Cultural Diplomacy: Strategies for Psychological Evolution of the Levant

by Garry Jacobs
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, World Academy of Art and Science
Vice President, The Mother’s Service Society

based on a presentation at the Bucharest Forum “Levant, Cradle of the Cultural Diplomacy: Rediscovering the Mediterranean”, May 23 - 25, 2013, Bucharest

Culture is the finest flower of human social evolution containing the essence of knowledge and experience accumulated through long centuries of history and civilization. It has an unrivalled capacity to generate positive, constructive human relations. Cultural diplomacy is the highest in an ascending series of social measures that can be applied to sublimate humanity’s aggressive instincts and reliance on physical violence and political power to resolve disputes and forge cooperative interactions between individuals and social groups. Because of its subtle character, cultural influences permeate by osmosis from one society to another, defying the political and social barriers that often obstruct understanding and recognizing the value of other societies. Past experience suggests that the comprehensive, systematic application of cultural diplomacy in concert with appropriate economic and other strategies can achieve a sudden breakthrough in relations within the Levant, which have defied resolution for decades through more conventional forms of diplomacy.

Relationship is the secret of human evolution. It is through our relationship with other people that we acquire knowledge, skills, technological capabilities, organizational capacities, emotional enrichment, cultural sensitivities, psychological abilities, ideas, ideals, values, insight and wisdom. Society evolves by acquiring an ever-expanding capacity to foster positive interactions and cooperative relationships between its members and with those of other societies. These interactions take place at the physical, social and psychological levels.

Conquest, Commerce, Religion and Culture are the main instruments by which human beings have sought to extend their relationships beyond local kinship and tribal allegiance to embrace a larger portion of humanity. Apart from its obvious negative impact, war has often played an important role in breaking down the divisions between smaller groups, eliminating anachronisms and atavisms that refuse to give way peacefully, overcoming the isolationism and provincialism of local communities, and fashioning humanity into larger units of civilization and culture. The American Revolution bound 13 disparate original colonies into the first fledgling version of the USA, but it took the unprecedented violence of the American Civil War to fully coalesce a confederation of semi-autonomous states and assorted peoples into the United States of America that we know today. Five years of bloody warfare were followed by decades of rapid growth unprecedented in the world until then, as the end of World War II was followed by the most rapid and remarkable period of human development in human history.

Although the evolutionary role of these four main instruments has been to relate and unite larger groups, all four have often acted as competitive and divisive forces raising formidable barriers to peace, understanding and mutual benefit. In the name of religious truth and cultural superiority, societies have clashed and fought repeatedly throughout history. Yet in the process, humanity has been enriched even by the violent exchanges between cultures. As Hereclitus said, “war is the father of all”. This has been true in the Levant as it was in Europe and India. Empires have faltered and disappeared but human civilization has richly gained in the process. Regardless of the form they take, whether through war or peace, the various modes of human interaction have resulted in a rich exchange of ideas, values, language, religious beliefs, scientific knowledge, practical inventions, social institutions, literature, the artistic inspiration, architectural styles, foods and every other aspect of culture.

We can take comfort in the fact that compulsions of force are not the necessary or inevitable means for enhancing mutually beneficial cultural interactions. Unlike the laws of physical nature, the history of the past half century shows that the laws of human society can change and the laws of the past are not necessarily the laws of the future.

Cultural Symbiosis in the Levant

The Levant is rightly regarded as the birthplace of civilization. Each culture of the Levant has made a unique and remarkable contribution to human civilization. History, language and theology confirm to a remarkable degree the common origins and shared tradition of the major cultures of the Levant.

Egypt was one of the first civilizations to codify the elements of the visual arts, and develop science and mathematics. Alexandria became the center of culture in the Hellenic world. The spread of Hellenic civilization in the Levant disseminated ideas and thoughts which transformed the culture of the entire region. Aramic was a forerunner of both Hebrew and Arabic, two languages which share very strong common roots. Monotheistic Judaism served as the basis for the emergence of monotheistic Christianity and the rise of Islam. Christian values spread from the Levant to civilize barbarian Europe.

The rise of Islam and Islamic commercial civilization from the 7th century established a secular culture extending from Persia to Southern Spain and transformed the Jews from a predominately agrarian to a commercial society. Culturally advanced Arabia became the gateway for the transit of Greek thought and Islamic science and Hindu numerals to the Jews of the Middle East and onto Europe. The Arabs as worshippers of language made Arabic the lingua franca of the entire Mediterranean region, just as Latin had earlier spread throughout Roman Europe. Contact with Arabic led to the development of a national language for the Jews integrating written and spoken versions. Religious philosophy was a common ground in which Arabs, Christians and Jews freely exchanged and borrowed ideas during the Middle Ages. Scientific thinking came to the Jews through the Arabs from Greece. Islamic architecture spread from the Levant throughout Asia, inspiration for such precious gifts as the Taj. So too, the ecstatic mysticism of Sufism, one of the most wonderful contributions of Islamic civilization, can be traced back to Greek thought and had powerful influence on the development of Jewish mysticism ‘Hasidism’. The flourishing elegance of Arabic enriched the simplicity of Hebrew for both religious and secular poetry. The most beautiful product of Arab-Jewish symbiosis was passionate romantic Jewish poetry of Spain during the Middle Ages which was inspired by the beauty and elegance of Islamic poetry. 1

Indeed when we look back on the origins and early development of the cultures of the Levant, we find that they all emerged from a common source, lived closely together for many centuries, borrowed and exchanged freely without self-consciousness as a rich cultural symbiosis. It becomes clear in retrospect that the strident efforts to differentiate and distinguish is a later development of self-assertion of individuality, exaggerated perhaps as a defense against the influx of European cultural influences in recent centuries.

Conflict in the Levant

Culture has played a role both in the peaceful and violent interactions in this region. Throughout its history, the Levant has been a place where cultures met, clashed and were transformed by their interactions. The Levant as a region has been subject to bitter disputes extending over several millennia. Cultures have lent themselves to differentiate, distinguish and separate as well as unite, unify and harmonize, whenever political expediency, economic advantage or ideological fanaticism sought for an enemy or justification for misfortune or oppression.

True culture transcends ethnic, linguistic, economic, and political differences, but it has often lent itself as their instrument. Today the Levant is marred by numerous conflicts fueled by apparently insoluble political, ethnic, and religious differences. It is highly significant that humanity’s birthplace remains the most conflict-ridden region in the whole world. Persistent tensions and conflict in this region have had repercussions in distant regions, as exemplified by the prolonged conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and between the Muslim Uyghurs and Han in China. In future we need to evolve and emphasize the culture that unites and binds us together, rather than that which divides and separates. It is essential to peace, stability and future of all humanity that we quickly find ways in which our ancient birthplace can be transformed into a region of peace and prosperity. Experience elsewhere suggests that a rapid transition from violent and destructive to peaceful constructive modes of progress is indeed possible.

Is reconciliation possible?

It is natural to wonder whether it is realistic to think of resolving the intense animosities prevalent in the region within a short time. Recent experience suggests that it is. I would like to cite three instances in support of that thesis. First is the incredible transformation of Western Europe from a continent of incessant warfare into the world’s most peaceful region. Anyone familiar with the history of Europe over the previous 500 years and the two horrendous world wars fought during the first half of the 20th century would have found the events of the second half of the 20th century almost inconceivable. In the words of a leading European security expert, war in Europe has become unthinkable. Nations that have fought and competed for centuries have become friends and allies. Moreover, they have together launched what remains today the most revolutionary experiment in human history – the peaceful emergence of a supranational union. Another piece of evidence is the chain of events that led to the end of the Cold War 25 years ago. As recently as 1968 those who lived during the Cold War found it inconceivable to imagine that within two or three years the Berlin Wall would Fall, the Iron Curtain vanish, communism would be replaced by a revolution of market-democracy throughout Eastern Europe, the decades-long confrontation between the Superpowers all but cease, and concrete steps initiated for a massive reduction in nuclear weapons. Seemingly impenetrable barriers of mutual hostility, fear and suspicion were swept away in a single creative moment.

The third example is more modest in scale, but in some ways the most remarkable and relevant instance of all, one which has largely gone unnoticed or been taken for granted. I am referring to the end of violence in North Ireland since 2005. Up to that time the Irish conflict seemed so intractable that it appeared it would go on for decades. Like the conflict in Palestine, it had its origins in the distant past when England first colonized Ireland and subjected it to a deeply humiliating and oppressive imperial rule. The Roman conquest which conquered England did not reach Ireland and Scotland. Celtic Ireland lay beyond the pale of the Roman Empire and preserved its own distinct culture. The English colonial settlement of Ireland imposed centuries of severe hardship under English rule. The forced settlement of Belfast by Scottish Presbyterians generated deep resentment among Catholic Irish. Irish independence in 1920 shifted the center of attention to the foreign occupied Northern region. An inextricable mixture of political, economic, cultural and religious factors made the problem intractable and seemingly beyond solution. Its intractable nature was complicated by the fact that the population of North Ireland consisted of almost equal numbers of Irish Catholics and Scottish and English Protestants in bitter dispute.

While many factors contributed to the remarkable transformation in North Ireland, one least appreciated was the consequence of rapid economic development in the Republic of Ireland to its South. When Ireland entered the European Union it was considered the basket case of Europe with high levels of poverty and unemployment, and very high rates of emigration to UK and USA. As a result the population of Irish descent living outside of Ireland is roughly fifteen times higher than the present 4.5 million people living in Ireland. Faster rates of growth among the Catholic population in North Ireland aggravated tensions between communities, since it became evident that they would soon outnumber the Protestants who gave allegiance to Britain. The economic disparities between North and South was another aggravating factor, resulting in a steady flow of migrants and job seekers from Ireland into the North until around 2000.

The turning point occurred imperceptibly when Ireland entered the European Economic Community, forerunner of the European Union, in 1973, but the consequences of that step did not become fully perceptible until nearly three decades later. During that period Ireland gradually transformed itself from Europe’s basket case to become its fastest growing economy in the 1990s, when its rapid economic development earned it the title of the Celtic Tiger. By year 2000, per capita income and employment rates in Ireland exceeded those in the UK and the direction of net migration reversed. Ireland became a popular destination for North Irish, English and other Europeans in quest of better employment opportunities.

Until this dramatic change, a widespread belief had persisted that the conflict in North Ireland was essentially religious in nature and that anything short of a fundamental change in religious sentiments would be inadequate to resolve the conflict. However a more considered view suggests that the factors influencing the region were at once far more subtle and more complex. After nearly five decades of terrorist violence, the conflict ended quite suddenly and unexpectedly in 2005, when the IRA announced plans for unilateral disarmament. The sudden peace in North Ireland gives us hope and teaches us not to rely too much on past precedent and recent experience in assessing future potentials in the Levant and in other regions subject to incessant conflict.

Stages of Conflict Resolution: the Evolution of Diplomacy

Diplomacy as a means for conflict resolution has evolved over time. History traces the process of this evolution and the facts of that history are well known. What is of greater significance is the psychological history – the history of changing human perceptions, attitudes, values and ideals – which is more difficult to study and comprehend. Nevertheless, we can trace several major stages in the evolution of diplomacy that have transformed global society during the 20th century. The stages overlap and often occur out of turn, but still we can perceive a certain continuity in the progression from first to last.

Before the advent of diplomacy, warfare was the principal means resorted to for settling conflicts based on the relative strength of the opposing parties. But even in early history, peaceful alternatives to warfare became prevalent. Among the most common was the forging of marriage alliances as a substitute for war or conquest. “Family diplomacy” enabled countries and empires to bind themselves to one another without resorting to wars of conquest and submission. During the 19th century nearly all the monarchs of Europe including Queen Victoria and Czar Alexander were members of the same extended family related by marriage.

At an early stage of social evolution, a transition occurred from physical warfare to political treaties and alliances. Political diplomacy seeks to resolve or avoid military conflicts through treaty negotiations, alliances and balance of power based on bargaining and compromise. This phase characterized relations within Europe for many centuries and persisted as a dominant form of relationship until the end of the Cold War 20 years ago.

Throughout history, diplomacy has often been clothed in high principles, fundamental rights and good intentions, but in practice these were usually little more than a veil for self-interest and self-justification. The transition from the politics of pure power and self-interest to political diplomacy based on principles of peaceful co-existence and rule of law is a recent phenomenon, even now respected more in word than in real act or intention at the national and international level. In the 1860s ruffian brigades from the State of Missouri invaded the territory of Kansas to establish a new state, self-righteously proclaiming the high principle of popular democratic sovereignty, when in fact their real aim was to ensure the legality of slavery in Kansas by banning the fundamental rights of those who opposed their scheme. The events that triggered the two world wars and many other regional conflicts were often clothed in similar garb. But in recent decades diplomacy based on Principles, Law and Rights has become more than mere words. The founding of the UN and EU are remarkable and unprecedented efforts of humanity to move beyond power to law, a process that is still only half done.

Economic relations has always been an important and effective diplomatic strategy and it has become the most prevalent form of diplomacy today. The 20th century marked a radical shift from political negotiations to economic cooperation between nations, characterized by the opening of commercial relations for mutual benefit. The dramatic transformation of relations between China and USA since 1972 in spite of continued acute ideological differences is a remarkable instance of the power of economy to improve relations between people.

Culture has always been a powerful force of change. Cultural diplomacy marks a significant step beyond traditional forms of political and economic diplomacy. Here the emphasis shifts from political treaties and trade agreements to social and cultural exchanges. In this stage conflicts are resolved by mutual attraction to what is new, different and unique in other cultures. At its highest, cultural reconciliation leads to psychological understanding that differences can be fully reconciled through mutual understanding and harmony. At its best, cultural diplomacy can lead to a fifth and higher stage of diplomacy which may be termed psychological. In this stage, we discover the universal principle that there is a truth in every point of view, even those which are diametrically opposite to our own. Conflicts lend themselves to full and final resolution when we fully and genuinely recognize the truth in the other person’s point of view.

The progression from military to political to economic to cultural and psychological diplomacy marks the transition from contradiction, conflict, and competition to compromise, reconciliation, harmony, mutuality. Through this process, humanity evolves from the physical man to become the social and mental man. By this process violent revolution is transformed into social evolution, as the violent revolutionary fervor of France in the 1790s was transformed into peaceful social evolution across the English Channel.

Intermarriage between classes, religions, nationalities and even races has become a common means for cultural integration. Culture represents the psychological evolution of humanity, as education reflects the evolution of knowledge. Humanity starts by relating physically through war. It evolves to relating socially through trade. It evolves further by relating psychologically through culture.

Culture Interchange

Social interaction is on the surface of life. Cultural contact is in the depth. Culture is the continent, the subconscious social whole, that comes in contact with other cultures through innumerable means. No other form of interaction has such a powerful and deeply penetrating impact on our minds, hearts, and sensitivities as intimate contact with other cultures. Nothing so successfully overcomes our sense of difference from other people, calling forth our common humanity. Nothing is so compellingly difficult to resist as the contagious influence of contact with other cultures. Military or political conquest act by displacement like a stone dropped into water. Economic competition acts by exchange. Culture moves through any permeable barrier by diffusion or osmosis, like salt dispersing through water imperceptibly. It is irresistible.

Culture has an inbuilt strength for conquest. There is an old adage that the conqueror is conquered by the vanquished. Thus conquest leads to cultural diffusion. For while war conquers by strength and resistance, Culture conquers by openness and submissiveness. In many instances, a culturally less developed, but militarily stronger power has been conquered culturally by the society it dominated militarily. The Romans conquered Greece yet succumbed to the superior power of its culture. Countries can resist military invasion or political domination, but not the attractions of cultural influences. The colonization of Asia by European powers in the 17th to 19th century led to the penetration of Asian cultural ideas and practices into Western life. The conquest of India by the British brought the English language and administration to India, but it also effected a more subtle but powerful influence of Indian culture on the conquerors. Indian food and philosophy permeated Europe, having a profound impact on the romantic poets of the late 19th century. Wordsworth, Emerson and Whitman were inspired by reading the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. The defeat of Japan in World War II brought the American constitution, democracy, commercial systems and baseball to Japan, while Zen philosophy, art, architecture and Japanese gardens permeated American society.

Ideas and Ideals spread culture. The ideals of America’s Founding Fathers, born in Europe and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, have spread globally. Like technology, cultural ideas are constantly borrowed and rapidly disseminated. Paper, printing, gunpowder, coins spread from China to the world. Today there is a craze in China for Western Classical music. Literature is a powerful force for the spread of culture. In spite of centuries of mutual animosity, it was a Frenchman, Victor Hugo, who first awakened the English to the extraordinary genius of Shakespeare. Another Frenchman, Jules Vernes, depicted with brilliant insight the high character of an English gentleman in his Around the World in 80 Days. Likewise, Arthur Conan Doyle depicted the indomitable courage of a French cavalry officer in his Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard.

Underlying the compelling attractiveness of other cultures is the subconscious awareness that they represent complementary aspects of our common human endowments. It is through contact with other cultures that we rise to the psychological heights of our own being. Marriage is probably the greatest laboratory of cultural diplomacy. Nothing approaches marriage in terms of the intimacy and intensity of interactions between cultures. In marriage one discovers the ultimate spiritual truth that contradictions are complements – that what appears most different, contrary and opposed to all that we deem normal, natural and good contains within it profound truths that are a perfect complement to the partial truths affirmed by any culture. Reconciling those apparent contradictions opens up the deepest and highest field of human interaction. Its victory is romance.

Cultural Diplomacy

Cultural diplomacy is the result of social evolution from physical conflict and vital discord to mental understanding and psychological harmony. The effectiveness of cultural diplomacy reflects the truth that humanity’s seeking for enjoyment and psychological fulfillment is a more powerful urge than its seeking for material comforts and conveniences or vital domination over others.

Any and all forms of cultural exchange and interaction can be consciously employed to promote mutual understanding. Sports diplomacy is as old as the Greek Olympics, but it remains a powerful force today. In 1971 American and Chinese table tennis teams competed against one another at a tournament in Japan. After one of the practice sessions at the stadium, the leader of the American team found that his bus had already departed for the hotel, leaving him stranded. The Chinese team invited him to ride with them. During the ride he was introduced to the top player on the other side who presented him with a memento. As a result of their exchange, the US team was invited to China a few months later. One result was the secret planning for a visit by President Nixon to meet Chairman Mao in China in April 1972, the first step in normalization of relations that had been disrupted for a quarter century and laying the groundwork for the development of the two countries into major trading partners in spite of their ideological differences. Tournaments between the Pakistani and Indian cricket teams played a similar role during decades of otherwise strained, combative relationships.

The Arts have been another important field of cultural diplomacy. The Russia’s Bolshoi ballet is arguably the ultimate example – touring the world and universally admired even at the height of the Cold War. During the 1960s the Beatles gave expression to the minds and hearts of youth everywhere, launching a movement of diplomacy through popular music which gradually spread to encompass the whole world. Their trip to India to learn meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ignited intense interest in Indian yoga, enabling Transcendental Meditation to quickly grow into a global movement. Hollywood films have long won favor with international audiences, regardless of political alliances and ideological positions. Indian movies are extremely popular in neighboring Pakistan despite the prolonged tensions between the two countries, and Pakistani movie stars are among the most popular in India. Culture knows no boundaries.

Travel has been a powerful instrument of cultural diplomacy, ever since the earliest recorded visits of Chinese Buddhist monks to the Buddha’s birthplace in India and the adventures narrated by the Italian merchant Marco Polo on returning from his epic 24 year journey to Asia in 1269. Even today travel remains one of the most compelling means to break down misconceptions, prejudices and psychological distance between people of different races, religions and cultures. Exchanges between cultures play a very positive role in reducing tensions and fostering understanding. They promote familiarity and trust. The sense of foreignness and difference becomes less prominent. The roaring popularity of Mikhail Gorbachev during his visits to the West both before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall illustrate how dramatic can be the impact of human contact. Those who travelled behind the Iron Curtain before its collapse recall how powerfully they were moved by the warmth and deep humanity of people whom they had early stereotyped in quite opposite terms. Arriving at Prague during the brief Spring of 1968, I recall how remarkably similar the scenes and the people appeared to those I had left in Berkeley, California.

Ancient systems of natural medicine offer remarkable cures for many ailments that defy or are very costly by modern allopathic treatment. Popularizing the use of traditional medicines prevalent in Asia such as Ayurveda and acupuncture can break down entrenched scientific superstitions that refuse to recognize the precious knowledge acquired by other societies.

Education is the most powerful of all civilizing forces. It is the means society has developed to consciously foster its own development and evolution. The opening up of the American educational system to foreign students might possibly rank as the most successful American diplomatic initiative of all time. Today more than 800,000 foreign students study at American universities every year. It would be difficult to find a government, major corporation or university anywhere in the world that is not proud of the fact that one or many of its senior executives have been educated in the USA. In spite of the prolonged tension between Iran and USA, 61% of Iranian immigrants to American have a BA or higher degree, compared to just 28% national average in USA, and 25% of Iranian-Americans hold MA or PhD. Nearly three quarters of Taiwanese Americans hold a 73% BA or higher.

Role of Civil Society in Cultural Diplomacy

Political diplomacy is primarily the task of governments. Cultural diplomacy is primarily the work of civil society at the national and international level. Business too has played an enormous role in spreading awareness of other cultures and ways of life through the dissemination of life style products, books, TV, cinema and other popular media. Witness the craze in China when Apple releases a new model iPhone. The world media plays a similar role. It provides information and news about people and events that generates a common global social culture, values, life styles.

Of all the instruments for cultural diplomacy, the most powerful of all is among the youngest. Born in the aftermath of the Cold War as a result of greater freedom for movement of people and ideas across national boundaries, the Internet and World Wide Web have grown exponentially to become the first truly global social organization linking together and binding more than a billion people across the world into a single cultural community. The Internet permits the rapid diffusion of ideas and knowledge globally, enabling them to permeate all but the most inaccessible places and impenetrable political barriers. It is a premier instrument for public education to level the playing field between haves and have nots. From a sparsely populated map of interconnections between educational institutions, it has evolved into a densely woven web of interrelationships linking together people, institutions and activities encompassing the entire gamut of humanity’s global social life. It has done more than any other institution to forge a common sense of humanity and unified human culture.

Following the end of the Cold War, the number of international non-governmental organizations has grown rapidly to exceed 40,000. This is in addition to the millions of national and local level NGOs, many of which also interact with others across national boundaries. Global Civil Society plays an increasingly prominent role in promoting peace under circumstances in which national governments are severely constrained by the need to respond to public expectations. Cultural diplomacy by civil society is an effective means to change those expectations.

The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) is a striking example of an international NGO that played a central role in the diffusion of tensions between Russia and USA in the mid 1980s, for which it received the Nobel Peace Prize. The World Economic Forum – in which the world’s political, business and intellectual leaders meet for a free and open exchange of views – has also become a platform for bringing together conflicting political parties who are unable to succeed through normal diplomatic channels, as in the case of Israel and Palestine, Turkey and Greece.

The World Academy of Art & Science is an international NGO founded in 1960 as an international community of leading intellectuals drawn from many countries and fields of art and science seeking to promote peaceful applications of science and art for human welfare. WAAS is committed to the principle that cultural diplomacy through ideas and interchange can succeed where conventional methods fail. The International Center for Cultural Diplomacy is founded on a similar principle and can play a leading role in promotion of cultural solutions to difficult problems. Located in Berlin at the meeting place of Eastern and Western culture, a synthesis of the emotional east and mental West, ICD is well positioned to promote effective practical strategies based on the efficacy of cultural diplomacy.

Comprehensive Strategy for the Levant

Cultural diplomacy is usually an informal process occurring at countless points in an unorganized manner, the way fashions spread from one country to another. What is happening now informally can be made far more powerful if fully organized. As the spread of information resulted in a vast reduction in under 5 mortality from measles, an intensive campaign by a global network of organizations to disseminate information on the lethal threat of nuclear weapons can overcome the inertia and insensitivity that have long impeded political measures to abolish these pernicious relics of the Cold War.

Countless piecemeal efforts have been made to improve political, economic, social and cultural relations in the Levant. Culture does not exist separate or divorced from commerce, economy and other aspects of life. What we now need is a concerted and comprehensive effort involving major nations, civil society and international institutions. The strategy proposed is to exhaust all potential areas systematically and in concert. History shows that social and cultural tensions become severely aggravated during times of hardship. Therefore cultural diplomacy will be successful only when it is combined with serious efforts to address the economic hardships of people in the region. Rising levels of unemployment, especially among youth, is a case in point. It is unrealistic to expect purely cultural methods to resolve issues unless real underlying problems are addressed in concert. Rising levels of education raised public awareness and expectations among youth leading to the Arab Spring. No effective solutions can be brought about without addressing the serious problem of youth unemployment in the region.

A comprehensive approach to bringing peace to the Levant should include development of a master economic plan for the development of the region. The plan should set forth methods to raise income levels and employment opportunities throughout the Levant through collaborative, inter-cultural initiatives. It should also include strategies to raise levels of education and training in the region, utilizing the newly emerging opportunities for on-line education to reduce costs while increasing the range, quality and accessibility of courses. Water is another critical element in any comprehensive plan. There is ample scope for improving water productivity and conservation throughout the region. Intensive attention can increase rainfall, as documented by the 30% rise in average rainfall in Southern Israel over a thirty year period of intensive attention to water resources. 2

A comprehensive cultural approach to the region could involve the creation of regional professional associations for MDs, lawyers, engineers, all academic disciplines, for universities, research institutes, media, broadcasters, film makers, writers, artists, musicians. It could also include film festivals, cross cultural educational programs, translation of literary works and cinema into other languages, intensive foreign language training, conscious dissemination of foods and fashions from other cultures, study of the history of other cultures, measures to promote travel and student exchange, as well as a master plan to utilize potentials of the Internet to promote cultural exchange on all aspects.

The action of governments is often hampered by the absence of support from the general public. A comprehensive cultural initiative combined with supporting economic measures can prepare the way for a diplomatic breakthrough in the Levant that has long defied traditional measures. The sudden demise of the Cold War and recent end of decades long violence in North Ireland are indicative of the opportunity for bringing lasting peace to the Levant.


1. S. D. Goitein, Jews & Arabs, A Concise History of Their Social and Cultural Relations, Dover Publications Inc. 2005.

2. T. Ben-Gai, A. Bitan, A. Manes, P. Alpert, “Long-term changes in annual rainfall patterns in southern Israel”, Tel-Aviv University; Meteorological Service Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 05/1994; 49(2):59-67.