October 29, 2004

Contentious Border Shifts for BTR

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Israeli and Jordanian officials met on Sunday to discuss border changes to make way for the Bridging the Rift Center, a science research facility that will be constructed in partnership with Cornell.

The Center will be a joint undertaking between Cornell, Stanford and the New York City-based Bridging the Rift Foundation. A groundbreaking ceremony, which was considered a small milestone in fostering friendly relations between Israel and Jordan, took place at the Israeli-Jordanian border this summer.

“The groundbreaking was a very special event because this was an opportunity for the leaders of both Jordan and Israel to publicly claim their support for the BTR initiative,” said Jim Haldeman ’65, senior associate director for international programs at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “So, for the first time in a very long time, there were two ministers from Jordan and two from Israel sitting on a stage together.” Haldeman has been acting as a liaison between Cornell and the BTR Foundation since 2000.

Actual construction of the Center is expected to begin sometime next year. Sunday’s discussions led to a mutual agreement between Israel and Jordan, in which each nation agreed to move their borders by approximately 1.2 miles in order to make room for the Center. This way, the Center will occupy land that is claimed by neither Israel nor Jordan.

Discussions of the border changes were very timely, as Oct. 26 marked the 10-year anniversary of the signing of a historic peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. People involved in the BTR initiative are hopeful that it will play a part in encouraging peace and stability in the volatile region.

“It’s a very, very small step, but the concept is to bring scientists, postdocs and students together from Jordan and Israel and eventually from any and all countries in the Middle East to come together and study together and to do research together, and part of that process is building camaraderie and trust,” said Haldeman.

The Center will feature a collection known as the Library of Life, the aim of which is to hold the genetic material of all forms of life on Earth. The project will begin with scientists and students collecting and cataloguing genetic material from the nearby Dead Sea.

Students on campus with an interest in Israel are hopeful that this week’s border agreement and the entire BTR initiative will foster positive Arab-Israeli relations in the Middle East.

“It makes me very proud to be a Cornellian,” said Dan Greenwald ’05, president of the Cornell-Israel Public Affairs Committee. “It’s a great model for future peacemaking in the region. A project like this shows what’s possible when leaders think outside of the box to make peace and build understanding between peoples.”

One of the major goals of BTR is to provide Israeli and Jordanian students with an opportunity to study together on neutral grounds. Planners have been discussing the possibility of using magnetic cards in lieu of passports to allow students and researchers to enter the facility.

“For us, one of the most important components is the student component,” said Haldeman. “The students are the future of this initiative and the future of the region.”

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith
Sun Senior Writer