By Ben Strack
Students, faculty and guests gathered at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on April 9 for the release of a book that discusses keeping peace in the Middle East.
“The Peace Puzzle: America’s Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace” explores the role of the United States in peace relations between these two groups by examining the evolution of government policies on this matter over the past two decades.
“Can President Obama broker Arab-Israeli peace?” asked Dr. Jehan Sadat, wife of Anwar Sadat, the third president of Egypt who was assassinated in 1981. “I will not even attempt to answer this question, but that’s exactly why we hold this Sadat forum.”
Sadat gave the introductory remarks before handing the discussion to moderator Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at this university. Other panelists included Margaret Warner of PBS NewsHour, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tamara Cofman Wittes and Daniel Kurtzer, a Princeton professor and former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt.
“You don’t just think about this as a peace process,” Kurtzer said. “There’s a book by one of the participants in negotiations that suggested that pursuing peace was like riding a bicycle; just keep peddling because if you stop peddling, you’re going to tip over.”
Instead, it’s crucial to be involved in helping the parties find parameters and terms of reference for negotiation, Kurtzer said. He also highlighted uprooting terrorism in the Middle East and helping build a stronger Palestinian state in general.
“The key way to solving any conflict is bringing both conflicting parties together to the negotiation table,” said Rouaa Maher, a senior government and politics major. “I am very optimistic about these discussions and events that bring the Jewish and Arab communities together, and strongly believe they will not only serve as a model to people in the Middle East, but will also bring about slow but definite change.”
But both groups must be willing to negotiate their differences, Maher said. A growing number of constituencies in Israeli and Palestinian communities said they fear their particular interests would not be served, Kurtzer added.
The two-state solution, which calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state adjacent to the state of Israel, is unrealistic, some said. Dani Dayan, an Israeli activist who has served as chairman of the Yesha Council since 2007, sent an email to Kurtzer saying the two-state solution would not work and that something else should be proposed.
President Obama spent three days in the Middle East in March where the panel said he listened to both sides. Warner and Wittes specifically agreed that the trip was not taken to “check off a box” but rather send a message to Israelis, Palestinians and the American people that the U.S. government is still interested in achieving peace overseas.
According to the panel members, Secretary of State John Kerry agrees with this mindset and has a sense of urgency in achieving peace in the Middle East.
“This region has been the focus of our foreign policy since 9/11, and it will continue to be for a long time,” freshman government and politics major Amna Farooqi said. “Personally, I think the conflict in the Middle East…is the most pressing, so for me, it was great to hear different perspectives on what America’s role should be in mediating it.”