The Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations may seem a long way from complete resolution, but Washington Institute senior fellows David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari spoke on the topic at UNC Wednesday evening and had a hopeful message for their audience: disagreements can be overcome.
“This has become one of the most divisive issues on campuses and within communities. And we actually want to show that there's another way of doing it,” Al-Omari said. “As colleagues who work on policy issues in Washington, we tend to look at disagreements as obstacles to be overcome. And the way you do that is by engaging, by discussing, understanding different points of view, then coming up with solutions.”
North Carolina Hillel hosted the talk along with the Peace, War, and Defense Department, the Department of Religious Studies, the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies in response to the elections taking place in Israel.
Makovsky is a former senior advisor to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations within the Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, and Al-Omari is the former executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine.
Makovsky said it is important for himself and Al-Omari to model civil dialogue for students. It's concerning to him that current college students are part of a generation that have no memories prior to 9/11, when there was a more prospective outlook on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Makovsky said.
“We are worried that the people who will jump off the peaceful coexistence train first are the people that don't have a reservoir of memories about when it was good," Makovsky said. “That makes us feel that we need to convey that to a new generation and urge them not to jump off the train and not to despair."
Al-Omari and Makovsky said they see things during their work that show signs of hope for the resolution of conflict in the region.
“Like Ghaith said, we see things under the table, so to speak, that are good. We see the Palestinian Israeli security people on both sides cooperating. We see economics, that there's some back and forth there.”
Junior Kayla Korzekwinski was encouraged by the speakers’ dedication to ending the conflict, and looked forward to learning more.
“I personally was looking forward to it because I work for Hillel, but am not Jewish and don’t really know a lot about the conflict, so I wanted to come and learn about it,” Korzekwinski said. “But I feel like I had to have known a lot beforehand, but it’s definitely important to hear both points of view and that was pretty interesting in how they kind of want the same thing, just different ends of it.”
First-year Noa Bearman said she appreciated hearing a different perspective on this issue.
“I’ve been interested in joining forces and finding other people that I can talk to with different perspectives and so to find the opportunity and to hear those different sides in person was a really incredible opportunity,” Bearman said.
As a complex and divisive issue, both Al-Omari and Makovsky said they want people to think about how to work together rather than become divided.
"We have to ask ourselves as we engage in this issue, are we part of resolving or perpetuating this? Do we want the two sides to engage and move forward? Or are we happy with everyone digging the trenches and continuing the fight forever,” Al-Omari said. “I think that's a question that every American every college student, every American, every one should ask themselves before they engage and opine on this issue because ultimately it is about us — it's about real people out there.”
Makovsky also shared thoughts for the Chapel Hill community in particular.
"In terms of the Chapel Hill community, I think it's like, are we going to do things that are going to be divisive, to rip this community apart? Or do we join hands, hyphenated Americans, non-hyphenated Americans, whether they're Muslim-American, Jewish-Americans or just plain Americans?" Makovsky said.
Makovsky said it's important to come together as a community, rather than become divided.
"So I, if I was a student on campus, I'd say okay, what brings people together? Not what rips them apart," he said.
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