With the Middle East crisis at the forefront of media coverage and debate, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni brought a unique perspective to the situation yesterday, speaking of his first-hand experience as a mediator between Israeli and Palestinian political parties.
“I have never encountered a process as complicated and complex as this one,” Zinni said.
Zinni, a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of 1956 Professor, began his discussion in front of the packed HEC Auditorium with his worry that the Middle East peace efforts are being eclipsed by the current economic crisis and various other events.
“[The peace process] is singularly the most important issue, if not in terms of what it might do to alleviate other problem directions, but also in terms of psychological relationships with the West,” Zinni said. [img_assist|nid=37099|title=In command|desc=Gen. Anthony Zinni, who once led the U.S. Central Command, speaks yesterday in Goldwin Smith Hall.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Zinni also explained that there are more things working against peace now than ever before: the Palestinian government is weak and fragmented; there is question over the new Israeli government’s position and neither side seems to have a clear definition of what their “end state” consists of.
“The U.S. has a vision and paths to peace, but I don’t think that everyone else has laid their cards on the table,” Zinni said.
While key opportunities in the path towards peace have been missed in the past, Zinni said that the recent talks between Israel and Syria, along with Obama’s inauguration, are encouraging.
“The prospects are honestly not good, but there are glimmers of opportunity and hope. Maybe those ashes and sparks can be fanned a bit and maybe something will catch on,” Zinni said.
His main conclusion was that the United States has to change its approach towards peace efforts. Specifically, Zinni explained how envoys, summits, agreements in principle and moderators fail to take into account the complexity of the situation. For example, envoys, who are government agents sent on specific missions, are too temporary to solve a problem that needs a group of committed, full-time individuals. Summits are also typically not thoughtful or long enough to resolve the issues at hand.
Zinni also stressed the importance of changing the role of a moderator as the star of the show that puts plans on the table while the other parties sit back and reject them.
“We have to take what we have on the table off and make the parties roll up their sleeves,” Zinni said.
Lastly, the general suggested making a “permanent address in Jerusalem,” where political, economic and monitoring components create a series of working groups that simultaneously address specific issues. He suggested that these working groups would diffuse the “constant rhetoric and screaming” that have little to do with the actual peace process. He also suggested using both official and unofficial tracks of communication to move along compromises.
The question-and-answer session after the lecture included questions regarding whether or not Obama should be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how to handle perceived bias of mediators and how to deal with West Bank settlements and Palestinian issues. While some questions were emotionally charged, the exchange brought out interesting information and a unique perspective.
“For most of these emotionally and psychologically charged issues, [the main] information source is usually the media. So these types of talks play a very positive role towards developing a different perspective,” said Maliha Khushnood law.
Elizabeth Loftus ’10, a history and government major writing her thesis on the Middle East, had heard Zinni speak before and attended this lecture because she wanted to hear his unique perspective.
“He’s really interesting and has an unconventional military viewpoint,” Loftus said.
According to a University press release, Zinni served in more than 70 countries, including two combat tours in Vietnam. He also worked on U.S. diplomatic missions to Somalia, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Eritrea and state department missions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and conflicts in Indonesia and the Philippines. After commanding the U.S. Central Command, Zinni retired from the military in 2000, largely over disagreements with the Bush administration’s actions.
The Rhodes professorship, created in 2000 by an endowment in honor of Cornell’s ninth president, allows distinguished individuals to be appointed for three years as full members of the Cornell faculty. Rhodes professors can then be renewed for two more years. The goal of the program is to enhance the undergraduate experience by facilitating the interaction between accomplished individuals and the community. Rhodes Class of ’56 professors usually visit the campus and live with the students for a week during each year of their appointment.