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A Future without Precedent

JERUSALEM – In my nearly nine decades of life, I cannot recall a time in which the past was so irrelevant to policymaking. All of today’s significant developments went unpredicted by anyone. Experts studied the past, but, constrained by old paradigms, they could not discern the future.

Today’s dynamic complexity, in which a science-based, fast-changing global economy makes so many more phenomena interdependent, prevents us from foreseeing the future through linear extrapolations of the past. The only certainty is that the future will be defined by scientific progress and innovation, which cannot be known ahead of time.

As a result, the traditional power of states and leaders is declining; in today’s global economy, innovators, not politicians, wield the most influence. The globalized economy affects every state, yet no single state can determine the outcomes, because science and technology are borderless. Global companies wish to do business worldwide, eroding not just sovereignty, but also racism and prejudice, as well as significantly weakening nationalism.

This transformation has placed the world in the hands of a younger generation, more technologically savvy than their parents and connected to one another through social networks that are not confined by territory, language, or government. The young leaders who created Facebook and Google have had a greater global impact than many statesmen and generals.

These young people are also the leaders of erupting political protest movements. The “Arab Spring,” the tent demonstrations in Israel, Occupy Wall Street, and the protests in Russia reveal not a clash of civilizations, but a battle of generations. The young generation understands that the way states and economies are currently run is unfit for the new era.

Yet there are political “hitchhikers” who want to exploit the recent awakening, not by promoting an agenda of freedom, but by imposing a different type of coercion. In the Arab world, it is mainly extreme Islamists who are hijacking the young generation’s wave, stealing their revolution.

Israel has reacted positively to the will of the young generation, but it cannot and should not intervene in events in the Arab world. Our hearts are with the rebelling youngsters and their legitimate yearning for freedom and basic rights to express themselves, choose their leaders, and earn their own living.

Israelis wait for the day when our country will no longer be the region’s only democracy, because being an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty is unnatural. Yet there is a real concern that the extremists, who are politically well organized, are seeking to gain control by the ballot over less-organized liberals, thus preventing peace and stability.

Fundamentalist radicals cannot provide real solutions to the region’s basic problems. The social changes now underway threaten their way of life, which includes discrimination against women and a ban on modern education. But only profound reforms of traditional authority can pave the way towards freedom and growth.

Israel can serve as an example to others striving to reach economic prosperity and social freedom, because its success is due to the fact that the country had absolutely nothing at the start. We returned to our homeland, rich with history, but devoid of natural resources. Israel was left with only one resource: its human capital. So we invested in education and science, and today we have the world’s highest percentage of scientists and patents per capita. Roughly 95% of our agriculture is hi-tech. We use less water and yield more crops per acre than any other country in the world.

What Israel can do, others can do as well. We will gladly offer a helping hand to whoever is willing to reach for it. Together, in peace with our neighbors, we can create a region of hope, development, and success.

In particular, we must do everything in our power to end the conflict with the Palestinians. Israel was not born, and it is not Israel’s destiny, to govern another people. We are sincerely interested in the establishment of a Palestinian state living peacefully side-by-side with Israel, the democratic state of the Jewish people. For us, peace is both a moral imperative and a national-security strategy, because resolving the conflict would help to stabilize the region by neutralizing the extremists who seek to manipulate today’s popular movements to advance their radical agenda.

The international community can support these efforts by providing incentives to countries that choose freedom and progress. At the same time, determined and decisive policies must be taken against extremists. In particular, Iran is a fount of moral corruption that spearheads extremism and halts reform, crushing the legitimate protest of its own citizens and acting against the brave Syrians now fighting for their freedom. Iran also uses proxies to instigate terror against moderate forces in the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, and Iraq.

If Iran is successful in its plan to acquire nuclear weapons, its leaders could shake the Middle East and encourage more extremism and violence. Israel will defend itself if Iran continues to call for its destruction. However, the threat is not to Israel alone; Iran is a danger to the peace and stability of the entire world. The world’s democracies have declared that they will not allow Iran to possess nuclear arms; it is their duty to follow through on that commitment, before doing so becomes impossible.

Beyond the short-term challenges ahead, we all have a duty to profoundly change the way we prepare our children to cope with today’s new world. In an era where yesterday has become almost irrelevant and we can hardly predict tomorrow, the role of education must allow all children to reach their highest potential. Today’s educators should inspire our children towards creativity and innovation. Self-expression is as important as free expression.

I write this in the 88th year of my life, but not because I have learned from experience. On the contrary, experience is overrated, often constraining the courage needed to face tomorrow and build an unprecedented new world. The future is already here; there is no point in looking back.