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Thursday May 26th

Q&A with two experts on Israeli-Palestinian peace process

David Makovsky, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, speaks in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium in the FedEx Global Education Center Wednesday night. He shares some of his firsthand accounts of working as a journalist behind the scenes of the Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Buy Photos David Makovsky, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, speaks in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium in the FedEx Global Education Center Wednesday night. He shares some of his firsthand accounts of working as a journalist behind the scenes of the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

David Makovsky, who worked on Secretary of State John Kerry's negotiating team during recent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and Ghaith Al-Omari, who has worked for the Palestinian Authority, spoke at the FedEx Global Education Center Wednesday night. Senior Writer Liz Bell sat down with them before the event.

THE DAILY TAR HEEL: Since the failure of the peace talks in April 2014, many are concerned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has only worsened since and that a peaceful resolution seems far-fetched. How would each of you describe the current state of the conflict?

GHAITH AL-OMARI: For those of us who have been following this conflict for a long time, we’ve seen the ups and downs. This very much qualifies as a down.

On the one hand, we, for the first time in history, have a consensus on what the solution is: a two-state solution ... Yet, the paradox is we haven’t been further away from an agreement on this because the political leaders are not ready for that ... Now, what do you do about that, is the question.

You can either lament it, as many do, and give up, which would confine the two peoples to another generation of violence. Or do you find solutions, which are less than the perfect full solutions, but ones which can move us forward?

DTH: What are some concrete next steps toward a peaceful resolution?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Since we made this broad agreement that we’re not going to have the two-state solution tomorrow, to me it’s more about maintaining the viability of the idea. In other words, how do you avoid foreclosing options to make this possible going forward?

I think it means, on the Palestinian side, some economic development (in certain areas of the West Bank) ... I think what we’ve seen with these stabbings on the Palestinian side is that a need for more religious leaders to be aware of the consequences of their words.

And on the Israeli side also ... if you want Israel to be a nation-state of the Jewish people with equal rights for all citizens and not become a bi-national reality where it loses that Jewish character, then I think it means, you declare that you’re not going to build over the security barrier. That’s 92 percent of the West Bank. Most of the settlers don’t live in that 92 percent.

DTH: Have your different perspectives and backgrounds, since working together, influenced each other?

GA: I would say our shared, even nerdish obsession with this issue, has developed into a friendship ... We took it for granted that there were any two people who sit and discuss this issue will find so many interesting problems to solve together that they will get closer.

And we both realized that what we take for granted, how this issue can bring people together, is not the norm. In most places, actually, it’s an issue that drives people apart.

At the end of the day, for people to see, two people: myself an Arab, who worked for the Palestinians; David, an American Jew who worked for the American administration, having a conversation. Not screaming, not shouting, but actually having a conversation. I think this is what we need to model more.

DM: I think we are used to the fact that in Washington, that it’s always trying to catch up with campuses because campuses tend to be sometimes more progressive than Washington. But on this issue, we’ve found sometimes that Washington is far ahead and that the students are still hunkered down in their respective bunkers. And you know we feel that here the students have a lot of catching up to do.

The light bulb went off in my head on a phrase that he said that has stuck with me many years. He said 'people have two different narratives, it doesn’t mean it comes from a place of malice.' And that I thought was brilliant.

GA: This is not an abstract issue that you kind of in a debating club and go back home and feel good about yourself, that you won the debate. We have both known people to die or to lose loved ones, and at the end of the day, there is almost a moral imperative towards resolving this.

DTH: What point do you hope sticks with students the most after this evening?

GA: People think of this as an issue of that only divides people. We want to show that it can also bring people together.

DM: We think you can be pro-Palestinian and be pro-Israeli. And that if you want a two-state solution, both of these entities have to be strong. And it’s not a zero-sum game.

DTH: What point do you hope sticks with students the most after this evening?

AO: People think of this as an issue of that only divides people. We want to show that it can also bring people together.DM: We think you can be pro-Palestinian and be pro-Israeli. And that if you want a two-state solution, both of these entities have to be strong. And it’s not a zero-sum game.

DTH: What would each of you say to UNC students who aren’t directly thinking about this conflict, aren’t involved or educated on this topic? What is the importance of becoming informed and educated on this?

AO: For far too long ... we have allowed ... the most negative voices to define this issue. And most of us who have this basic instinct to just get along ... we don’t speak up. And in doing this, we have actually conceded the conversation to the most negative voices in the conversation.

If you believe in the virtues of cooperation, of working together, of solving conflicts, be vocal. Be active, be radically moderate, if you wish.

DM: If there is going to be a solution here, it’s not going to be because one side arm-wrestled the other to the ground, but because the broad middle of both societies see they have a shared interest. And that it’s more the moderates on both against the radicals, I think. And I think that means people should not be apathetic, people should find ways to come together and not to rip each other apart.

university@dailytarheel.com

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