October 26, 2007

Israeli Advisor Analyzes Conflict in Middle East

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Arnon Perlman, chief spokesman and senior advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, addressed the conflicts facing the Middle East at an event sponsored by the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee yesterday. Specifically, Perlman discussed the pressing threats in the region, the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what is needed to bring stability.
“We live in a rough neighborhood, and people around us want our destruction,” he said. “We have to be stronger than all our enemies put together.”
He identified four “real” threats to Israel — Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.
According to Perlman, Iran poses the greatest threat.
He accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of attempting to secure nuclear weapons.
“Ahmadinejad is a member of the U.N. that calls for the destruction of Israel out loud. He is also doing whatever he can to get nuclear weapons. Imagine what nuclear weapons in the hands of a man like that means. Imagine September 11 with nuclear bombs,” he said.
Furthermore, he stated that if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, it would not just be a threat to Israel, but to all people.
“It would completely change the balance of power in the Middle East. It is a problem for Israel and other Arab countries, a threat for our region and the entire world,” he said.
Noticeably missing from the list were the Palestinians — excluded, he said, because he believes that with them lies an opportunity to move forward.
However, although optimistic about achieving peace with Palestinians, he is cognizant of the effort it would require from both sides.
“The easiest thing is to fight. It is much harder to solve things based on 120 years of dispute. A lot of blood was shed, and trust was lost. Trust needs to be gained on both sides, and it should be gradual. Peace cannot be achieved in one day,” he said.
“It has nothing to do with signing a paper; it has to do with people,” he continued. “Trust was what was lost over the last seven years. They don’t trust us just as much as we don’t trust them. To regain that trust, we need time living, not dying, side by side.”
Perlman believes it is crucial that moderate Arab leaders participate in a summit to mediate a peace and act as a front against Iran. However, he contends that a two-state solution is “the only solution.”
He admitted that both sides have made mistakes, but also pointed to the corruption and misappropriation of money by the Palestinian government. Funds were used to purchase weapons instead of to build schools and create jobs, which only created more setbacks to peace, he alleged.
He described the difficult and unique situation of the Israeli government as it wants to maintain peaceful relations while protecting its own people.
“Israel has a commitment and a problem. Israel’s first obligation is to defend its people. The problem is that people are sending mortar shells from the backyard of a civilian home.”
He also spoke of an obligation to the Palestinian people.
“Our duty, and that of the other Arab nations, is to give them a better life so that they will regain hope and trust, for the benefit of the two states, the region and the world,” he said.
When asked about alleged blockades in Gaza, Perlman denied their existence and pointed instead to the aid Israel has provided.
“To set the record straight, we don’t blockade the Palestinians. Do you think anything was built in the last two years? Anything created? Any job? Nothing. We still supply energy and food because they are completely dependent on us. The only thing Hamas did was shoot at us and [at] their own people. Having a state also means having responsibility. Why didn’t they ask the U.N. for a state? Because that means having responsibilities and obligations to their people.”
Not all people, however, would agree with this argument.
Chris Tozzi ’07, president of United for Peace and Justice in Palestine, was unable to attend the event, but does not see corruption as a principal cause of tension.
Like Perlman, Tozzi also thinks that both Israelis and Palestinians bear some responsibility for the failure of previous peace agreements and believes that a real solution requires more than both sides just signing an agreement.
“Peace treaties are nice if they mean something, but past treaties were not really realistic and didn’t address both sides,” he said. “I would be happy with one if it provided a realistic solution to important issues regarding Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state.”
Many attendees were satisfied with Perlman’s speech.
“He was able to deliver his message without sounding offensive. He did an interesting job of conveying what he thought and balancing what the Palestinians could do better, but also what the Israelis could do better,” said Alanna Newman ’10.
In addition, organizers were also pleased with student participation during the question-and-answer period.
Jen Fishkin ’10, vice president of CIPAC campus relations, said, “I’m really glad he came, and the attendance was composed of people with varied opinions so that we could spark academic debate.”
Perlman has lectured at several universities around the country. His goal, he says, is to help educate students geographically isolated from the conflicts and to help them really understand what is going on.
“Not many people understand what the real situation in our region is. Some look at us as two clans that are fighting — our region is creating a lot of noise and its important that people understand what the conflict is about and what the we as Israelis are going through,” he said.