The Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to either be discussed through explosive arguments or avoided altogether because of its complicated, controversial nature. Those involved with either side of the conflict constantly dispute the facts and history of the issue, while the media focuses on the divide separating the two opinions. Last Tuesday, May 15, the Anwar Sadat Fred Miller annual lecture presented a different analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Union community. Two Middle East experts, Gaith al-Omari and David Makovsky, came to offer insight.
Each presented their opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and shared a rare look into the negotiation process behind closed doors between policy makers. al-Omari currently is the Executive Director at the American Task Force on Palestine. Previously he served as an advisor to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Makovsky is a Ziegler Fellow and director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East peace process.
Each offered similar opinions on what all parties involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must achieve in order to move forward with a stable peace plan for the future.
Both Makovsky and al-Omari made statements outlining the commonalities of policy makers on both sides of the issue. Each noted that both Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials according to official policy support the creation of two separate states that co-exist with their own sovereignty. Those involved in the peace process must be thoroughly committed to the cause and work for an agreement not only in a time of conflict or emergency. Policy makers from both Palestinian and Israeli sides have consistently agreed on more arrangements than those who have opinions but are not directly involved in the issue. Behind closed doors policy makers have agreed on terms like agreeing upon the nature of two separate Palestinian and Israeli states. Both concurred that those on either side of the issue will never agree on the facts and change their feelings about their harsh past. To Israelis, 1948 was a triumphant year when the State of Israel became a reality. To Palestinians 1948 is Al-Nakba, or the catastrophe of the Israeli victory which resulted in tragedy. The way to move forward, according to the experts, is to not dwell on the harsh sentiments of the past and understand that each side has its accepted reality which motivates them. To policy makers, one does not have to be exclusively pro-Israel or pro-Palestine.
Pro-Israel does not equate to being anti-Palestine and vise versa. Policy makers that stand in the center of the issue categorize being pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian together. al-Omari and Makovsky commented on how the unity on this concept that exist on the high political level does not seem to translate onto college campuses. Makovsky said that usually college students hold progressive opinions when it comes to the conflicts in the Middle East, but “college campuses are behind the curve by 30 years.”
Makovsky, along with al-Omari, criticized the wide divide and separation between students who are pro-Israel and those who are pro-Palestine and said it does not reflect the opinions of the policy makers who negotiate the issues behind closed doors. In actuality, policy makers that hold moderate opinions must work together and cooperate. Both Makovsky and al-Omari pointed out that as one moves away from those most impacted and involved in the Israeli-Palestinian issue the more the two sides become combative, conflictive and polarized. Those on the periphery of the issue tend to have less of a willingness to work together with those who hold different affiliations and realize the future with two successful states.
One question heard from a student was “what can we do here at Union to aid the peace process?” al-Omari told a story of how he formed relationships with current Israeli policy makers when they were both young and held deputy positions. After all the deputy officials got kicked out of closed door negotiations between prominent officials the deputies would bond over coffee and their own personal lives. He said we must foster relationships outside of debate and conflict in order to realize a shared goal. He followed saying faculty must foster an open environment for new opinions to form.
Both closed saying that there is no way to assure peace for the future but there is a way to assure that there is a consistent effort to develop and foster negotiations and peace talks.