Is the Middle East conflict
past the point of no return?
by Matt Kelly
professors William Quandt (left), David Waldner (center) and
Peter Ochs wrestled with several aspects of the Palestinian
and Israeli question during a panel discussion in Wilson Hall
on April 9, attended by some 75 people, mostly students.
By Matt Kelly
was in short supply in Wilson Hall April 9 as three University
scholars addressed prospects for peace in the Middle East and
U.S. foreign policy in the region.
Quandt, vice provost for international affairs, David Waldner,
associate professor of politics,
and Peter Ochs, the Bronfman Professor of Judaic Studies, wrestled
with several aspects of the Palestinian and Israeli question.
All expressed pessimism, with some fearing things had gone beyond
the point of no return.
a former diplomat in the region and a member of the National Security
Council during the Carter Administration, outlined several areas
that he said must be addressed in any peace initiative.
must be an end to the killing and assurances to both sides that
their differences can be settled through negotiation. He suggested
that Israel show the Palestinians that it is willing to withdraw
from occupied territory through negotiation. Jerusalem would have
to be shared as the capital to both Israel and a Palestinian state,
he said, and the issue of refugee rights would have to be resolved.
Quandt predicted these steps would draw mainstream support from
both Israelis and Palestinians, he warned that both sides needed
to prepare for extremists from both camps who would try to halt
and Palestinians do not have to like each other, he said, but
they must conclude that they can live next to each other.
Bush should also reassess his approach, Quandt said; early on,
he made some erroneous assumptions about how active the U.S. had
to be in the process. Bush also needs to jettison the idea that
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is not someone with whom to work,
who has traveled widely in the area, said he feels hopeless because
the people on the ground do not trust each other.
people who looked at each other had a softness in their faces,
he said. Now they are in a world of disagreements and increasing
hatreds. They read the worst into everything.
asked the audience of about 75 people how many wanted peace in
the region; most raised their hands. In response to further questions,
about two-thirds said they felt rage at what the Israeli government
was doing to Palestinians now, and about a third to a half felt
rage at the suicide bombers.
that there was little overlap in response to the last two questions,
he suggested that those who admitted feeling rage are potential
killers. Those in the U.S. who express rage, particularly American
Jews and Muslims, cannot offer a reasoned third voice in the conflict,
is part of the present, and the issue goes beyond the Oslo treaty,
the 1967 boundaries and the 1948 creation of Israel, all the way
back to 600 A.D., Ochs said.
he said, have an infinite capacity to make things worse. I
dont think we are at the bottom yet. We have to understand
the desperation of those who have been wronged.
who described himself as a natural pessimist, said there will
be no stable peace in the Middle East until the Israeli settlements
in the occupied territories are torn down, and he predicted that
wont happen without U.S. intervention.
current balance of power greatly favors Israel, Waldner explained,
leading the Israelis to feel no need to compromise. Yet while
Israel is being intransigent, the next generation of Palestinians
has become radicalized, with better weapons and a desire to dismantle
the Jewish state. Without some sort of settlement, resistance
will continue after Arafat is gone, he predicted.
disagreed that U.S. intervention is necessary. Without it, both
sides will see that they have to make space for each other, he
said. They will reach peace from exhaustion, when they realize
that violence does not work.
the U.S. has a special relationship with Israel, and as such is
the only country that can influence it, he said. He dismissed
the notion of United Nations intervention, noting that the current
Israeli government frequently does not listen to its only supporter
and would ignore the U.N. The U.S., he said, must convince Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to stop being the bully boy,
perhaps using the threat of discontinuing U.S. aid as a stick.
lamented some missed opportunities. Sharons election short-circuited
negotiations that many believe were within several weeks of an
agreement, he said, and former President Clintons 11th-hour
peace initiative came too late.
agreed that it is harder to get a peace deal with a right-wing
government in place in Israel, but he said that the electorate
moves to the right when buses are being blown up.
lively discussion centered on the press, which was excoriated
for being either pro- or anti-Israel, depending upon the speaker.
Some saw media bias in references to Palestinian suicide bombers
as terrorists, while referring to Israeli army
action or Israeli incursion.