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PLO envoy urges nonviolence in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Areikat calls for end to military aggression, details Palestinian goals for peace negotiations

Speaking to a packed Metcalf Auditorium Wednesday, Maen Areikat, chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s delegation to the United States, discussed how an “end to all historical claims in the region” can be achieved through a two-state solution.

Organized by J Street U Brown and co-sponsored by the Watson Institute for International Studies, the Middle East Studies Initiative and Brown/RISD Hillel, Areikat’s talk was entitled "Prospects for Peace after Gaza."

“The only way Israel can guarantee its safety is through peace with Palestine. Forget about (the Islamic State), forget about Iran. … It can only come through the people committed to this two-state solution, living side by side in peace and security,” Areikat said.

Areikat has held his current role since 2008. Before his position in Washington, he had worked in the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department since 1998, where he served in peace talks. Areikat received a Bachelor of Science in finance from Arizona State University and a MBA from Western International University, as well as diplomatic training at the Ministry of External Affairs in Ottawa and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Shelby Centofanti ’15, president of Brown’s J Street U, began the talk by describing J Street U as a pro-Israel, pro-two state solution and pro-peace organization. She urged the crowd to “truly engage” with Areikat, as someone “who engages in the conflict every day.”

Richard Locke, director of the Watson Institute, then introduced Areikat and again asked for the crowd’s consideration of the issues at hand, labeling the talk a “high-valence” event with the possibility for high emotional stakes.

Areikat’s speech focused on reaffirming the PLO’s commitment to a peaceful solution, with a two-state solution based on 1967 borders. He also called on Israeli leaders to allow Palestinians to pursue political sovereignty peacefully.

Israeli security will come quickest through doing “away with past history and to not try to control me by force against my will,” he said. “We want to be a strong neighbor to Israel like Canada is” to the United States, he added.

Areikat also described his initial dismissal of Israeli security concerns over an independent Palestine but explained that over the course of time, he realized how Israel’s “painful history” leads to justified and legitimate fears.

“We want a non-militarized state, with no offensive military,” only with enough to “protect our border and people, and keep peaceful control over our nation,” he said, adding that Palestinians are currently surrounded by countries with “far greater militaries” than they could ever form.

Areikat cited the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence, which he described as “the Historic Compromise” to accept a dissolution of historic Palestine in order to achieve peace.

“We are still waiting for Israel to accept the solution,” he said, suggesting a split capital with East Jerusalem in Palestine and West Jerusalem in Israel, along with minor reciprocal land swaps to secure borders.

On the refugee crisis, he called for Israel to “acknowledge” the “780,000 refugees that fled their homes in 1948,” without needing to fully solve the “diaspora of the Palestinians.”

The bulk of his talk focused on the need to demilitarize the conflict, as Israel “will never solve the problem using military means.” Referring to the recent Gaza War this summer, he described the “scenes of destruction” which only “led to a hardening of feelings from both parties.”

“Today Israel is not safer than in 1989, nor four years ago. Ten years ago, we did not see these external actors and players threatening to destabilize the region” like today, he said. “We will not continue to allow Israel to treat the Palestinian people the way they have been treated. … We will take whatever peaceful venues we can to form a two-state solution.”

Before the question-and-answer session, a student organizer who helped moderate said questions must first be formulated alongside a moderator to be asked, and anyone making overtly aggressive or threatening questions would be asked to leave.

The questions for Areikat focused on U.S. approaches to solving the crisis and the reconciliation process between the PLO and Hamas, an organization which currently controls the Gaza Strip.

When asked about anti-Semitism among people in Palestine, he described the conflict as the source of tension and proposed removing religion from what should be a purely political discussion. Areikat also acknowledged the distinction between sentiments that are anti-Israeli occupation and those that are anti-Semitic.

“You don’t have to be anti-Israel,” he said, “to be pro-Palestine.”

 

A previous version of this article misstated the name of the organization hosting the lecture. It is J Street U Brown, not J Street U. The article also incorrectly stated that the lecture was part of a "Prospects for Peace after Gaza" lecture series. In fact, that was the title of the lecture, which was a standalone event. Due to an editing error, the article also misstated Shelby Centofanti's class year. She is a member of the class of 2015, not 2015.5. The Herald regrets the errors.



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