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Ambassador Uri Savir Headshot

Old World -- New World in the Middle East

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The battle over the destiny of Ukraine threw us back to the days of the Cold War, definitely as far as Vladimir Putin is concerned. He challenged the international community, not unlike Nikita Khrushchev did in the last century -- "might is right."

Many in Europe were anxiously reading up in their history books about World War II and the Cold War. Angela Merkel was worried that Putin, with his Czar-like rhetoric, had lost touch with today's reality. Some right-wing xenophobes rejoiced like in the "good old days." Only Barack Obama did not play along in this rewinding of history. He is adamant to advance his collective diplomacy doctrine and did not revert to the Truman doctrine.

The trophy of this newest U.S.-Russian confrontation is not only the Ukraine. It is about how to reach international influence, economic assets and the advantages the world has to offer for their own Russian and American constituencies.

Obama has a historical outlook on such a process and reacts with patience, not hysteria. The Americans, under this administration, are on the right side of history. With the greater empowerment of societies in the information age, the time of dictators is coming to an end. The voice of the people is not subservient to the commands of government and it is demanding social gains more than national ones.Countries have to aspire to respectability within the family of nations, or deteriorate to a pariah state.

Barack Obama understands that with this international equation, the use of force is futile, if not counterproductive.

Most countries are indeed attempting to belong to constructive regionalism and globalization. For those who refuse -- tough luck, but America will not intervene in their favor or against them with military force (see the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan).

Those in the international community who still do not understand the new rules of the game are bewildered and confused. Their old world thinking concludes that Obama's America is on the losing or weak side. The contrary is true -- Obama's America and Americans are the winners in this new world. The United States is the leading player on all continents and in collective diplomacy (mainly with the E.U.) in conflict areas. Obama's diplomatic doctrine is gradually winning the day vis à vis the chemical disarmament of Syria, and is the only way to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear military capacity.

Obama and Kerry deserve much credit as they adhere to peaceful diplomacy. It is less popular than pretending to be the sheriff of the world, with useless pistols and tanks. In this era, opting for the moral high-ground is also the right choice for influence and growth.

As for Israel and Palestine -- undecidedly between the old and new world -- the time has come to decide. The decision point starts with the answer to the American framework. Today it seems that both sides might be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the continuation of peace negotiations, and will mumble a half-hearted "yes, but" to John Kerry. That is not making a real choice, unfortunately. Peace is not the lesser of two evils. It is a matter of identity.

For Israel, the choice must be for a democracy with a clear Jewish majority and equal rights to its Arab citizens. This means putting an end to the occupation as a political and moral choice, not as a "surrender" to American pressure. One cannot belong to the new world as an occupying power in the post-colonial era. The settlements are rejected by the whole world because they are perceived as outposts of neo-colonialism. Its choice must be in favor of real democracy, based on equality, basic civic and human rights, freedom of expression, as well as a free market economy, with equal opportunity and social justice.

The alternative is to belong to the old world -- to Putin's world -- with an immoral occupation, without a real democracy, led by the messianic religious forces from the settlers to the Haredim. The modern world, while respecting religion, divides clearly between religion and state.

The Palestinians face a similar crossroads -- belonging to the new world means creating a democratic, open society with respect for human rights and minorities, and a free market economy. It also means giving up on religious and national rejection of others. The new world is characterized by multiculturalism and it won't hurt the Palestinians to have a more objective and curious view of their Jewish neighbors.

There, like in Israel, religion is an obstacle, actually more the religious than religion -- those who speak in the name of God against the infidels and for religious wars.

In Israel and Palestine, there were many who applauded Vladimir Putin for his use of force. This comes from people and leaders who live in the past.

The future is with America, but not by America. It cannot and does not want to enforce a solution. The choice to get a passport to the new world is ours, and it touches on our very identity. It's time to choose.

The writer is Honorary President of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel's chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.