Israeli officials and representatives of the Palestinian Authority are currently engaged in direct talks in an effort to establish a long-standing, peaceful solution to the conflict plaguing the region. And though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is playing out halfway across the globe, scholars and students on campus are actively participating in the dialogue surrounding the current talks.
President Barack Obama’s administration helped to bring the parties to the table in an effort to forge a final resolution to the ongoing instability in the region. The talks feature Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, but Hamas, which was elected to lead the Gaza Strip in 2006, is protesting the talks.
While some University professors see the meetings as a catalyst for lasting change, others are more skeptical of the potential outcomes.
Mark Tessler, the University’s vice provost of international affairs, said the two entities are working on long-term issues this time around rather than short-term problems as they’ve done in past talks.
The issues include the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the region’s borders and the status of Palestinian refugees, Tessler said. Those issues must be resolved before a “permanent resolution” to the conflict can be reached, he added.
Unlike in past peace talks when the United States suggested certain policies, the United States is taking a backseat role during this year’s meetings, according to Tessler.
“(The U.S.’s) contribution is on the process, not on the substance,” Tessler said.
But Victor Lieberman, Marvin B. Becker Collegiate Professor of History, said the U.S. is still playing a crucial role in the talks.
“The United States is going to be involved at all stages, in a closely monitoring capacity,” Lieberman said.
Nothing is off limits during the peace talks, Lieberman added. In the past negotiations, the parties have come to the table under certain conditions or with agreements to only address certain issues.
“They’re supposed to be unconditional, with no prior commitments,” Lieberman said. “All topics are up for discussion.”
Part of what brought the parties to the table is a shared concern over addressing concerns about Iran, Lieberman said.
“Israel, the U.S., the (Palestinian Authority), and some leading Arab states share a novel antipathy to Iran, and this sense of a common enemy may foster novel threads of alliance and a novel sense of urgency,” Lieberman wrote in an e-mail.
The peace talks’ chances of success are better than they have been in the past, according to Political Science Professor Jim Morrow.
“The thing that I think looks most optimistic in the current situation is that the current Palestinian Prime Minister is very interested in trying to build up civil and political institutions within the Palestinian Authority, which, if it’s successful, might belay a lot of Israel’s concerns,” said Morrow, who is also a research professor for the Center for Political Studies at the University’s Institute of Social Research.
However, Tessler expressed a different view on the prospect of an agreement.
“The odds of reaching an agreement on the final status issues are not impossible, but the odds are against it,” he said.
LSA junior Richard Kallus, chair of the American Movement for Israel, pro-Israel group on campus, said he hopes a resolution can come from the talks.
“A peaceful resolution would help establish a two-state solution and allow both sides to feel safe and secure within their own states,” Kallus wrote in an e-mail interview.
LSA junior Ahmad Hasan, co-chair of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality — a pro-Palestinian group on campus — said he views the situation differently.
“The whole peace process, the whole concept, is meaningless, unnecessary, but also kind of skews the view towards how people percieve the Palestine and Israeli conflict right now,” he said.
Hasan said he thinks that the talks are taking place in a framework that is unfair to the Palestinians because the Israeli officials have more power when it comes to control of the region.
“It doesn’t make sense to see Israel and Palestine as equals on the table,” he said.
Kallus said students should have a vested interest in the conflict and in the resolution that will hopefully follow.
“Students should care because not only are millions of lives in the Middle East affected but, ultimately, it will affect all of us,” Kallus wrote. “If this conflict can be equitably resolved then that will give hope for a peaceful solution for all other conflicts.”
Like Kallus, Hasan said students should maintain an active awareness of the situation.
“It’s one of the largest world issues currently happening that involves social justice issues and that’s one of the core values of the University of Michigan,” he said.