In his speech outlining his Administration’s post-Arab spring policy, President Obama included several references to non-violent protest, among them “the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat.”
The President also spoke of the need to “build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people. “
The question is, are his team and others around the world prepared for those two goals coming together in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
The potential for seismic change is real and could result in shifts greater than those caused by the social media helping create revolution in the region. If thought of in the language of technology, Palestine 1.0 was the Arafat years, concluding with the Second Intifada. A reboot came with Palestine 2.0 and the emergence of the Palestinian Authority and the struggle between Fatah and Hamas.
We may now be witnessing the early source code for Palestine 3.0. This latest version is an extension of the Arab Spring where the next generation breaks with their past while pushing for a more dignified future. Rejecting violence and fruitless negotiations, they may well combine non-violent popular resistance with the technology that helps them organize and instantly broadcast their actions – and the resulting reactions – around the globe in seconds.
Events this past weekend, when groups of Palestinians attempted to breach borders as a protest in support of their right to return, may have been the beta test of Palestine 3.0. The true motivations of some of those participating has been justifiably questioned, but that does not alter the impact and the resulting spark of recognition that there might be a new way of getting things done.
Just as companies struggle with leadership changes, increased competition, changing tastes or emerging markets, so too must political leaders walk the tightrope between what has worked in the past and what must be done to succeed in the future. Only, in this case, it is not a matter of profit margin or market share – it is a matter of life and death.
The Obama Administration, Israel, Jordan and others must prepare to transition from existing technology (2.0)while installing the updates needed to run on the cutting edge (3.0).
This doesn’t just mean learning to work within the new framework, it requires developing innovative and creative apps that maximize outcomes. Broadening engagement is one example but others are needed. It won’t be easy and the elites will resist, just like all those threatened by change. Yet, if the Arab Spring has taught us nothing else, it is that the old systems are obsolete and new ones are coming, whether we are ready (or like it) or not.
Stuart Krusell is Associate Director, Corp & Foundation Relations at MIT Sloan. He previously lived in the Middle East and North Africa where he worked on democracy promotion