Speaker briefs GW on Middle East peace

David M. Satterfield, a State Department official, addressed the United States’ role the Middle East peace process at the Marvin Center Wednesday during a GW Friends of Israel event.

Satterfield, office director for Israeli and Arab-Israeli Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, substituted for the originally-scheduled speaker Dennis Ross, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Special Middle East Envoy.

Ross canceled at the last minute to brief Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about her upcoming meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and PLO President Yasser Arafat to discuss peace negotiations.

Satterfield has been involved in Arab-Israeli affairs for nearly 20 years, working for the peace process in different capacities at the State Department, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the National Security Council.

“(The peace negotiation) is a vision for all the people of the Middle East, Arabs and Israelis alike, because all of them can benefit from a lasting peace,” Satterfield said. “All of us gain by moving forward, and all of us lose by failing to do so.”

The event recognized the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and its accomplishments during the last 50 years, and encouraged progress in the peace process, said Lesley Werthamer, vice president of GWFOI.

Satterfield said the peace process has been a series of progressive and regressive steps since the establishment of Israel 50 years ago. And he said the process has experienced several setbacks in recent years.

“A fundamental breakdown in partnership” has caused the two groups involved to revert to violence, he said.

Satterfield said Israeli fears of Palestinian terrorism and the PLO’s uncertainty of the new Israeli government’s commitment to the peace process have exacerbated the situation. Iraq’s volatile actions also contribute to the festering of negotiations, he added.

“We have identified those things that bring them together, and those that tear them apart,” he said.

Satterfield said strong leadership and equal treatment of both parties are important to resolve the conflict.

“An agreement cannot be enforced by the U.S. on any party,” he said. “We want diplomacy to work, but we are prepared to take whatever steps necessary.”

Members of the audience expressed dissatisfaction with the handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and members on both sides of the issue claimed the U.S. showed favoritism toward the opposing side.

“We’re really excited with the extraordinary turnout tonight and the visual amount of support students at GW show for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Adam Segal, president of GWFOI.

Segal said GWFOI plans to bring more speakers from the U.S. government, the Israeli embassy and the American and Israeli media to discuss the anniversary of Israeli independence April 30.

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