“I have the experience but I don’t have the ceremony,” announced Ambassador Alon Pinkas, Israeli Counsel General of New York, as he began an explanation of the current state of Israeli affairs last evening.
Titled “The Middle East After Israeli Elections: Thoughts on the Past and Prospects for the Future,” Pinkas gave two lectures in the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium of Goldwin Smith Hall; the first one in Hebrew and the second in English.
Prof. David I. Owen, near eastern studies, introduced Pinkas citing his background as chief-of-staff to Shlomo Ben Ami and David Levi, both former Israeli ministers of foreign affairs. Prior to being named head of Israel’s New York consulate last year, Pinkas served as foreign policy advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and political advisor to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
The ambassador began his lecture by outlining the current regional political situation in Israel and separating the issues into three separate circles of conflict which influence the peace process today.
The first element impeding the peace process is an inner conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians regarding the Zionist movement and the Palestinian national liberation movement. The second contributor is an international conflict involving the ring of states bordering Israel: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. Finally, an outer circle exists with both geographic and qualitative dimensions involving Iran, Iraq and Libya — regimes that are right-wing extremist, according to Pinkas.
He further discussed the different views of foreign policy held by “outer rim” countries in comparison to Israel, and claimed that these countries are trying to obtain “mass destruction biological weapons.”
According to the ambassador, there are also three additional dimensions of Israel’s environment that are affecting the peace process: political, economic, and military interests.
“There is an economic gap and economic disparity in the development of Israel compared to the Arab world,” Pinkas said. “It makes it more difficult for them [Arabs] to internalize the idea that Israel is here to stay.”
Israel has the greatest military strength in the region, and this status makes it difficult for the Middle East to accept Israel, according to Pinkas. The ambassador expressed dismay that Israel’s peace offer to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat at last year’s Camp David meeting was the best option Israel conceivably could have offered the Palestinians, but it was nonetheless “flatly rejected” by Arafat.
“The Palestinians made a decision that they will have an independence war no matter what. They won’t get a better deal than what was offered to them at Camp David,” Pinkas remarked. Arafat has “failed miserably as a statesman,” he said.
After much discussion of Arafat’s role in the peace process, Pinkas concluded that the fact remains that Israelis and Palestinians will have to live together in the same area yet must simultaneously live separately.
“We’re negotiating a divorce rather than a marriage,” he said. “We’re looking for someone who is not a good companion which is why we need to separate, but it is easier said than done.”
In addition, Pinkas mentioned that Israel believes Arafat has the power to stop the violence.
Pinkas claimed that Arafat can control the violence “if he’s willing to pay a certain political price, [but] we think he is afraid of running a small, poor country.”
After an hour of extensive explanation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, members of the audience were allowed to ask questions. The question was raised of whether Israel should be held responsible in any way for the Palestinian violence, to which the ambassador emphatically replied, “No, Israel does not bare any responsibility for encouraging Palestinian violence.”
“He was a brilliant speaker — sensitive to the Palestinian perspective while presenting the Israeli position,” said Daniel Kasell ’02, president of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Not all members of the audience agreed with Pinkas’ assertions.
“He blamed everything on Arafat and did not blame anything on Israel. It doesn’t help the peace process by pointing your finger at other people,” said Edan Lichtenstein ’01. “Pinkas didn’t give enough respect to the Palestinian people and the desire to free themselves of the Israeli oppression.”
Besides the lectures and discussions with students, the ambassador’s visit to Cornell will also include a meeting with President Hunter R. Rawlings III.
Archived article by Rachel Pessah