Former Kerry aide discusses peace negotiations

By Neala Berkowski, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 7, 2014

Discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued Thursday as a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating team spoke to a crowd of more than 60 students and community members.

David Makovsky, professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, lead the lecture in South Hall. Makovsky is also a Ziegler Distinguished Fellow and the Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Over a 10-month period, Makovsky worked with Kerry on peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis and over territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Though Kerry hoped to reach a final status agreement by April 2014, the talks ultimately fell apart last spring.

“When Secretary Kerry came in as Secretary of State and made this a priority, he said, ‘How can it be that both sides want a two-state solution? Each one is doing it for their own self-interest of course, but they overlap. Why can’t we take this issue and move on it?’”

Despite intense negotiations, Makovsky said the teams were able to narrow, but not close, gaps during framework talks. He said this occurred in part because risk-averse leaders did not want to jump too far ahead on the most controversial and emotionally charged issues. However, he said Kerry’s team was able to assist in initiating a ceasefire in August after violence erupted in the region for much of the summer.

“The big thing for the government was trying to find a way to end the Gaza War and that meant a ceasefire,” Makovsky said. “We had a clear strategy that we wanted this war to end without Hamas gaining, but reinstating the Palestinian Authority in Gaza because Hamas had taken over this place and held the Gazans hostage since 2007.”

During the lecture, Makovsky also stressed the importance of college-aged students working to promote values such as acceptance and dialogue, rather than hostility or conflict.

“I feel it’s very important that American campuses did not import the politics of confrontation from the Middle East but rather exports of politics of coexistence and of tolerance and pluralism that are really hallmarks of American society,” he said. “I feel that as being an eyewitness to official dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, if they can sit at the table and narrow their differences, then so can Americans in the Midwest.”

After his lecture, audience members asked questions about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other topics. Questions ranged from Iranian nuclear negotiations to the influence of the media on the talks.

LSA junior Becca Levin, one of the program’s organizers, said the event was sponsored by the Israeli Campus Coalition and Hillel with the purpose of bringing another perspective on the conflict to campus.

“We wanted to educate students on an insider’s point of view and talking about these negotiations,” Levin said. “I think it’s super important because a lot of times we get our news from social media or just one place and it’s really important to take a step back and really think about the news and that way we can talk to each other about ways to move forward.”

Makovsky said it’s also important for University students to be aware of issues of conflict in the Middle East because they impact other foreign policy objectives as well.

“If there’s instability in the Middle East, I think what we’ve learned is that it affects everyone,” he said. “It leads to wars, it leads to conflict. There’s no doubt jihadists exploit this conflict to gain recruits and we need peace. I think that will take a card out of their hands. I don’t think it would end terrorism but I think it could lower the flame.”

He also stressed the importance of not giving up on finding a two-state solution.

“We shouldn’t see every obstacle as a pretext not to do anything,” he said. “If we can’t hit a home run, we should hit a double, a single, even a triple, whatever we can do, even if we can’t solve it all.”