Pushing back against pessimism regarding relations in the Middle East, peace process expert David Makovsky said at a panel hosted by Cornell Hillel on Tuesday that Israel and Palestine are closer to peace than at any point in history.
Makovsky works at the Washington Institute and has held positions at the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and U.S. News and World Report.
Makovsky, who studied relations in the Middle East and worked with John Kerry as senior advisor for his peace team in 2013 and 2014, urged people to believe in hope for peace between Palestine and Israel.
He stressed that, during his lifetime, he has seen the relationship between the two regions improve. This improving relationship indicates that, moving forward, progress is possible.
“It’s important, as young people, to know where there’s been progress and what is doable,” he said.
Makovsky explained that there used to be wars between Israel and Palestine every few years and things are much better today because there are no longer these interstate wars. Israel is devoting less money to war than ever before, Makovsky said, indicating a sign of improvement.
“It used to be that 40 percent of Israel’s GDP went to war — now it’s 6 percent,” he said. “The money that went into wars is now being used to increase quality of life.”
Makovsky also pointed to the growing relationship between Israel and Egypt as another sign of improvement. He said this may have come from a fear of Iran controlling the Middle East and the increasing threat of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in the area.
“There’s a convergence between Israel and the Arab states that didn’t exist before,” he said. “You can say, ‘my enemy is my friend’ in many ways. The Iranian nuclear threat has brought Israel and the Arabs together.”
“They are very much afraid of Iran being a Persian country dominating the Middle East,” he added. “That has led to under-the-table cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states.”
The United States has attempted to create peace between Israel and Palestine many times, most recently led by Clinton in 2000, Condoleezza Rice in 2007 and John Kerry in 2013 and 2014.
From his work with Kerry, Makovsky argued that the peace process failed because the leaders of Palestine and Israel did not make enough concessions.
“Given the realities and the distrust between the leaders today, a home run is not possible,” he said. “What we should do is try to hit a solid single and do what’s possible, even if it doesn’t mean solving the whole conflict.”
Makovsky claimed the “Arab world” is excited for the Donald Trump administration because of the belief that the United States will show more support to Middle East countries under Trump than it did under former President Barack Obama. Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airfield this month, Makovsky said, was widely supported.
“The Arabs believe that if the U.S. uses force against Syrians, the U.S. will use force to support them and they can count on the U.S. in times of crisis,” he said.
“If it’s all-or-nothing in the Middle East, then it’s nothing,” he said. “If people saw the progress, they would be more positive.”