Throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been marked by violence and bitter diatribe, many have questioned whether peace is even possible in the Middle East. At a panel Tuesday, however, two speakers expressed hope that Israel and Palestine can reach a resolution by engaging in meaningful negotiations with each other.
The talk, sponsored by the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, touched on the feasibility of the two-state solution — which would create an independent state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel — and the need for negotiation between both sides.
The goal of the discussion was to “shed more light and less heat on these issues,” said David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Middle East Peace Process and a pro-Israel activist.
“We want a solution that gives dignity to both sides,” Makovsky said.
Ghaith Al-Omari, executive director at the American Task Force on Palestine and a pro-Palestine activist, agreed with Makovsky, saying the role of the United States should be to create an environment that does not contribute to conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“We have a common objective,” Al-Omari said. “We need to approach differences as hurdles, not as opportunities to fling mud onto the other side.”
Makovsky said both Israel and Palestine have an intense historical attachment to Jerusalem, a factor that forms the root of the conflict.
“The differences aren’t as much as part of the policies but the politics between each country,” Makovsky said. “The good news is the gaps have been narrowed. In the end, the land must be shared, so we need a solution that is civil and fair.”
Al-Omari said that although policymakers are beginning to see the “contours of the solution” — the creation of two separate states coexisting side by side — the current political environment has not allowed this situation to be realized.
“I’m a believer that the situation in Palestine and Israel is like a bike; if you stop moving, you fall over,” Al-Omari said. “We need to continue to promote progress.”
Makovsky addressed public opinion’s role in creating the divide between the opposing viewers.
“If you ask one side if they are for the two-state solution, they’ll say yes, but are convinced that the other side opposes it,” Makovsky said. “Often, the public doesn’t know what is happening on the other side. You have to deal with the gut fears; you need an acknowledgement from the other side that changes are being made.”
According to Makovsky, leaders of both Israel and Palestine have to focus on the power of public opinion.
“Leaders felt like they got burned when they got too far out ahead,” Makovsky said. “The public has to lead the leaders.”
Al-Omari said that although the “the loudest voices are the angriest voices,” both sides must not get caught up in mudslinging; instead, they must focus on the negotiations between the two countries.
“Negotiating is not about anger; it’s about the goal,” Al-Omari said. “Nothing works without positive messaging.”
According to Al-Omari, negotiation fuels progress, but this progress has to be mutually beneficial.
“As a negotiator, you are always taught to get your party the best deal,” Al-Omari said. “I have learned that if you don’t reach a honorable agreement, then your victory will be meaningless.”
Makovsky said that interaction between Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans could help improve relations between the groups.
“During a 10-day spring break, they could work side-by-side, spending five days building a playground on the Jewish side and five days building another playground –– this time on the Palestinian side,” Makovsky said.
Before the panel, both speakers said the goal of this dialogue is to show students that the two sides can engage in a civil discussion.
“There is more at stake in the solution than in perpetuating the conflicts,” Makovsky said. “We both want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
“Peace is in the interest of everyone,” he said.
Original Author: Emma Jesch