April 15, 2013 | Quote
Middle East Peace Prospects Spark Debate
Students gathered to watch Middle East experts Gaith al-Omari and Jonathan Schanzer debate issues regarding Israel and Palestine last night. The event was sponsored by the Coalition of Hopkins Activists for Israel (CHAI) and was cosponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Society, J Street U, the Jewish Student Association, the Hopkins Partnership for Israel and JHU Politik.
While the speakers held two different perspectives on the conflict, they both shared many common beliefs on the region.
Both speakers did not see the prospect of peace in the region as plausible in the near future, given the current political situation. While al-Omari was hopeful that peace could come about in the long run based on the popularity of a two-state solution among both the Israeli and Palestinian public as well as the recently enhanced cooperation between the Palestinians and the Israeli Defense Force in the West Bank, Schanzer remained skeptical of the situation due to what he deemed to be an ongoing civil war within Palestine between Hamas and Fatah forces coupled with problems amongst Palestinian leadership.
In regards as to what role the U.S. should play in the conflict, both speakers agreed that it is the U.S.’s responsibility to play an active role in the region.
“The Palestinian-Israeli relationship reminds me of an abusive marriage where the sides know that they need to get out of it but they are too afraid of the unknown,” al-Omari said. “Sometimes you need a good friend that you trust completely to come and say, ‘I’ll hold your hand, I have your back, just get out.’ I think the special U.S.-Israel relations give the U.S. exactly this role.”
Schanzer shared al-Omari’s argument of the U.S.’s role in the region, however Schanzer held that the U.S. did not hold enough legitimacy in the region to maintain this role. He argued that the U.S. must take a strong stance against Iran in order to regain its footing in the region and further promote peace.
While the two speakers did not agree with everything, they both respected each other’s views and upheld a smooth and friendly debate.
“I hope that we showed you one model of debate: one of civility, one that is solution oriented. If we have more of that spirit among Palestinians and Israelis, definitely on campuses in this country, I think this issue would move much faster than it has been moving,” al-Omari said.
The speakers responded to questions from representatives of each of the groups who helped cosponsor the event. The questions ranged from whether Israel had a viable Palestinian partner for peace to what role the US should play in the conflict.
Junior Aaron Tesslar and senior Jules Szanton spearheaded the organization of this event on behalf of the CHAI.
Arie Grunberg, co-President of CHAI, believed the event was successful.
“All in all, the two speakers were great. They were both very respectful to each other, to the audience and to the questions,” Grunberg said. “They answered all the questions thoroughly and represented both sides well.”
The speakers piqued the interest of freshmen Carly Greenspan.
“This issue is so complex, if you don’t hear all the sides of it you won’t be able to look at it critically and analyze what the next best step is,” Greenspan said. “So something like this where you do have the two voices representing different sides is a very important thing.”
Al-Omari is currently the Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine.
He has served as a senior advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and has participated in multiple peace talks.
Schanzer is currently the Vice President of Research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
He has additionally researched Palestinian politics extensively through positions at both the U.S. Treasury Department and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has even written a book on the subject titled “Hamas v. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine.”