A recent flurry of activity at the United Nations to reinvigorate negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict brought overflow crowds to a Princeton University lecture (11/22/11) and increased speculation about what form a settlement would take.
‘’What is interesting is the degree to which national imperatives of the two sides are almost identical,’’ said former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who served in Israel and Egypt for eight years from 1997 to 2005.
‘’The two sides are only looking at each other,’’ said the former ambassador. ‘’Hopefully, we will reactivate our role and see through that mirror to a degree that can resolve problems.’’
Amaney Jamal, an associate professor and author of four books examining democracy and the politics of civic engagement in the Arab world, joined Kurtzer for the lecture, entitled ‘’Two States for Two Peoples? The Palestinian Bid for Statehood and the Road to Peace.‘’ It was co-sponsored by the Princeton University Tigers for Israel, the Muslim Students Association, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Because of the high turnout, the lecture was simulcast in another room to accommodate overflow.
Jamal said divisions in the Palestinian political structure are undermining the credibility and viability of Palestinian leaders in negotiations.
”This is where Palestinians are somewhat divided ,‘’ Jamal said. ‘’The Palestinian Authority came up with a formula that would apply to refugees that does not include a complete return to Israel. It will be an option to return to the West Bank and Gaza.’’
She expressed concern about the future of Palestinian refuges.
‘’There is no way that Israel will accept the right (of Palestinians) to return if that will compromise a majority of Jews,” Jamal said in response to an audience member‘s question.
The Princeton lecture is part of an ongoing series sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Coincidentally, the day before it was presented, the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) approved four draft resolutions asking the UN General Assembly to increase support for Palestine, reinvigorate peace talks, and push both parties to offer more concrete proposals for a settlement.
In a separate action the same day, Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, pushed the UN’s Security Council to immediately help de-escalate an increasingly aggressive stance by both parties which caused violence, death, injuries, and instances of financial harassment against Palestine.
On the day students were attending the lecture, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was on the telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to press for action to re-invigorate peace talks with Palestinians. He also urged Israel to release over $100 million in Value-Added-Taxes (VAT) and customs fees collected in behalf of Palestinians that are critical to the Palestinian Authority budget, according to a UN press release.
The UN has been juggling negotiations between Israel and Palestine since 1947, without resolution. Issues include disputes about geographic borders, access points and settlement activity in occupied territories.
Israel and Palestine, meanwhile, do not have equal status at the UN. Israel has been a “member state” since 1949, but Palestine is a non-member state with ”permanent observer” status, limiting its voting rights and levels of participation.
Palestine presented an application for full member status in September of 2011 which has yet to be approved. Last month (10/31/11), however, Palestine was granted full nation status in UNESCO, (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which was seen as a positive move toward full member status. The approval caused the U. S. Department of State to cut funding to UNESCO due to federal restrictions regarding the recognition of a Palestinian state. Israel followed three days later by freezing an annual $2 million contribution to UNESCO.
During the question and answer period following the lecture, students and community members questioned speakers about issues ranging from racial profiling of Muslims traveling in the U.S. to speculations about how to reach a peaceful accord.
”There is almost an embarrassing lack of dignity to recognizing the human face” of suffering, Jamal said.
The greatest stumbling block to reaching an agreement may come from both party’s lack of enthusiasm for a two-state solution, said Kurtzer, although this is the solution currently being promoted by UN officials.
”It was never accepted by both sides, and it never will be accepted,” said Kurtzer, whose career included writing the 1988 peace initiative of then Secretary of State George Shultz, and serving as a team member in the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991.
”If a two-state solution is viable, there would have to be a changing of the geographical landscape, and that does not bode well,’’ Jamal added.
On Tuesday (11/29/11), CEIRPP will meet again for an ”International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” at UN headquarters in Manhattan, with simultaneous observances scheduled for UN offices in Geneva, Switzerland and Vienna, Austria.
The day’s activities will begin with a committee meeting, followed by a movie screening of “La Terre Parle Arab,” (The Earth Speaks Arabic), a documentary about the Palestinian people and their history.
The UN General Assembly will hold its annual debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 3-6 p.m. A reception and cultural exhibit follows: “A Palestinian Vista–Uprooted From Our Homeland in Ourselves.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will not be at the solidarity activities as he is scheduled to be in Korea for another meeting.
Princeton students involved in Middle Eastern studies will be following the progress of UN action and debate through coursework with both professors.