuclear age that is on the verge of expansion. The prospect of an adequate nuclear deal with Iran appears remote. The idea that the region could accept an Iranian nuclear program within months of achieving breakout is a non-starter. Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will balk for sure. Yet the level of dismantlement required to satisfy both Israel and the Sunni Middle East states would require deep and enduring concessions on the part of Iran. In turn, that would also require mutual concessions across the board. Only a nuclear-weapons-free zone could possibly suffice. And that has been my argument all along.
But a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East can only be achieved within the concept of a Zone of Peace. In other words, a permanent zone of non-aggression whereby an attack by any nation-state or its non-state proxy against another state would be strictly prohibited. The final arbiter of such an arrangement must either be the states of the region themselves, the UN Security Council, or both. But Israel cannot live within such a zone without strategic depth. Since a localized permanent balance of power has never been accomplished, and superpower promises can remain unfulfilled, to live in such a zone would require a major concession by the Arab League, Iran and the Palestinians on the future of the disputed territories west of the Jordan River. After all, Israel’s nuclear program was built to compensate for its past indefensible width (without the West Bank) of a mere nine miles. For Israel to agree to a nuclear-weapons-free zone would require an opposite concession of major proportions (both political and geographic). The old Oslo idea of a West Bank Palestinian state is simply unworkable within a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone. So an entire new Israel-Palestine peace paradigm must begin (in process with) any hope of solving the almost inevitable push toward Middle East nuclear proliferation. However, without the mutual cooperation of the G-3 (US, Russia and China), this new paradigm and Zone of Peace cannot and will not be achieved (even though it is the only answer to avoid either a dangerous all-out conventional regional war or an even more dangerous nuclear proliferation).
But Russia, China and the US are divided over many issues. Syria, East Asia, the Ukraine and Iran are all potential hot spots inhibiting a coordinated superpower strategy. The military future of Europe is the key to any hope for progress on other fronts (including the Middle East). NATO has outlived its usefulness, and the American and EU push eastward has proven counter-productive. Russian policy, on the other hand, equally lacks vision. The current zero-sum game being played out to counter NATO moves might be necessary, but in the final analysis, it is a sterile program that only leads the world closer to war. The same is true in East Asia. But instead of leadership, blame and vitriol have now become commonplace. What is needed from the G-3 are new ideas for international stability so that the major issues of global ecology and economy can be addressed without the extreme intrusion of a debilitating geopolitics.
So where can this new world leadership come from? If the great powers won’t cooperate, who will lead? These are not questions directed at politicians. These are questions directed at G-d. Because only G-d knows the answers. As Jews, we are told we are allowed to wrestle with G-d. To ask questions and challenge His authority when history or life appears to be careening out of control. And that is precisely where we are today, on this Passover 5774, three regions out of control and headed toward–G-d knows where. But that’s not all! The UN is now warning us that we have a mere fifteen years in order to prevent a rise in global temperatures that could put at risk many cities and regions throughout the world due to sea-level increases (including New York and Tel Aviv). Already we humans have begun to experience the devastation that extreme weather events can have on crop and water supplies (Syria and Iran). Yet economists warn that without an ever-increasing expansion of global production and infrastructure (3% compounded yearly), the world economy will grind to a halt, and hundred of millions will be without work. G-d knows this can’t simply go on and on without repercussion or a completely new game plan. But where is our Moses, and who will warn the pharaohs of this planet– to let all the people go?
Dear L-rd: My prayer on this Passover is to send us overwhelmed humans a blessing. If not a new Moses, then the presence of mind for each one of us to understand that the Days of Judgement are upon us. If we cannot build a society of global cooperation now, then our destruction shall be caused by our own free will. World redemption is in our own hands. Your direction has led us to this crossroad. You promised us peace, but You also warned us of Your judgement. I pray that You allow us to see that now is the moment of truth. We simply ask that the vital decisions we make, to work toward a world of peace and harmony, will indeed have Your blessing. We ask this for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.
May we also ask that you send a severe reminder to the world’s politicians (the modern day pharaohs) that if they don’t start to work for an ideal world, they will soon learn that You are the Boss. I’m afraid that they still haven’t gotten a strong enough message.