University News

Panelists address Middle East conflict

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seven panelists debated challenges to Israeli-Palestinian relations last night in the final event of a two-day conference titled “Israelis and Palestinians: Working Together for a Better Future.” The conference also included “Neighbors,” a theater production Sunday night by the Galilee Multicultural Theater, and information sessions on various organizations working toward peace in the Middle East.

David Jacobson, professor of Judaic studies, organized the conference and moderated the panel. He asked the panelists to talk about the “most likely scenario to unfold” in Israeli-Palestinian relations and whether events are moving toward a one- or two-state solution.

Eyal Naveh, co-director of the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East, suggested the term “solution” be avoided. “There is no solution to the human condition,” he said, explaining that people, states and regions exist in conflict all over the world. “The issue is how to manage this conflict — to move from a paradigm of conflict solution to conflict management.”

But Hanna Siniora, co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, rejected this terminology. “What we have now is management and not a resolution,” he said.

Gershon Baskin, co-director and founder of Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, said the recent uprisings in the Middle East made him realize how difficult it is to make predictions. “People are going out on the street and making changes,” he said. “If anyone believes this will stop at West Bank and Gaza, they are greatly mistaken.”

“I would like to be controversial tonight,” Siniora said, eliciting a few laughs from the audience and other panelists, “but also constructive.” He pointed to the example of the Swiss Confederation, where French, German and Italian people live together in a “viable, productive and prosperous” way and proposed the idea of a three-state solution with a future Palestinian state, an Israeli state and a separate state for Palestinian Arabs that are Israeli citizens.

“It is the first time that I have brought such an idea out into the open,” Siniora said, “because I’m frustrated. I’ve been working on this for almost 40 years, and we’re going backward instead of forward.”

Galia Golan, a professor in the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, an Israeli college, said though there is a sense that the option of a two-state solution is disappearing, Israeli national polls indicate there has been no decline in support.

“The only thing in the way is action by the Israeli government,” she said. She added recent events in the Arab world will strengthen the resolve to settle the conflict.

“What I see happening is an awakening of youth — in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt,” said Maysa Baransi-Siniora, co-director of All for Peace Radio. “I would like to see that happen in Israel — for the youth to say, ‘Enough, I’ve had it with this occupation.’ The power of the people will eventually come and it’s going to be very soon.” She added she hopes Israeli youth vote for a leader who is committed to solving this conflict.

The U.S. can play a large role in pressuring the Israeli government to reach a two-state solution, Golan said. She added during the question-and-answer session following the panel that the Israeli government is ideologically opposed to such an idea, though they pay it lip service.

But, Siniora said, “We can’t expect the U.N. or U.S. to do it for us.”

Gorshon said he was disappointed President Barack Obama has not done more about Israeli-Palestinian issues, but he hopes the Palestinian people will rise to the occasion. “When they protest nonviolently, they will be shut down by the Israeli army, which will respond violently,” he said. “We have to be on the front line with them. Instead of just pushing the ‘like’ button on Facebook, we need to be on the streets.”

Though the discussion was serious, it had lighthearted moments — Siniora conceded he was intentionally being “provocative” so the discussion would be less “boring,” the other panelists finished for him.

Jacobson said the conference and panel were held to “challenge the polarized discourse” regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations on campus, because “Brown students take extreme positions.”

He said he wished more students had attended the conference, adding he hopes to have similar events in the future.

The conference was partly inspired by Avi Schaefer ’13, who died last year and had suggested the idea. “Avi understood the importance of bringing people on different sides of the conflict together,” said Yoav Schaefer, Avi’s twin brother, who attended the event. “This conference is the kind of thing he was working towards creating at Brown — an event that provides for acceptance and mutual recognition of the other.”