The world watches the future of the Middle East unfold day by day, and the annual Middle East Update will provide another perspective to discuss.
Political scientists Geoffrey Kemp and Ziad Asali will discuss the subject of Palestine at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. This lecture marks the first Middle East Update of the season.
Kemp, the director of Regional Security Programs for the Center for the National Interest, will set the scene for the afternoon dialogue.
Asali, the founder and president of the think tank American Task Force on Palestine, will lead the discussion. He plans to discuss Palestine, which he believes is the center of Middle East conflict.
Before World War II, Palestine included all of modern-day Israel and occupied territories including Gaza and the West Bank. After the war, the United Nations wanted to find a way to overcome the anti-Semitism in Europe and address the movement of Jewish people returning to the holy land.
Tensions started to flare between the Jewish and Arab people until the U.N. decided to split the British-controlled Palestine to give the Jewish population the majority of the land, establishing Israel in 1948. This caused further conflict between Jewish and Arab people, particularly after Palestine declared independence in 1988.
While violence between the countries has been a consistent theme in their history, life for Palestinians and Israelis was manageable. But in the summer of 2014, the conflict reached a boiling point, and Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, escalated into a full-on war. While Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire in August 2014, violence is still prevalent.
“Fundamentally, what we have here is two people living in the same piece of land, each with a completely different narrative than the other — which excludes each other, in fact — and they have little compatibility at this time or in the future,” Asali said.
As fragile as the situation seems at the moment, Asali urges the approach of peace through the “two-state solution” in which the two peoples — Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews — share the land as two sovereign countries. He said the two-state solution is the only real solution because any other option would lead to more conflict.
Through his experience founding the American Task Force on Palestine in 2003 and leadership thereafter, Asali said his suspicions concerning the political climate toward achieving peace in Palestine were confirmed.
“I learned what I had expected,” he said. “That it is hard, that it is even more complicated on so many different ways, to seriously pursue a solution at this point in time. It is necessary to build enough political support around the idea.”
Achieving peace between such different people with different goals and different allies — while occupying the same space — may not be easy, but Asali said it’s the best option right now.
“It really has been hard because many, many dedicated and smart and knowledgeable people have worked at it long enough and failed, which should give some pause to folks who think that there are quick fixes.”
A two-state solution is easier said than done, however, he said, as keeping a balance of power is difficult to broker. According to Asali, each side’s politicians are seeking more power rather than a balance. With every government decision, no matter how small or big, Asali said it usually benefits those who want to polarize the political climate, and who don’t want to see a solution.
But he hasn’t given up. “For Palestine, specifically, I think a very serious effort needs to be done by everybody to be cool with governance, just the tools of government, which reflects on everything else,” Asali said.