Two men at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict argued Tuesday night in the Marvin Center over the state of negotiations between the factions, agreeing only that no resolution is near.
Yossi Alpher and Ziad Abu Zayaad presented their views on peace in the Middle East to an audience of around 60 at an event sponsored by Hillel and the Student Alliance for Israel. The goal of the program was to provide insight into the conflict and possible solutions. But both men presented bleak views for the future.
During the 90-minute discussion, the two men engaged in an argument over the shared histories between the two groups, providing two different narratives on the situation.
“There are two versions, and none of them are necessarily the right version about what happened,” said Zayaad, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing Jerusalem.
The men criticized each other’s governments for the resurgence of violence and suicide bombings in the region.
Zayaad said that constant military operations by Israel prompt suicide bombers and terrorist organizations to mobilize against the Israelis. Alpher, a former official in the Mossad – Israel’s intelligence service – who served as an adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, explained how suicide bombers undermine the prospect for peace.
Alpher laid out a peace plan, stressing the need for discussion of a two-state solution and repeatedly mentioning past and present stubbornness on both sides that have resulted in deadlocked negotiations. Rather than trying every few years for conflict resolution, the two sides should try conflict management instead, he said.
Zayaad disagreed strongly with Alpher’s potential solutions.
“If we manage the conflict now, how can we solve it in 10 years, or five years, or three years?” he asked.
Both men were critical of American policy in the region. Alpher accused the United States of turning its back on the conflict in Israel and instead focusing on conflict in the Middle East as a whole.
“This is the first American administration to focus on the entire Arab region as a faulted region, leaving very little room for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Alpher said.
Zayaad criticized what he called American hypocrisy regarding the election of the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, and implied U.S. interference in the upcoming elections in Iraq. U.S. officials have called Arafat an unacceptable partner in the peace process and have tried to negotiate with other Palestinian politicians.
“If you believe in democracy, you have to accept the will of the people,” Zayaad said. “(Arafat) is the leader the Palestinian people elected. How come the United States declares itself as the guard of democracy … and they are against elections?”
Zayaad vehemently defended Arafat, but Alpher labeled him as violent and corrupt and said peace through him would be impossible. Zayaad responded by accusing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of being an “enemy of peace.”
Palestinian Fadi Kiblawi, a second-year law student who was arrested for protesting in Israel over the summer, said he was not convinced by either man’s argument.
“On one side, you had an inarticulate, block-head perspective, and on the other side you had semi-articulate, propagandized perspective,” Kiblawi said.
Freshman Jason Antin, a member of Hillel, said he was enlightened by the discussion.
“I learned a lot not only about the past but (about) what’s gone on in the past four years and what happened at Camp David and prior peace accords,” he said. “To get an insider’s view is very beneficial.”
But the discussion did little to assuage his outlook for peaceful reconciliation.
“I’m less hopeful,” he said.