“Fundamentally, what will break this basic logjam is when people on both sides realize that they have much more to gain by having a stable, peaceful and prosperous land than the opposite,” Zakaria — a CNN commentator and editor of Newsweek International — said in a lecture during the second conference of the Pittsburgh Middle East Institute.
Zakaria said Israel must realize that Gaza, which he called “truly one of the hellholes of the world,” is a “millstone around its neck,” limiting its potential as a country. But he also said, “perhaps even more importantly,” the Palestinian people need to realize “having a stable, prosperous and peaceful Israel is the greatest opportunity of their lifetimes.”
“We are not there yet,” Zakaria said. “I fully understand we are not there yet.”
However, Zakaria expressed optimism because of what he sees as increasing civility in the world — both economically and politically — over the past 70 years.
“We are living, in some ways, in a more stable world than we realize,” he said.
Zakaria said the global institutions created after World War II helped create stability in Western Europe, where the wars of the 19th century would be unthinkable today. He noted that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, countries like India, China, Brazil and Turkey began migrating to a system closer to the United States than to the Soviet Union.
“This is the world that we have been living in for the last 20 years,” he said.
The exception to this migration toward a “single global system,” Zakaria said, has been the Middle East, where the clash between modernity and tradition plays out daily.
Even so, he said, the rise of extremism in the Middle East is a sign that modernity is advancing, not retreating, because it signals that the Taliban and the Iranian regime can’t convince the general population to support their philosophies in any other way. He compared the current violence in the Middle East to the violence in Europe in the 1960s.
“These groups are using violence because they have lost the political argument,” he said.
The exception to the general condition in the Middle East, Zakaria said, is the example set by the Gulf States, like the expansive capitalism of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.
With Internet technology now allowing global communication, he said people in other countries around the region see those examples and strive toward adapting them.
The problem between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Zakaria said, is not a lack of vision for the future, but a disagreement over how to get there. While some believe there is no light at the end of tunnel, Zakaria said, “There’s light. There’s just no tunnel.”
(Eric Lidji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1006.)