As Secretary of State Colin Powell prepares to travel to the Middle East to attempt to broker a cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians and quell the recent upsurge in the violence, students and Middle East scholars disagree over who is to blame and possible solutions to the conflict.
The U.S. Role
Political science professor Maurice East said he believes the United States is focusing too much attention on the region and needs to concentrate on its own war against terrorism
“I’m not one of those who thinks the U.S. can make a great difference,” East said. “I don’t see why President Bush should be threatening his own position, risking his own war on terrorism, which is far more important.”
East said the world has already reduced al Qaeda’s ability to attack and is making progress in its war on terror.
East also said the United States cannot show its favor toward one side, in order mediate the conflict.
“If (the United States) says it’s not going to do business with Yasser
Arafat, how good of a help are we going to be as a third party?” he said. “If we let it be known to Israel that we don’t care for Yasser Arafat, we won’t be (an ideal mediator).”
Vice President of the Arab Student Association Mira Browne, a Palestinian, agreed the United States should stay out of the conflict because of its own biases.
“Right now I’m completely disheartened with what our government is doing,” Browne said. “It is completely turning a blind eye to (the Palestinians’ suffering) over there. I don’t think lately America can be a true mediator because of its own biases.”
Others said they think the United States should intervene. They say Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of coming to a decision on their own, and they do not trust any other countries as much as they trust the United States.
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a Middle East think tank, said the United States should support its Israeli ally. He said he does not think the Powell trip will help.
“We should help Israel signal to its enemies that is it there and permanent and not going away,” Pipes said. “We should be encouraging the Israelis in their war against terrorism. Anything is else is inconsistent.”
Adjunct Professor Murhaf Jouejati said the conflict has nothing to do with Sept. 11 because it has been going on since 1948.
“I think the Israeli Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon and his government are using September 11 to look like they are an extension of the U.S. war on terrorism,” Jouejati said. “They equate the Palestinians with Osama bin Laden.”
Jouejati said the United States should “absolutely intervene” but as a mediator.
“(The United States) has leverage over both sides,” Jouejati said.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has sociological and cultural roots in hundreds of years in history, but the current dispute stems from a 1947 U.N. resolution. The United Nations passed a partition plan in 1947 that called for two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, on the British Mandate of Palestine.
The Jews accepted the partition plan declaring Israeli independence in May 1948, while Arab states and the Palestinians rejected the plan and declared war on Israel. Jordan took control of West Bank, and Egypt took over the Gaza Strip – both lands promised to Palestinians.
In 1967, Israel fought a six-day war against Jordan, Syria and Egypt, taking control of the West Bank and Gaza. Israel allowed the Palestinians increasing autonomy over the Gaza Strip and 40 percent of the West Bank after 1993 Oslo Peace Accords but have taken control of most of those territories in the last week.
GW classes specifically about the Arab-Israeli conflict, international relations of the Middle East and general political science and international affairs classes are designed for students to learn the roots behind the conflict and to analyze it, professors said.
“In general, I’d say that in my classes I try not to teach to the headlines, as riveting as those can be, but to use the opportunity of a college class to reflect a little more deeply on the issues,” said Nathan Brown, a professor of political and international affairs.
Brown, who taught at the University of Beersheba and did research in the West Bank a year and a half before the intifada, said it “tears me apart to see the places where I lived and worked turned into arenas of such violence.”
Who is at fault?
Although GW community members disagree about whether the Palestinians and Israelis are right, they do agree on one point: peace is needed.
Junior Havi Arbeter said Israel has a right to self-defense and to protect its citizens. She compared Israel’s fight against terrorism to Sept. 11 when the United States was attacked and started fighting back.
Freshman Whitney Schaffer said the difference between Palestinian and Israeli casualties is that Palestinian suicide bombers target civilians while the Israeli military pursues militants and terrorists.
“Palestinian suicide bombers aren’t innocent civilians twiddling their thumbs in their homes,” Schaffer said.
Browne said it is hard for her to listen to the pro-Israeli side because Palestinians are in danger right now. She said her grandmother, who lives in Haifa, Israel, is alone now because her nurse got stuck in Ramallah, a Palestinian town in the West Bank where Israel troops are currently stationed.
Senior Nizar Wattad, a Palestinian, said a solution lies in an end to the Israeli occupation and a just settlement for refugees with U.N. international monitors observing.
“The most important thing for people to understand is the reason for Palestinian violence is the occupation,” Wattad said.
Senior Marina Ioffe said the difficult questions facing the region make a mediator more important to have.
“Even from a distance, we can’t figure out who’s right and who’s wrong. So how can we expect the Arabs and Israelis to figure it out?” Ioffe said.
Freshman Jeff Stern said Jews do not agree on most issues, so he does not think the Palestinians and Jews will be able to sit down in a room and figure out a solution after the recent upsurge in violence.
Wattad said Arafat also needs to curb “fiery rhetoric” in order to calm the Palestinian people.
In a recent interview, Arafat said he wants to die as a martyr and has called for “a million martyrs on Jerusalem.” Wattad said leaders need to speak in a way that “promotes calmness.”
Sophomore David Brown said he is no taking sides in this conflict because he has no ties to Israelis or Palestinians.
“It’s really a terrible and sad situation,” Brown said. “I just want to see peace.”
-Amanda Mantone contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the April 8, 2002 issue of the Hatchet.