On Monday, October 23rd, The Reiff Center welcomed Mr. Ori Nir and Mr. Ghaith al-Omari to CNU. The men discussed the current state of what has been a hot topic for over fifty years: Israeli-Palestinian relations. Rooted deeply in religious and political conflict (Israelis are Jewish and Palestinians are Muslim), the two countries have long been juxtaposed and in competition with the other. Once Israel received sovereignty in 1948 after World War II, the conflict became even worse since Palestinians were forced into two areas that are now claimed as official Palestinian territories: The Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Mr. Nir and Mr. al-Omari each took time to discuss the current status of each side, how relations could be headed in the future, and then they answered audience questions afterwards.
Mr. Nir opened with making sure people understood there were problems on all sides of those involved. In Israel, there is a conservative right-wing leader who does not support the Two State Solution (which is considered the only viable option at this point). The Palestinians have a leader who has access to a large military unit at his disposal. And finally, the United States has talked about peace between the two countries but has not really made any moves to make that happen. However, the Israeli and Palestinian publics are experiencing levels of despair and apathy between each other. Over time, less and less Israelis and Palestinians having been in contact with one another, so they have not had the opportunity to learn from each other (this is something that Mr. al-Omari discusses later). He goes on to explain that there growing gaps between moderates and extremists, as well as a lot of settlements in the West Bank, making this a situation one that needs to be addressed.
However, Mr. Nir mentioned that there has been some progress with Israeli-Palestinian relations. For one, the agreements that have been previously created and instituted are actually working. Additionally, the Palestinian Authority is getting stronger, making them a more credible group within the eyes of foreign relations. Both sides are still collaborating and cooperating, despite there being problems. Finally, there has been peace with the Arab states — something that Western countries were worried Israel would have to deal with for a very long time.
Mr. al-Omari, who was an advisor to the Palestinian team during the permanent status negotiations (1999-2001), discussed some of the concepts Mr. Nir mentioned in depth and provided more reasoning behind them. He mentioned that the Two-State Solution is actually very new: in fact, it’s still a messy and complicated option, but it’s better than all the others. Nothing in negotiations worked, and it took quite awhile for either side to say that split solution was viable. At this
point, according to Mr. al-Omari, there is no other option because the two sides cannot actually coexist peacefully; however, the entire process of splitting the land is problematic. Not only are there physical problems that involve actual land splitting, but the more deeply held cultural beliefs between the two groups complicate this issue even further. Further, the usage of violence as a means to show each other their unhappiness is a reason things aren’t progressing, according to Mr. al-Omari. During the lecture he said that “guns and politics don’t mix very well.”
As for the role of the U.S., Mr. al-Omari mentioned that the fact President Trump expressed his desire to reconcile differences between Israel and Palestine so much during the campaign and during the beginning of his tenure shows that the US is serious about fixing the problem. Sadly, he feels that the US will intervene once Iran presents too much of a problem, as it is the watch-country for a majority of the Middle East.
Both presenters agreed that the two countries needed to aim modestly and get a conversation going again that treats each other with peace and respect. Having such close access to each other has resulted in this greater divide, and the only way Mr. Nir and Mr. al-Omari foresee this bridge closing by the sides coming together to dispel their stereotypes and working to break the cycle of negative dynamics.