America still important in Middle East peace, panelists say

On trip through U.S. college campuses, two Middle East policy experts are encouraging moderation and support for a two-state solution brokered by the United States.

By Hannah Fine

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Two Middle East policy experts criticized black-and-white depictions of the Arab–Israeli conflict and emphasized America’s crucial role as a mediator during a talk Tuesday in Kent Hall.

David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute Near East Policy Project, and Ghaith al-Omari, advocacy director at the American Task Force on Palestine, said that while policy makers in Washington have been able to focus on the shared concerns of each side, college campuses are often more polarized. Makovsky and al-Omari are traveling to American colleges to encourage moderation and support for a two-state solution brokered by the United States.

Al-Omari, who was an adviser to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, said the conflict had gone on too long to be resolved without a third-party mediator. “Both sides are hostage to their history,” he said. “In some ways, both sides need adult supervision.” Al-Omari said the United States is a necessary part of any negotiation process because of its special relationship with Israel, which would have to make major concessions in any peace plan.

Both speakers noted some good signs from the region. “Today we are poised at the beginning of a new phase. Those of us in Washington follow…things that are unpublished and we know that things are moving,” he said. Al-Omari expected to see negotiations through proxy talk in the next two to three weeks.

Makovsky said he saw signs of cooperation from both Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In order to achieve a lasting peace, both leaders will need to “[change] the ethos from that of victimhood and entitlement to an ethos of accountability,” he said.

The event was sponsored by Chicago Friends of Israel, Chicago Society, SGFC, and the Israel on Campus Coalition.