April 19-25, 2002
Back Issues
New board members tapped
U.Va. to develop state-of-the-art teacher ed program
Is the Middle East conflict past the point of no return?
Athletics to host faculty, staff

Restored West Pavilion Gardens turn 50

Historic Bolivar artifacts donated in honor of Jefferson-era connection
Hot Links -- Garden Week
Is the Middle East conflict past the point of no return?
Photo by Matt Kelly
U.Va. 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

Optimism 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.

William 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.

Quandt, 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.

There 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.

While 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 negotiations.

Israelis and Palestinians do not have to like each other, he said, but they must conclude that they can live next to each other.

President 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, Quandt said.

Ochs, who has traveled widely in the area, said he feels hopeless because the people on the ground do not trust each other.

“The 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.”

He 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.

Noting 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, he said.

History 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.

Humans, he said, have an infinite capacity to make things worse. “I don’t think we are at the bottom yet. We have to understand the desperation of those who have been wronged.”

Waldner, 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 won’t happen without U.S. intervention.

The 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.

Quandt 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.”

Nevertheless, 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.

Quandt lamented some missed opportunities. Sharon’s election short-circuited negotiations that many believe were within several weeks of an agreement, he said, and former President Clinton’s 11th-hour peace initiative came too late.

Ochs 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.

A 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.”


© Copyright 2002 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

UVa Home Page UVa Events Calendar Top News UVa Home Page