It’s “in the hands of the parties”: David Satterfield talks Israeli-Palestinian conflict at UMD forum

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By Ben Cooper
For Mitzpeh
@ben_coops

With the boycott of Israel Fest going on just across campus, Ambassador David Satterfield addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other issues, at a forum Thursday at this university.

Satterfield, the acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, discussed a range of topics with Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development, who moderated the Sadat Forum. The event was also attended by university President Wallace Loh.

Issues ranging from chemical weapons in Syria to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an unprecedented decision in the history of the U.S., were talked about at the forum, titled “A Conversation with America’s Top Diplomat for the Middle East feat. Ambassador David Satterfield.”

This was the second Sadat Forum of the academic year and it was hosted by the Anwar Sadat chair for peace and development and the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

When Telhami asked Satterfield about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he prefaced his question with his own thoughts about how there is seemingly no resolution to this long-standing dilemma, specifically referring to the “two-state solution,” which would essentially establish two states for two groups of people.

“For the last 20 years we’ve been saying if it doesn’t happen in the next year it will never happen,” said Telhami. “And of course, it’s been 20 years since we’ve been saying that.”

Satterfield gave a general answer, saying that he believes it’s in the U.S.’ best interest to take a step back from the conflict and let the two sides figure it out themselves.

“I see [the conflict] as I’ve always seen it — in the hands of the parties. … The role of [U.S.] leadership is critical, but it is not in the end determinant,” Satterfield said.

Ambassador David Satterfield (right) and moderator Shibley Telhami talk about a wide range of issues at the Sadat Forum. Ben Cooper/Mitzpeh.

Satterfield graduated from this university in 1976, and accepted the invitation to speak Thursday over an invitation to attend a meeting at the White House, saying he’s “happy to be back” and has “nothing but fond memories.”

Jonathan Allen, a junior government and politics major and the SGA’s new president, attended the event because he thought it was a unique opportunity to see a high-ranking diplomat.

“Seeing someone in a role like this that is literally the leader on policy related to the Middle East beneath the president was a unique opportunity,” said Allen. “Seeing how the ambassador responded to the questions—seeing how he navigated complex issues was something I was really interested in.”

Telhami said he has talked with many Israelis and Palestinians as part of polling he has done in both Israel and Palestine and said many of them don’t believe the two sides will ever find a solution.

“When you talk to Palestinians and Israelis … the majority of [them] don’t think it’ll ever happen,” said Telhami. “It’s not that they don’t want it—they’re making an objective assessment that it’s just not gonna happen.”

Satterfield referenced Bill Clinton’s words to George W. Bush as his final remarks on the conflict.

“I will recall to you the very sad note on which [Clinton] left office and what his message was to [Bush],” said Satterfield. “Which is, ‘Stay out of this.’”

Telhami also asked Satterfield about the likelihood of Iranian retaliation on Israel for a missile strike in Syria that killed seven Iranian soldiers.

“We are very concerned. We have made those concerns clear for quite some time. We regard this as deeply destabilizing,” said Satterfield. “It raises…increasingly greater odds of a confrontation, and a confrontation which in 2018 is far different in its potential dimensions than it was in the 2006 or 1996 exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah.”

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