Ed: 39: January/2014
Nomadism, once a common way of life from Mongolia to America, is fast disappearing worldwide, and Israel is no exception.
Known as Bedouins, Israel's nomads have largely abandoned the camels and tents that had been their hallmarks since the days when Abraham camped in Beersheva. The estimated 70,000 who roamed that same desert, the Negev, on the eve of Israel's establishment have since then more than trebled in number. But they have also gradually moved into permanent houses, shacks, and huts that make up to the improvised towns that now dot the highways between Beersheva and the Dead Sea.
Go East. That's the catchphrase Naftali Bennett, Israel's Economics and Commerce Minister has chosen for his new initiative to shift Israel's strategic and trade focus away from its traditional Western European orientation and towards Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Oceania.
There is more than one reason nuclear technology should be viewed as dangerous. The interim six-month "Joint Action Plan" signed by the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva certainly had a giddying effect on elements of media commentary.
It is not an everyday occurrence to see senior Saudi Arabian government officials speak alongside rabbis based in Israel, prominent Buddhist figures and Indian swamis.
But, for the second year in succession, the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) managed to attract a diverse, energetic and motivated group of scholars, religious leaders and civil society activists to Vienna for two days of interactions and engagement.
It is well known that Israel, uniquely among all the world's countries, is frequently singled out for ridiculously unequal treatment in international bodies. This might give the impression that Israel is some type of international pariah nation, and this is certainly the impression that its enemies seek to convey.
However, the truth is that, despite problems including the continued inability to reach a secure and lasting peace with the Palestinians, Israel is an extraordinary democratic, economic and social success story with much to offer the rest of the world, and this reality is increasingly being recognised around the globe.
When debating policy on Iran's illegal nuclear program, one argument that always gets raised is the supposed "double standard" of forcing Iran to give up its efforts to build nuclear weapons when Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons capabilities.
Morally, the question is not that hard to address. Basically, unlike Iran, Israel is not a revanchist state seeking to control or subvert neighbouring states and spread its "revolution", nor is it the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism, nor does it go around demanding neighbouring states be destroyed.
From Israel to Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the myriad Gulf statelets, the perception that Washington has thrown in its lot with the Iranian-led Shia world - Syria and Hezbollah, plus Iraq - is unmistakable. That might not have been Obama's intention, but in such matters, perception trumps intention.
"As we go forward," said Obama shortly after the outline of an interim nuclear deal was agreed with Iran in Geneva, "the resolve of the United States will remain firm, as will our commitments to our friends and allies - particularly Israel and our Gulf partners, who have good reason to be skeptical about Iran's intentions."
Few, it seems, were listening.
US Secretary of State John Kerry's meetings in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the second week of December - focussed on US proposals for security arrangements for a final agreement - were historic. That can be said without fear of overstatement and even without knowing all the details, because the security issue is the matter which has locked the current peace negotiations into a deadlock. It is also the matter that was most difficult to solve in the previous negotiations held in a bid to reach a permanent agreement.
The blockbuster nuclear deal reached early on the morning of Nov. 24 in Geneva between Iran and the US-led coalition is both less and more consequential than early reports suggested. And there is a good chance that its real value - whether it prevents Iran's nuclear ambitions or inadvertently opens the door to an Iranian bomb - may not be known until US President Barack Obama turns into the home stretch for his second term, after the 2014 midterms.