Mid East leaders address future

By Amy Lieberman

Palestinian and Israeli legislators Hanan Ashrawi and Yossi Beilin found common ground on a single, essential issue Monday afternoon: without positive American intervention, they said, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to deteriorate. Appearing before several hundred hushed audience members in Kagin Ballroom, Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for Jerusalem, and Beilin, Chairman of the Meretz-Yachad Party and a member of the Israeli Knesset, spoke separately at the panel discussion, “A Mideast Summit: Challenges to Peace.” Both participants focused on their felt requisites for long-standing peace in the Middle East.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale mediated the event, offering an introductory speech for the participants.
Despite the label of the summit as a “panel discussion,” the participants, who have a longstanding political relationship, did not speak directly to each other, but addressed similar issues with, at times, parallel perspectives. Toward the end of the summit, the participants responded together to audience questions.

Mondale’s introduction wavered in tone, as his comments fluctuated from previous successes to present failures in reconciling the decades old Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Like Ashrawi and Beilin, he expressed the importance of the United States’ influence on the situation.

“I believe that without America, we are really in trouble,” Mondale said. “I think we are indispensable to a solution.”

Following Mondale, Beilin stressed the necessity of conciliatory action from both parties, but steered clear of the major controversial issues, like Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and treatment of Palestinian refugees.
Beilin said he still remains optimistic toward the prospect peace in the Middle East, in part because he doesn’t see another plausible option.

“If we don’t succeed, we will have such a crazy price to pay that we cannot afford it,” Beilin said. “We are a very selfish people. Very selfish. We want our families, our peoples to live in peace normally like many other countries and we do not believe we are so different from others.that we Palestinians and Israelis can never make peace.”

Beilin, who was a major figure in fostering the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, worked through the relatively young history of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict in his speech, noting mistakes both parties have made over the years. His timeline also included perceived victories, such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) recognition of Israel in 1988.

As Beilin trekked through the tumultuous peace process, his pace escalated as well, visibly demonstrating his frustration with the present situation. He referred to the 90s as a particularly promising time, but to the more recent years as “dark,” and without hope.

“In such a very important college, I will be very careful to say it,” Beilin said, “but this is my own personal feeling. We missed the opportunity. We made very many mistakes. The Palestinians made many mistakes. They are sure that we are the ones to blame, we are sure that they are the ones to blame. We share the blame.”

Beilin also noted a third party, which, in his opinion, is undeniably responsible for the failure of peace-efforts: the United States. And, more specifically, the Bush administration.

“The new American administration came in with the policy of hands off,” he said, “Perhaps with the acknowledgement of understanding that without American involvement it [peace talks] won’t succeed, or will be very difficult to succeed.”
Despite Beilin’s apparent disillusionment with the situation, he held strong to his original point of remaining positive.

“I want to tell you, I’m optimistic. Unlike in ’93, now, we know the solution,” he said. “Unlike in ’93, we know exactly what we can do, what the Palestinians can do. We have it in a written manner. These drafts are there and they were mentioned here.”
Ashrawi followed Beilin, opting for a more personal and loaded account of her take on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Like Beilin, she cited the last seven years as harmful to the regions’ political state, but otherwise deviated strongly from his approach, speaking candidly of Israeli occupation and Hamas.

Ashrawi wasted no time on stage, jumping quickly to what she believes must occur before peace talks progress.

“We cannot make peace while the occupation continues,” she said. “And you cannot have a real viable state if it is not real and sovereign. These two process are interdependent and simultaneous.”

Ashwari alluded to Israel as a culprit in worsening the relations between the two sides and expressed the formidable consequences Palestinian settlements and the building of the wall that segregates the West Bank from Israeli territory cause.
The cycle these establishments have created, she expressed, is an extremely destructive one.

“We felt a sense of hopelessness, despair, and gave rise to further extremism and violence,” she said. “When violence takes over, and absolutist ideologies take over, it is very hard to listen to the not so shrill and not so violent voices of moderation and peace making. The rise of extremism and violence, after all, gave rise to such parties like Hamas.”

The United States’ and Israel’s decision to “boycott the Palestinian people and to import sanctions,” Ashwari said, only worsened the situation.

“For the first time in history you have the people under occupation also being under sanction,” she said. “As if we weren’t poor enough, as if the economy wasn’t being destroyed. everybody decided to punish us because we elected Hamas. And not only that, the Americans and Israelis wanted to usurp my roll was Hamas’ opposition. I wanted to be Hamas’ opposition.”

Ashrawi delved deeper into the implications of Hamas’ victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, saying that the very reasons people elected Hamas in the first place-anger, despair and revenge-were only perpetuated by the international response to its new political power.

While Ashrawi’s tone generally reflected the anger and passion of the Palestinian people, she also voiced agreement with Beilin, conceding to one statement: without a third party intervention, the peace process will remain stagnant.

“The last seven years were disastrous years.we saw no negotiation, no commonality. We saw violence and negation and extremism,” she said.

Ashrawi also condemned the Bush Administration for “keeping its distance.”

“We need political engagement,” she continued. “When you raise expectations you have to fulfill them, otherwise the letdown will lead to greater violence and the feelings of despair.”

The audience at the Summit was mixed, composed of both students and older Macalester community members. Listeners appeared satisfied and impressed with the turnout of the event.

“I found it uplifting,” Emmett Costel ’09 said. “You were left with the reality of the situation, but I was encouraged by their pragmatic perspectives for opportunity.”

Mardeene Eichhorn ’53 agreed.

“I came away with a slight bit of hope,” Eichhorn said. “Each one presented his and her self with such difference. It was so representative of the situation.