BY SALAH EL-PRINCE
Published October 21, 2012
As an Egyptian, it’s nearly impossible to critically engage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, where I’m from, just calling the conflict “complex” triggers a reaction from Egyptians who think it's as simple as Israel being the aggressor and Palestine, the victim.
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Earlier this month, Egyptians were commemorating the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. In the United States, the accepted narrative of the war is a clear Israeli victory. But in Egypt, it's remembered as our triumph. About the time of the anniversary, my newsfeed was full of patriotic posts praising the Egyptian military. Far too often, the posts ended up condemning the very existence of the Israeli state. This is all despite the fact that the two states haven't been at war since before my friends were born.
This is because the old Mubarak regime used imaginary Israeli plots to divert attention from domestic policy failures and silenced political opposition by labeling them Israeli clients. Still today, domestic parties vying for power commonly use anti-Israel rhetoric.
To me, this is an overly simplistic view of the conflict. I see the destruction of innocent lives by both Israelis and Palestinians. Despite the agreed upon cease-fire, rockets still come from Gaza and target civilians in the southern parts of Israel. Every day, private land is taken from Palestinian families to expand Jewish settlement in the West Bank, despite the government’s supposed support of a two-state solution. There can be no moral high ground when each side sinks to this level.
I’ve been studying in the United States for more than a year, and I’ve come to learn that the malicious and selfish politicization of the conflict isn't confined to Egypt. While some politicians in Egypt score political points by aggressively attacking Israel, many American politicians place all the blame on Palestinians or focus on Iran’s nuclear program.
As a proud member of J Street UMich, I reject a conversation that places all blame on Israelis or Palestinians. I reject the unnecessary pandering that happens every four years, leading each party in a race to the bottom of who can be more hawkish on Israel. I believe that many Americans understand how crucial a resolution to this conflict is to American interests, thus many support active leadership to resolve it. Yet the issue has hardly been discussed this election cycle.
Neither presidential candidate has proven themselves on the issue. We’ve watched President Barack Obama seem to give up on pursuing negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. We watched Republican nominee Mitt Romney argue that Palestinians don’t want peace, claiming that the best approach to the conflict is to maintain the status quo and “kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve [itself]” in his now-infamous “47 percent” speech. That is a sentiment unbecoming of a potential world leader.
The final presidential debate is Monday night, with a focus on foreign policy. There is no doubt that the Israeli-Palestinian issue will be brought up. I don’t expect either candidate to be honest about the need for vigorous American leadership to pursue a two-state solution. I fear that grandstanding around the Iranian nuclear program will distract both candidates.
I fear that the finger pointing we’ll likely see in Monday night's debate will not lead us anywhere except toward more bloodshed. Individuals and communities that, like me, support a two-state solution need to become proactive rather than reactive. That’s why J Street UMich and more than 40 other J Street U chapters from coast to coast are running our Two-State Semester Campaign.
We are demonstrating to our political leaders that there's a large and serious constituency of students who believe in a two-state solution. We have been collecting signatures — and will continue to — from individuals and statements from campus leaders that simply state: “We support vigorous U.S. diplomatic leadership to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
I may not be American, but as a pro-Peace Arab advocate, I have a stake in the campaign as well. Two weeks ago, J Street UMich hosted U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.), who spoke eloquently about the need for a negotiated two-state solution. I left the conversation hopeful that some of America’s leaders would be willing to take a lead on this issue after nearly 100 years of war. As the two-state campaign grows, I am sure there will be more leaders like Dingell in Washington, D.C.
Salah El-Prince is an LSA senior.