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Saturday, October 28, 2006
Cash for clean energy
WHILE Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey opposes the Cape Wind project and her Democratic opponent for governor Deval Patrick favors it, the two agree on the need for more renewable energy. The question is whether the renewable energy trust -- the arm of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative that funds alternative-energy projects -- has the wherewithal to meet the challenge.
The trust was created in 1998 as part of deregulation of the state's electric power industry. The deregulation law also mandates that renewable sources must provide a growing share of the state's electricity needs, reaching 4 percent by 2009.
The average homeowner's electric bill includes a fee for the trust that amounts to about $5 a year. A utility's suit against the fee was not resolved until 2000, which delayed the trust in getting started on its mission. By 2003, the trust had still made so few grants that critics talked about eliminating it.
Since that low point, the trust has now become involved in a range of projects, from wind to solar to the harnessing of landfill methane. Its director, Warren Leon, says current outlays, drawing on funds accumulated during the slow years, exceed the trust's annual $24 million in revenues. But even that is dwarfed by the $34 million subsidy a Massachusetts solar company, Evergreen Solar of Marlboro ugh, got from the German government to build a factory in that country. California could have a renewable energy fund as large as $4 billion by 2017 if voters approve a proposition on the ballot there.
The trust's former director, Robert L. Pratt, now with the nonprofit Kendall Foundation, says the biggest problem the trust faces is NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) opposition, especially to wind turbines. Leon said another hurdle is the complexity of getting permits for any energy proposal in Massachusetts. The trust secured two wind turbines for a project in Orleans, only to have it delayed by the need to get legislative approval for the site. The town of Princeton considered using the turbines on a ridge there, but the manufacturer said they were not suitable for that site. A wind project at Cape Cod Community College had to be redesigned when the Federal Aviation Administration said the turbines were too tall.
Before long, wind turbines will become an accepted feature of the landscape and NIMBY opposition will melt away. At that point, the biggest hurdle to the trust's growth will be its revenue source. For the state's renewable energy industry to compete with other states and nations and provide the environmental and economic benefits that many believe it can, the trust could well need an expanded funding base.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The big opportunity for solar energy is in utility plants, according to Vinod Khosla, who gave back-to-back keynotes on the subject here Tuesday (Oct 16.). The iconic venture capitalist who has started his own alternative energy investment company also stumped for California's Proposition 87, which would fund research into so-called clean technology.
"I now believe that thermal solar will be cheaper than coal-fired electricity plants. It is far more risky to build a coal-fired plant than a solar thermal one today," said Khosla, speaking at the Emerging Ventures conference.
Photovoltaic cells have made significant advances with thin film, multi-junction technology. Utilities represent an opportunity for solar energy that could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, said Khosla, who earlier in the day he delivered a keynote at a solar power conference a block away that attracted an estimated 7,000 attendees.
Although many developers are pursuing the low-cost solar cells, Khosla said "that's exactly the wrong way to go.
"Solar systems would still cost $2 kiloWatt/hour if the cell cost went to zero. What we need are higher efficiency cells. We should be saying we will accept higher costs to get 30 percent efficient cells," he said.
Separately, Khosla spoke out in favor of California's Proposition 87 that would levy a fee on petroleum to be used in part to fund alternative energy technologies.
"This is probably going to be the most expensive race in the country this year," Khosla said, estimating oil companies have already spent $67 million attacking the measure and could spend $80-$100 million before the November vote.
Thirty percent of the Prop. 87 funds would go to university R&D, Khosla said. "Clean tech R&D has been declining in this country for 30 years. We absolutely need to have more R&D in this area," he said.
Another 57 percent of the Prop. 87 fees would be used to lower oil consumption, he added.
"Oil companies get a 500-percent depreciation on some assets. That's just one of a half dozen clauses I know of that are in effect subsidies for oil companies," he said.
Khosla is mainly known for funding a number of Silicon Valley's biggest ventures as a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. He now devotes much of his time to the clean tech area which is the focus of Khosla Ventures. The new company has a broad portfolio of investments including bets on as many as eight alternative fuel companies.
"When oil went above $40 a barrel, a host of things became viable," said Khosla.
Friday, October 20, 2006
story from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061020.RWIND20/TPStory/Business?pageRequested=all&print=true
Canada's highly fragmented windpower business is being swept up in a global consolidation, RICHARD BLACKWELL of Toronto's Globe and Mail writes
The consolidation of Canada's wind power business is under way.
With two takeover deals in the past 10 days, the industry is following the model taken by its more mature counterparts elsewhere in the world, where big, well-financed players predominate.
Just last week, Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. agreed to pay $6.3-million for Vector Wind Energy Inc., a small firm listed on the TSX Venture Exchange. And yesterday, Toronto wind farm developer Gale Force Energy Ltd. announced a takeover by an Irish-based multinational wind power firm, Airtricity Inc.
With big wind projects eating up considerable amounts of capital, and some provinces specifying that only well-financed companies will get electricity contracts, much of the industry is expected to end up in the hands of big energy firms and power utilities. Some wind assets may be held by income trusts that spin off to investors the steady cash flow that comes from generating power.
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Canada's wind energy business -- now fractured among players ranging from small entrepreneurs to energy giants -- is almost certain to evolve in a similar fashion to Europe and the U.S., where the wind sector has already consolidated dramatically, said Josh McGee, an analyst at Emerging Energy Research, a worldwide consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass.
"Wind power globally has gone from being a kind of boutique, idealistic, source [of power] to a real competitor that requires scaling, a large in-house balance sheet, and in-house expertise on project management," he said.
In the U.S., large energy companies and financial players have snapped up most small wind power producers, and in Europe "there are only large transnational wind development companies left that are competing in the [large] markets," Mr. McGee said.
Currently, the Canadian industry is highly fragmented, with players that include private companies (such as SkyPower Corp.), publicly traded ventures (Canadian Hydro Developers), energy giants (Suncor Energy Inc.) and utilities (SaskPower).
Over the past few years, several dozen wind power projects have been built Canada, in all provinces except British Columbia. They range from huge wind farms with dozens of turbines to tiny single-turbine operations. Currently, Alberta has the biggest installed base with about 285 megawatts of wind on-stream, followed closely by Ontario and Quebec.
According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, Canada passed the 1,000-MW mark in wind energy production in June, putting us among the top dozen producers worldwide. But we're nowhere near the world leaders -- Germany and Spain have more than 18,000 MW and 10,000 MW in production, respectively.
In Canada, wind fulfills only about half a per cent of our electricity demand, compared with Denmark, which generates almost 20 per cent of its electricity from wind.
Still, the Canadian industry is expanding rapidly, with several new projects soon to link to the power grids and dozens more in the planning stages. The burst of activity has been ignited by provincial governments, many of which have set wind energy targets, then used competitive tendering processes to choose suppliers.
Ottawa has also helped boost the industry through the Wind Power Production Incentive -- essentially a subsidy that pays wind power producers about 1 cent for each kilowatt-hour they produce. The WPPI is currently in limbo under the Conservative government, however, and the wind industry is holding its breath to see how it fares in the ongoing environmental policy revisions.
There has been a smattering of mergers in the Canadian wind businesses in past years. In 2002, Alberta power firm TransAlta Corp. bought Vision Quest Windelectric Inc., at the time the country's second-biggest wind energy producer. Then, in 2004, TransCanada Corp. bought 50 per cent of Cartier Wind Energy Inc., one of Quebec's major wind power firms, and in 2005 boosted its stake to 62 per cent.
But the demands for capital inherent in the wind energy business are likely to push many more firms together in the coming months and years.
"I think what you're going to see ultimately is fewer companies," said Stephen Probyn, chief executive officer of the Clean Power Income Fund, an investment trust that owns the recently opened 99-MW Erie Shores wind farm in Ontario. "The privately financed entrepreneurial companies will either evolve . . . so they have access to capital, or they'll get consolidated."
Foreign wind energy giants -- seeing the Canadian market in a fast-growing phase that mirrors where Europe was 10 years ago -- will likely be among those buying up smaller Canadian wind industry players or joining Canadian joint ventures. There have already been a few international forays into the Canadian market, before Airtricity's purchase of Gale Force:
Spanish wind giant Acciona is a partner with Suncor and Enbridge in several projects, including the soon-to-open 30-MW Chin Chute wind farm in Southern Alberta.
This summer German financier HSH Nordbank AG, a big investor in energy projects, bought a minority stake in private Toronto wind farm developer SkyPower Corp.
British-based Renewable Energy Generation Ltd. paid $29.1-million for AIM PowerGen Corp., an Ontario developer that has projects planned in six provinces.
North Dakota-based heavy steel fabricator DMI Industries has opened a wind-tower manufacturing plant in Fort Erie, Ont.
"Outside entities have begun to realize that Canada is going to be a very good market for wind power," Mr. Probyn said, particularly with government incentives making the economics of the business more favourable. " I think you'll see more foreign entrants into Canada."
While there will likely be fewer players fighting for the big wind farm contracts over the next few years, there will still be room for some very small players, said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
"[The provinces have] a growing interest in developing small-scale wind energy projects of one or two turbines," he said. Nova Scotia, for example, has awarded about a dozen contracts for projects of 2 MW or less, and Ontario is going to launch a similar program for projects under 10 MW.
The idea, Mr. Hornung said, is to broaden participation by "encouraging municipalities, co-operatives, or groups of farmers to proceed with their own projects."
CANADA'S TOP WIND POWER PLAYERS
TransAlta Corp. The Alberta-based power generation firm has three wind farms in southern Alberta, operated through its VisionQuest subsidiary, that now generate almost 200 megawatts of power. It has proposed several new wind farms in Ontario.
SaskPower The provincial government-owned utility this year opened its 150-MW Centennial wind farm near Swift Current, the biggest operating wind facility in Canada. SaskPower also has another 11-MW wind plant in southeastern Saskatchewan.
Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. This TSX-listed firm, which also runs hydro and biomass plants, has three wind power operations in southwestern Alberta that generate almost 50 MW of electricity, and it recently opened the 68 MW Melancthon wind farm in Ontario. Several others are in development.
Axor Group Inc. The Montreal engineering firm built Canada's first large-scale wind farm, the 100-MW Le Nordais project in Quebec's Gaspésie region.
Clean Power Income Fund An investment trust that holds biomass and hydro power assets in Canada and the U.S., and owns the recently opened 99-MW Erie Shores wind farm in Ontario.
Nexen Inc. This Calgary-based energy firm is completing a 70.5-MW wind farm near Fort McLeod, Alta., with partner GW Power Corp.
Algonquin Power Income Fund This investment trust owns several power-generating facilities, and recently bought all the units of AirSource Power Income Fund, a Manitoba-based limited partnership with a 100-MW wind farm near St. Leon, Man.
Northland Power Income Fund An independent power producer that owns the 54-MW Mont Miller wind farm in the Gaspésie region of Quebec.
Brookfield Power The power generating and distribution arm of Brookfield Asset Management Inc. is completing a 189-MW wind farm near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. About 99 MW have recently been connected to the Ontario power grid.
Creststreet Power and Income Fund This investment trust owns and operates a 54-MW Mount Copper wind project in Quebec and a 30-MW Pubnico Point wind farm in Nova Scotia.
Ventus Energy Inc. This Toronto company is developing projects in six provinces. It recently began construction of a wind farm in Prince Edward Island.
SkyPower Corp. A Toronto-based private company that has several wind and solar projects planned across the country. Its first will open soon near Rivière-du-Loup, Que.
Epcor Utilities Inc. The Edmonton-based natural gas, power and water company opened the 40-MW Kingsbridge Wind Power Project on the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario this spring. A second phase will add another 160 MW.
Enbridge Inc. The income trust arm of the Calgary energy company jointly owns, along with Suncor, wind farms in Alberta and Saskatchewan that generate about 40 MW of power. It also has plans for a 200-MW Ontario wind farm on the shore of Lake Huron, although the project has been delayed because of snags in the approval process.
TransCanada Corp. The Calgary-based energy infrastructure firm owns 62 per cent of Cartier Wind Energy Inc., which has been awarded six major projects by Hydro-Québec. The first, the 110-MW Baie des Sables project, is expected to be added to the power grid by the end of this year.
Suncor Energy Inc. The big oil sands player owns wind farms in Alberta and Saskatchewan that generate about 40 MW of power, with another 30-MW Alberta project starting up this month. A 76-MW project on the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario is in the works.
-- Richard Blackwell
Wind power generation, by province (megawatts)
PROVINCE INSTALLED PROPOSED
British Columbia 0 325
Alberta 285 235
Saskatchewan 171 25
Manitoba 104 0
Ontario 221 1,059
Quebec 212 1,244
New Brunswick 0 20
Nova Scotia 41 61
Prince Edward Island 14 39
Newfoundland 1 0
Yukon 1 0
SOURCE: CDN. WIND ENERGY ASSOCIATION
Canada's installed wind power capacity (megawatts)
*to June 30
SOURCE: CDN. WIND ENERGY ASSOCIATION
Solar Power Investing Blog
Monday, October 09, 2006
I WISH I WAS A PUNK ROCKER (WITH FLOWERS IN MY HAIR) Sandi Thom
SEXYBACK Justin Timberlake
I DON'T FEEL LIKE DANCIN' Scissor Sisters PDR/UMA
MANEATER Nelly Furtado GEF/UMA
LONDON BRIDGE Fergie A&M/UMA
U + UR HAND P!nk LAF/SBME
CALL ME WHEN YOU'RE SOBER Evanescence EPI/SBME
TALLER, STRONGER, BETTER Guy Sebastian SBME
BUTTONS The Pussycat Dolls Feat. Snoop Dogg
WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG The Killers IUS/UMA
Story from The Australian / The Nation:
Pop charts get in tune with online sales
Iain Shedden, Music writer
October 09, 2006
PUNK rock ushered in the future of Australian music yesterday when the first ARIA singles chart combining online and conventional sales was released.
Scottish singer Sandi Thom's I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair), which has been No1 on the established ARIA singles chart for the past six weeks, came out on top of the new chart, which also recognises sales of songs bought online at websites such as iTunes and BigPond Music.
The combined chart signals a trend away from CD sales in shops towards the purchase, storage and playing of music through digital technology. Sales in the digital market have increased 30per cent since ARIA introduced a Digital Track chart in April and digital sales account for about 5.5 per cent of the overall music market in Australia.
That was an increase of four percentage points on the whole of last year.
ARIA chart and marketing committee chairman John Parker said combining both sets of retail figures was healthy for the local industry.
"The charts are a promotion tool for music," he said. "With the explosion of MP3 players, I think that digital sales will continue to grow at a rapid rate."
Twice as many digital tracks a week are bought in Australia than CD singles, although at the top end of the charts the No1 physical single outsells the top digital track by three to one.
The top of the new chart bears a striking resemblance to lastweek's conventional chart, with Thom, Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and Fergie in the top five.
Further down the ladder, however, the combined chart benefited one Australian band, Perth's Eskimo Joe.
Their song Black Fingernails, Red Wine dropped out of the conventional chart last week, but re-entered the combined chart atNo23.
New Zealand trio Evermore also re-entered the singles chart with their song Running.
Monday, October 02, 2006
A Vision of Peace: Regional Empowerment as a Tool for Mideast Conflict Resolution
Proposal for an Asia West Parliament, part of a comprehensive Middle East Peace Plan
an offering of Yuya Joseph, Canadian singer-writer
Shalom, Namaste, Tenaystilin, Inshallah
Purpose and Implementation Summary
Envision how a peaceful Middle East would look five years after an enduring agreement, and work backward from there to find some paths to reconciliation. Expanding economic activity and improving security are complementary objectives. The region has suffered from outside interference for so long that the idea of regional cooperation and empowerment is still met with some suspicion. There is the obvious Palestinian-Israeli battle, and the fault line within Islam, the Sunni-Shia divide. The idea that all these groups would converge in a parliament to settle differences through legislation may seem utopian but it is not. The need for representation and openness and justice are basic human wants, and being able to vote on who represents your country in an international forum provides both power and responsibility. Of course, in some countries candidate lists may at first be not be quite as representative as they should be, but over time those with fair elections prosper economically, so there is a built-in bias that will lure the best candidates.
To get the Asia West Parliament from vision to reality, it will first be necessary to have a long-term deal on a two-state solution, with massive international backing.
The criteria for the stages of the Road Map, the Oslo Accords and the Saudi Initiatives are all basic and fundamental to the progress of security negotiations and the implementation of peace in the Middle East. An end to terror and the strategies of violence, plus recognition of Israel’s right to exist and acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and UN resolutions are important milestones. With regard to the possible formation of a unity government in autumn 2006, international observers have to realize that Hamas faces an age-old political dilemna. They are at record lows in the polls, and yet a majority of voters polled say they don’t want to recognize Israel. Hamas fears losing even more public support, so the wording of the agreement should not be as crucial as the intent and the durability. For example, if Hamas were to agree to either the 1967 borders, or to Israel’s right to exist within borders “agreed to by Palestine and Israel and approved by the international community,” it wouldn’t be ideal but may allow them enough room to begin to lay down sectarian arms and start to build up the Palestinian nation through negotiations and compromise.
Some of the initial steps in the Road Map have already been completed, including the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the holding of democratic elections in Palestine. In the spirit of peace and goodwill towards Palestinians and Israelis, the very best elements can be synthesized from the various peace offerings to create optimism and energy across the region.
To an outside observer, it may seem that the Oslo Accords, the Road Map and the Saudi Initiative have all lacked traction and been ultimately disappointing. There are important lessons in all of their failures, and in each of their successes. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Jordan’s King Abdullah II were correct to recently suggest a consensus on initial borders be developed ahead of the major conference, as visualization of success often leads to realization of same. The purpose of this Israel-Palestine peace plan or proposal is to inject ideas of actual industrial, commercial and tourism development into the discussions of borders and security. Ontario can offer up some locations near Toronto for Israeli and Palestinian technocrats to attend a series of low-key meetings to draw up the initial borders in a spirit of cooperation. This would include a land bridge to provide contiguity between the West Bank and Gaza, and can be done as a key part of the groundwork preceding the signing ceremony to be held a month or two later. If Palestine is serious about peace, it is also time to get going with coinage portraying Yasser Arafat, with later issues possibly including other founders such as Habash, Rantisi, Zahar, and also someday, Abbas. The fact that not all of these men are popular in Israeli and western eyes doesn’t change the fact that Palestinians followed them. A suggested value for the Palestinian monetary unit could be one-fifth of a Euro, as that would avoid having to tie the new currency directly to Israeli or US exchange rates, though transparency would remain clear. Another possibility would be to link it to a basket based on a blend of local and international currencies. The latter strategy would be more expensive and perhaps not as economically and politically advantageous as tying to the multi-country Euro.
As for implementation of regional security, the Quartet (USA, Russia, EU, UN) can sponsor the peace conferences and finance and oversee on-the-ground developments, with input and assistance from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Although all Middle East peace plans are offered with tremendous goodwill, the potentially fatal flaw in two of the main current proposals may be their origins. The Quartet’s road map is perceived as being dictated from above; from the north and from the west. The Saudi initiative is considered more regional, but remains a contribution of the surrounding players, including Egypt and Jordan. It is good for others to help, and countries such as Canada, France, South Africa, India and Ethiopia must be encouraged to contribute their wisdom, skills and experience to help foster regional security and trade not just in Israel and Palestine, but also in Lebanon and Jordan. Other nearby nations such as Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia will benefit from the resultant higher living standards associated with greater peace and economic development.
The real and enduring peace deal must come from the hearts of Israelis and Palestinians, and for that to happen they must learn to embrace each other’s sad flaws as not so different from their own. Written another way, Israel must become more independent of USA-UK strategy and seek local solutions, while Palestine must look within for direction and leadership and ignore destructive forces trying to control events from other countries. There are fast-rising princes of peace in both Palestine and Israel, and it is time to let them do their magic.
A viable Palestinian economy is crucial to the two-state solution. It may take two or three years of planning and groundbreaking ceremonies to really get the engine humming with a full head of steam, but over a seven to twelve year stretch, Palestine could experience massive yet steady growth. Together with the effects of rebuilding efforts in Lebanon and the free market approach of Jordan, the entire region could be experiencing double-digit growth for decades.
Stage One – Truce Among Combatants, and Nationhood for Palestine
The twentieth century can be marked by severe trauma to both the Judaic and Palestinian populations, in addition to the mammoth man-made travesty known as Africa today. In the twenty-first century, we are faced with the global problems of starvation and malnourishment, and with the daily reality of ecological breakdown. It is time to be planting trees and building heat exchangers, not fighting the same war over and over again.
If humanity were to be continually distracted by war in the Holy Lands, it would be a travesty that would likely end our species and many other mammals’ existences on this planet. Our attention right now needs to be focused on global survival issues, such as ending war, pollution, hunger, thirst and starvation. We as a people need a directly elected Global Parliament almost as much as the Middle East needs a democratic Asia West Parliament; that will come in time, and Montreal would be an excellent home for that facility. Let us for now focus on the core of the issue, the root of the division, the crux of the problem: the Holy Lands.
If Abbas and Haniyeh are able to put together a unity government that can meet the minimal requirements of the Road Map and other peace plans, they will deserve international support. The leaders have stuck to the truce even when underlings were doing their utmost to break it. If Haniyeh and Mashal decide to put off recognition until after negotiations have been completed, they may be abandoning the peace process, for it is difficult to negotiate borders with someone who will not agree that you should have any. As an absolute minimum, as part of the long-term hudna that will advance Palestinian statehood, Hamas must agree to recognize that Israel has the right to exist within borders negotiated by Palestine and Israel and approved by the international community.
Though all of the Holy Lands are Sacred to Christians and Muslims, it is the Israelites as a people who have suffered when they were away from their home for too long; what was experienced cannot be described, and not just in Europe, as Jews were driven from many Arab lands also, and the persecution continued throughout the twentieth century. Much of Palestine has also endured many decades of pain. Children of Arafat have lived for half a century in their own diaspora, and it is time to give the younger generations some beacons of hope. Opportunities for training, jobs and housing must present themselves for the rising tide of young adults. There is enough great land for both Israel and Palestine to be cornerstones of Middle Eastern industry, trade, and tourism. It is time for healing, and time for peace.
As a prelude to the establishment of the Nation of Palestine, and of Israel signing a peace, security and trade agreement with Palestine and other nearby nations, it is proposed that Israel enter into a ten-year renewable truce with each of Hamas and Hezbollah. Recognized as organizations that were leaders in the battle for the establishment of a Palestinian state, they would each agree to retire from military activity upon its achievement. Members of these organizations would mostly be given asylum status but would have to abandon military pursuits and all violence, and become political, social and spiritual leaders; essentially agreeing to represent community concerns in a civil manner.
Israel isn’t just another nation state; it is the homeland of a people and a religion, so she shouldn’t shy away from signing a truce agreement with Sunni and Shia groups. It is now imperative for Judaic religious leaders in Israel and abroad to speak up about their desire for peace with neighbors; if precedents are required for guidance, it would be wise to study the reign of Ashoka, in ancient India. The reason for the proposed ten-year term is that in Islamic tradition, it is the maximum period of time allowed for a truce with a non-Muslim nation, though renewals are clearly acceptable, and have been successful in the past. When a nation wants to be respected for its deep faith, it must also honour the religion of its neighbors, which in this case is overwhelmingly Islamic, though Christians too have been brutalized by the crossfire.
It is a fact that there are deep scars in Palestine and Lebanon, and Israel and the world at large need to help with the healing. Seven decades ago Hitler and Mussolini began a wave of terror like the world had never seen, and one decade later we all began to slowly heal the damage inflicted by that madness. If nations such as Germany, Italy and Japan have been able to recover so well from shameful prejudice and violent anti-Semitism, it is likely that Israel’s neighbors can also be expected to prosper in a more tolerant, peaceful environment.
All parties to the agreement are advised to view the effectively twenty-year truce as a minimum duration of the desired peace, a way to generate even longer-term discussions and agreements while cooler heads are prevailing. It will be seen yet again that economic and social development can only become truly sustainable in an environment of glasnost and perestroika; the world spins every day and hard lessons are learned and relearned.
The sometimes seemingly insurmountable task of maintaining calm in the Middle East is in reality just a progression that every civilized planet must go through. Before global democracy and rule of the people can fully take root, there must be some sort of agreement on how to care for the Holy Lands. Jerusalem is the holiest city for Christians and Jews, and the third holiest for Muslims. Both Christians and Muslims owe some of their love of Jerusalem to that most celebrated Judaic persona ever, Ari Isa Jeshua Iyasus, Jesus of Nazareth. In any case, it is really only the Jews that find all of Israel and Judea to be sacred, ancestral lands, and this will never change. By agreeing to the provision of a nation state for Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank (and possibly including some of the Golan, see below), Israelis are acknowledging that even though their people once thrived in towns such as Shechem (now Nablus) and Jericho, these regions are now home to Palestinians, and will stay that way.
The example of Northern Ireland, after the IRA became a political rather than a military force, can provide lessons of transition. Even the conciliatory voices from inside the prisons are valuable, for these men have the respect of the street, and if they are preaching that it is time for Palestinian unity and statehood, now is the time to look within the nation for the answers. Foreign influence is desired only when it leads to improved welfare for Palestinians, and the destructive outside meddlers must soon be ignored.
Jordan’s peace and trade deals with Israel boosted economic activity and security; these and other precedents are to be studied for elements advantageous to resolution of our conflict. India and South Africa are democratic nations won by the majority through civil participation and non-violent protest, and the humanity that Gandhi and Mandela brought to the body politic are not to be ignored here.
A contiguous Palestinian state may be created via a land bridge above the southeast end of Gaza and southwest edge of the West Bank. The shape of this land will be wider where it joins Palestine, narrowest where it intersects Israel, via vehicle underpass (Stage Two) and rail overpass (Stage One). Palestine needs contiguity, but it also means that Israel loses a very small portion of her own contiguity; a workable Palestinian state requires this, and without healthy neighbors, anarchy will reign. The junction will be constructed so that neither Palestine nor Israel feels they have surrendered contiguity, with an internationalized area of highly secure bridges and underpasses allowing for uninterrupted travel within each nation.
This intersection can be looked at as a tremendous security risk, but also as a phenomenal social, cultural and commercial opportunity. There could be no passable borders at all at first, and in fifteen years we may see an international airport and rail connections; a thriving new gateway to Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and more.
In exchange for a general amnesty and an agreement for the establishment of the State of Palestine, Hamas and Hezbollah would each recognize Israel, renounce all violence everywhere, and express their desire in speech and written treaties for a minimum of twenty years of peace. With Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese political and religious leaders signing the ten-year renewable truce with Hamas and Hezbollah, this will complete the first stage of the road map and the next phase must happen immediately. Ideally both would agree to help Palestine, but even if Hezbollah were to decline and Hamas were to go it alone, partnering with Fatah and other groups to create a peaceful new nation state, miracles have been wrought from less. In either case, the representative local parties will have agreed on the essential terms, and the United Nations will declare Palestine a full nation state with regular membership privileges.
As a way to ensure that the nation can be secure for generations, I would like to ask these five countries to each donate US$1 billion dollars to the Palestine national treasury within ninety days of statehood being declared by the United Nations: Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Japan and the USA. This could be done with a $100 million deposit from each of the five nations, $50 mil to the national pension and $50 mil to the treasury for operating expenses (government salaries and programs), followed by $20 mil (10 + 10) payments each quarter for next 45 quarters, or 3.75 years.
Stage Two – Regional Peace, Security and Trade Agreement
Subsequent to the truce and the achievement of nationhood for Palestine, concurrent with border talks and to be coordinated all within weeks rather than months, a five-year, renewable peace, security and trade pact will be entered into among Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and if conditions can be met and an understanding achieved, Syria. This four or five-nation landmark agreement will ensure non-aggression, opening up of markets, and the building of new roads, railways, seaports and airports. A host or hosts will be required for these talks, and it may be best for the negotiations to progress through several phases, perhaps beginning in Beirut, moving on to Damascus, then being nearly finalized in Paris and London, fine-tuned in Montreal and New York before the signing ceremony in Toronto.
Now, going forward, the key to maintaining regional peace, security and economic development will be long-term investment initiatives. It is imperative that Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahia, Sikh and other faiths and secular folk all invest together in the future of Palestine. This will include grants, loans, equity and contributions of goods and services by individuals, corporations, nation states, foundations and other NGOs. A message to you, Palestine: If you build your nation as an open, democratic force in the region, you will become extremely attractive to Arab and foreign investors. It will be worth it to have some Israeli and other foreigners living in Palestine and paying double taxes, for this will provide a generous revenue stream plus prove to the world that Palestine, though newly a nation state, is already a mature country where people are respected and safe.
The initial lands of Palestine will include the West Bank and Gaza, and if Syria agrees, the Shaba Farms and the northeast section of the Golan. If Israel finds a way to strike a peace deal with Syria, they can then ask the USA to help find a longer term peace and security deal with Iran. If an arrangement can be found to develop the area rather than wage war upon it, Iran will probably emerge with the largest number of seats in the proposed Asia West Parliament (see Stage Three, below).
The Shaba farms / NE Golan region may be earmarked for construction and development before new settlers move in, with 35,000 homes being built in three new connected towns, one with 15,000 new homes and two each with 10,000. These could be 3 and 4 bedroom primarily townhomes but some will be one, two and three bedroom apartments, and a smaller number will be 4 and 5 bedroom detached houses. The apartments could be built first and then lived in by the workforce who would build the townhomes and detached houses they would later move into with their families, freeing up the apartments for more transferees from refugee camps. The architecture should represent regional excellence and the main streets should allow for shops with apartments above. The commercial activity could consist of agricultural farms and town markets, plus light industrial such as manufacturing and assembling, plus retail, professional, community and tourism services.
It is suggested that an international coalition (eg. G8, EU, UN, IFC etc.) be put together to raise the estimated $4 to $4.5 billion these homes will cost (plus infrastructure development expenses of a similar amount for roads, sewers, electricity), with Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese contractors bidding together with companies from Canada, France, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the USA, Russia and other nations to ensure the highest quality buildings. As the project is at the juncture of four nations and very close to two more, skilled tradesmen and laborers can be easily hired from Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Development funding, technological expertise and institution and infrastructure-building assistance will be provided to all treaty signatories, with special emphasis on Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. It will be worthwhile to invest heavily in the first seven or eight communities such as this proposed for Shaba, for after that, organic growth will be occurring that can maintain some of the momentum originally supplied by international support, NGOs and first-mover entrepreneurs.
The goal of this agreement is to bring peace and prosperity to the entire region, but considering where Palestine is starting from, she will likely have to be among the leaders in regional economic growth for twelve to fifteen years for this to fully succeed. If Palestine is eventually granted one-half to two-thirds of the Golan (primarily the middle, eastern and southern sections) in addition to the Shaba Farms region, and these lands are first linked by rail and later by highway to the West Bank and Gaza, it is conceivable that she could become the second (after Israel) most powerful economy in the region within fifteen to twenty years. This is not utopian or even viewing with rose-colored glasses; Palestine has the double benefit of being Israel’s closest neighbor and also being a natural conduit for Arab businesspeople in or near to the region. Palestine may well become not just the Arab gateway to Israel, but also the Western gateway to Arab nations such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
A high-speed Palestine National Railway can be constructed joining Damascus to Cairo via Nablus, Jericho and Rafah, with offshoots hooking up Amman and Gaza City. The tracks would run south from Damascus into Palestine along the edge of Shaba Farms, roll along roughly parallel to the Jordan River, jutting southwest to cross a small portion of Israel and entering the West Bank at it’s most northern central point. From there the PNR will travel south via Nablus and Jericho and hook up with the Amman line, then exit the west bank south of Hebron, crossing over to Gaza just north of Rafah, junctioning with the Gaza City line near the airport and continuing on from there to Cairo.
If a five-nation (Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria) peace, security and trade deal can be agreed upon and signed, the initial Nation of Palestine is proposed to include Gaza and the West Bank, plus the Shaba Farms region and the northeastern section of the Golan. The negotiations over final border status will include a second phase to be finalized within three to five years, whereby Palestine will be awarded additional lands in Golan and the Negev, for having achieved peace and development goals. A railway (Palestine National Railway, or PNR) will then connect the three land groupings of Golan, West Bank and Gaza. In Phase Three a four to six-lane Trans-Palestine Highway can be built, almost entirely within Palestine and roughly along the route of the PNR. This would provide seamless travel and commerce from the Shaba Farms region all the way to Rafah and the thriving new metropolis of Khanara, or Khan Arafat.
In mid to northern Gaza, redevelopment of Gaza City and its environs is crucial to the social and economic health of both Israel and Palestine. A series of waterfront and inland projects can be connected by modernized public transit, with community services such as new and refurbished schools and hospitals being the necessary foundation to restore the area to attract the business and tourism investments it requires to regain robust growth. A community-based redevelopment initiative, combined with open private sector bidding, is likely the smoothest way forward for northern Gaza, with inner city rebuilding providing a healthy complement to newer developments in the suburbs and in the south.
Ramallah, Nablus and Jericho all require attention and infrastructure improvements, and these metro areas will be much easier to develop once they are part of the new nation state.
Which brings us to the delicate issue of Jerusalem. If God were here to comment, it is likely that no politicians would be overly welcome in the holiest of cities. In the near term it looks like the wall will separate the capitals of two nations, but it is doubtful that this is the best solution for the metropolis and the world. A divided city may provide some temporary resolution but in the longer term it would be better for Jeru to be unified, even if that meant that the municipality was internationalized, and the capitals of Israel and Palestine had been transferred to Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
The building of a new city in southern Gaza, between Khan Younis and Rafah, will help restore health and vitality to all Palestinians, and even inject some life into nearby Egypt. To be constructed from northwest of the airport to southwest of Khan Younis, the project is for now named Khanara (or longer form, Khan Arafat). This new city is envisioned to include a university, a hospital and a beachfront area, with all of these amenities radiating out from two central pyramids. The inner, downtown one situated at the center of the commercial district will be slightly taller than the one closest to the campus and the shoreline. Educational, entertainment and tourist facilities reach toward the water, while mid-rise office buildings and apartment and condo towers can be constructed inland and outwards from the two showpiece buildings, which should have mostly unobscured views of the sea.
Maybe it will take ten billion of public sector funding and five billion dollars of private money, but for a new city of peace in the Holy Lands, it will surely be worth that and many lives more. It is estimated that 85,000 homes to house an estimated 320,000 to 425,000 people can be built within eight to ten years, with the highest densities close to downtown, and lower rise neighborhoods stretching out towards Rafah, the airport and Khan Younis. In addition, the downtown areas of both ancient Rafah, and the more recently inhabited refugee city, Khan Younis, will each need to be redeveloped and connected by public and private transit to Khanara and each other.
To the north of the new city, along some of the beaches west and northwest of Younis, will be built the community of Isa Beach, with modern tourist facilities for travelers from all over the world who are coming to see the Holy lands. The seaside amenities of Khanara and Isa Beach will become new ports of call for global pilgrims of many faiths.
In Lebanon, the international community must undertake massive infrastructure rebuilding and the redevelopment of housing, and this must be performed as part of wide-ranging cooperation. One-off deals don’t bridge the gap; peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan were crucial watersheds, but without a Palestinian state, in each case it was clear that war would go on, in some form or other. The Cedar Revolution embraces non-violence and a civil society, and the world must support these positive movements. Faoud Siniora, Chibli Mallat, Walid Jumblatt, Mahmoud Abbas, even Yousef and Haniyeh and other powerful leaders are now willing to sit at the negotiating table, so let’s get cooking!
For peace to spread throughout the region, it will be important to stay focused on where help is needed most. In Syria, significant improvements must be funded for the promotion of democratic institutions via educational and technological assistance. Modernization of Damascus’ transportation and communications facilities plus development of the area west of the city are priorities that the international community can assist with. Even the terrorist organizations not directly affiliated with Hamas or Hezbollah, but who call Damascus their headquarters, will have to either join in the peace initiative, desist from agitation, or leave. If the Syrian PM can become a broker in peace as he has been in covert war, then he will have helped his nation regain status that had been lost, in the eyes of Arab countries and in the international community. If the Asia West Parliament is initially slated for the Syrian side of the border on the road from Damascus to Beirut, it is a powerful olive branch that can be utilized by the reigning family In Syria and the Imams in Iran, and also will be a signal of hope for many of the long-suffering citizens of Iraq.
How will Iran react if Israel and Palestine form a longer-term peace, security and trade deal with their neighbors, including Syria? Iran can spin Hezbollah’s truce and the establishment of a Palestinian state into a victory parade in Tehran. The announcement of the Asia West Parliament with Iran’s large representation will also be something to celebrate. This will give them time to analyze the shifting sands and their loss of direct control over Syria, much like Syria has had to digest the fact that Lebanon has gone and will never fully return to the fold. In any case Iran will not overtly oppose a peace deal that establishes a Palestinian state and an essentially twenty-year truce. Regarding the latter, many mullahs will be secretly happy knowing they will have Israel to blame their problems on for at least another twenty years, and probably a lot, lot longer.
Stage Three – Establishment of Asia West Parliament
The western portion of Asia (an area commonly referred to as the Middle East) and the northeast portion of Africa (eg. Sudan and Egypt) is perhaps the last remaining region on earth where large numbers of people still believe that violence is an effective means of solving political problems, so the example of the peaceful transfer of power as occurs in democratic nations will have widespread appeal. One way to allocate the seats would be to withhold a portion of the representation until it could be proven that there was representative democracy on at least three levels, and that the campaigning and voting for the regional congress was open and unhindered.
While it is true that hatred and bitterness are not likely to disappear overnight, healthier conditions can be created that allow these corrosive symptoms to dissipate over years and decades, and for genuine cooperation to return. There was a time when Muslims and Jews ruled the world together for almost four hundred years, during the seventh to eleventh centuries. Northern Ireland is a more recent example of a nation overcoming deep-rooted violence to emerge as a participatory democracy, and other countries and regions that have recovered well from wars should also be studied.
Dearly desired at this time are any efforts that regional and international partners can put forth that promote dialogue rather than push war. Ideally, every nation would have some form of direct democratic representation on as many as five levels: local / municipal, regional / county, provincial / state, national, and continental / multinational.
Encouraging West Asian citizens to vote on their representatives to a new regional multinational parliament would instill both cooperation and participation in decision making, where they are clearly needed most. This is not a magic pill and will not transform societies overnight, but having a say in how their region is represented could lead to people experiencing the value of this form of confrontational yet nonviolent communication, and many would likely want to experience more elections. The Palestinians held exemplary elections yet still learned a hard lesson when they voted for Hamas and war, because they got what they voted for. If Abbas and Haniyeh can put together a Unity Government with Fatah sharing power alongside moderate and reformed Hamas parliamentarians, plus key technocrats and international spokesmen such as the highly regarded Saab Erekat, then Abbas and the PM will have the authority and respect required to launch the new nation of Palestine into full statehood.
A four-nation agreement between Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan is not difficult to imagine, but many readers are likely to have problems envisioning the currently pro-terrorist Baath regime in Syria ever agreeing to a meaningful peace deal.
OK, first picture a scenario where both Hamas and Hezbollah leaders are about to sign peace treaties with Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, and word hits Damascus, directly north of Amman; Jordan is getting in on a four-nation trade bloc. If instead of being left on the sidelines, Syria were to agree to implement democratic initiatives at the regional and national levels, and to grant the Palestinians the Shaba farms plus a good portion of the Golan lands, then Syria would receive massive development funding and a full endorsement as host of the proposed Asia West Parliament. This new regional facility would be constructed along the Damascus – Beirut highway, west of Damascus near the Lebanese border. If the five nations in the agreement and the international community all support Syria as host of the new house of representatives, then the West Asian powerhouses such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq are unlikely to dissent.
It is up to the Quartet and partners to help both Iran and Syria see the wisdom in creating the Asia West Parliament; Iran will likely be allocated the most seats, plus regional offices, and Syria will be first choice as host, but each must first commit to peace and democracy for the entire region.
What’s in it for Israel? From Herzl to Ben Gurion, Meir to Begin to Sharon, it has been a long, tough battle. People on both sides of the wall deserve peace. By accepting defined borders and supporting Palestinian and regional economic growth, Israel will have created a new bridge to the Arab world, one so powerful it could replace all those shattered since 1948 by confrontational and violent types on both sides of the conflict. Everyone can surely anticipate the dividends of peace, but let’s go further back to learn from history and avoid repeating fateful errors.
Two-thirds of the way through the first century, the Jerusalem and Judaic communities were deeply divided along lines that have some parallels today. The secular Jews of twenty-first-century Israel are reminiscent of both the Sadducees and the Nazarenes, the followers of the Way who would later become known as Christians, in that all of these groups have preached internationalism, tolerance, reconciliation and respect for other ethnicities and faiths.
The devout but mainstream Israelis can be likened to the Pharisees and the more responsible of the Essenes, as both then and now they are strong believers in the Torah and the Law. These communities embody both the stability and the establishment of the faith, and believe wholly in what is written.
The downfall of Jerusalem over nineteen hundred years ago was due to the disintegration that followed the rise to power of the Zealots and their mercenary, misguided foot soldiers, the Idumaeans. For over five decades the Sadducees had been able to maintain some elements of self-rule by ensuring cooperation of major Jerusalem and Judea stakeholders with reasonable requests of the Roman governors. While it is true that Nero and Festus passed the point of no return in their blatant disrespect for Judeans, but if you look at the three to four years previous to that dishonorable attempt to steal the Temple treasury, you can see that a lot of the rot had come from within. By the time Titus laid siege to the Holiest of Cities, many leading Judaic families had already left for Rome and other European destinations.
The flies in the ointment who exhibit Zealot-like qualities are the fundamentalists on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide. When Ariel Sharon returned Gaza to the Palestinians, he changed the impact of his own career and the future of two nations, for this one act signified two things. First, the dreamers of Eretz Israel, who wanted it all and at any price, were finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, never again to be taken seriously. People outside the region are mostly not aware how important this was, but Palestinians and Arabs in the Holy Lands had believed that Israel really did want it all, and up to that point the facts on the ground kept proving the conspiracy theorists to be correct. It was a watershed event for Israel and Palestine, and the crown on Sharon’s career.
The second major significance of the Gaza pullout involved timing, and together with the building of the wall, indicated that the end game had begun. The wall and the Gaza withdrawal are each partly designed to permanize the two-state concept. Those two steps were an attempt to start dividing the land into two nations, and it is a process that will continue with some outposts being abandoned and other unsupportable West Bank communities being resettled inside Israel. Palestine should try and keep some of these settlements, to help build a modern, integrated nation, and for the lucrative tax and consumer base.
The coming of the Asia West Parliament will inspire much progress over the next twenty to twenty-five years. If a regional desire for more democracy arises, the Quartet and other global powers should do everything in their power to promote this development. It may mean more open elections coming to Egypt, and even the possibility of Saudi Arabia evolving into a real democratic nation state, with only the area around Mecca and Medina surviving as a theocracy.
The establishment of an Asia West Parliament in southwestern Syria, on this road between Beirut and Damascus, is therefore advised for the security and prosperity of the region. It is suggested that this home of governance be built about 10 to 30 kilometers from the Lebanon border, possibly near the ancient village of al-Is, said to be the former home of a first-century Herodian king named Aristobulus, who was known for his wise, peaceful ways. If Syria isn’t amenable to regional democratic and peace developments, alternative locations for the parliament would be on the same road, but another twenty to thirty kilometers to the west, on the Lebanese side of the border, or possibly in Jordan near Amman.
Another scenario would see a four-nation deal done as a first stage, and then King Abdullah II of Jordan can sponsor both Egypt and Syria as the next partners to enter the new peace arrangement and emerging economic market.
Though Lebanon and Jordan would each make exemplary hosts for the Asia West Parliament, selecting Syria as host nation has distinct advantages for the region and for all humanity. With Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon already forming an oasis of tolerance, adding Syria to the progressive zone widens peace efforts and helps bring Sunni-Shia concerns to the negotiating table, and off the battlefield. The alternative, of ostracizing and alienating Syria, could help turn that great nation into a battleground for sectarian and ideological concerns. By including Syria in both the security and the economic blocks, and by locating the regional parliament here, livability in the entire area is improved.
If regional stability is not restored, then Palestinian nationhood could be delayed further, and nobody wants another Baghdad or Gaza where secure Damascus now sits. Why should the hopes and dreams of Palestinian statehood and Lebanese rebuilding be held hostage to wider conflicts? The answer is they shouldn’t, and it is wise to start at the core.
Under this proposed comprehensive regional peace, security, prosperity and democracy plan, each West Asian nation will receive between 2 and 15 parliamentary seats in the Asia West Parliament / Parliament Asia Ouest, to be elected by popular ballot.
Asia West Parliament – Parliament Asia Ouest Very Preliminary Allocation Estimate
Saudi Arabia 12
Other likely members of the parliament, who would be allocated two to four seats each, are nations such as Georgia, Armenia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain.
Honorary members, with representatives to have voting rights and to be elected by their national populace:
Egypt 2 (one man, one woman)
Pakistan 2 (one man, one woman)
Afghanistan 2 (one man, one woman)
Note: If Turkey joins the European Union and is deemed ineligible for full membership in AWP / PAO, then she will gain the same honorary status as Egypt and the others, and will send two elected members.
Total estimated representation would initially be estimated at 130 to155 members, to be elected by direct public voting. Construction on the parliament buildings is proposed to begin in late 2007, with the first election to be held in autumn of 2009, for sitting beginning winter 2010.
NOTE: Feel free to post commentary, suggestions, corrections, additions, and omissions; all constructive feedback will be greatly appreciated. I am especially seeking to hear from those who love both Israel and Palestine, and from any who know of similar proposals, or any other innovative plans for regional economic growth. Peace, blessings and good health, God willing; Shalom, Namaste, Tenaystilin, Inshallah.
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