The Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee (CIPAC) hosted a discussion yesterday with Eric Magnus, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s foreign policy analyst. Magnus spoke to a mostly-student crowd in Kaufmann Auditorium about the changing dynamics of the Middle East peace process.
AIPAC is Washington D.C.’s pro-Israel lobby, dedicated to garnering U.S. support for the governing body of Israel. Recently, as violent outbursts over the rightful ownership of Israeli-occupied lands have escalated, AIPAC has focused on finding the cause of these conflicts.
Magnus attributes the recent violence to frustration over the failure of July’s peace summit at Camp David. President Bill Clinton organized this 10-day meeting between Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in an attempt to reach a peace accord in the Middle East and warm estranged relations between the two bargaining groups. Magnus claimed that while Barak made huge territorial concessions to reach a new peace accord, the summit fell apart over smaller details.
“[The ownership of] Jerusalem is the issue that really broke down the summit and got a vast majority of the attention,” Magnus said. “The idea of dividing Jerusalem is ridiculous. The Jewish community and the Arab community are very much intertwined within the city, so there’s no way to draw a line down the city and say, ‘Okay, the Palestinians have this half and the Jews have this half.'”
According to Magnus, after the unsuccessful summit, Arafat was horrified by the negative international image associated with the perceived Palestinians’ refusal to reach an agreement. Arafat’s response, Magnus said, was violence.
“There is absolutely no doubt that Chairman Arafat is in control of every little minute detail of what goes on in the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “In order to try and change the international opinion, he started the latest round of violence and is purposely trying to egg Israel into a round of violence.”
This controversial statement was not warmly received by some audience members.
“One thing I totally disagree with is his point that Yasser Arafat is controlling everything,” Umair Khan ’03 said. “Arafat is the head of the organization, but it’s not under his total domination. People are genuinely frustrated with the peace process — that’s why they are out in the streets.”
Magnus stressed that the possibility for peace rests in Arafat’s hands.
“There’s one very easy way Arafat could protect his own people and stop the deaths, and that is to stop the violence, stop his own people from shooting and rioting against the Israeli forces,” Magnus said. “If they stopped, there would be no casualties. Israel has no interest in maintaining the violence.”
Many audience members appreciated Magnus’ candor.
“I thought it was an informative and honest portrayal of the conflict in the Middle East,” Daniel Gesser ’01 said.
“The issue of a peace process is all over the media these days,” said Dan Kasell ’02, President of CIPAC. “There are many different positions and it’s good for such a large, enlightened community like Cornell to hear the pro-Israel position.”
In the end, Magnus said, a peace settlement is the only answer.
“There is no long-term solution to this problem besides negotiated settlement,” Magnus said. “War is not an answer.”
Archived article by Abigail Conover