Two experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict laid out contrasting approaches to resolving the situation in a panel discussion at the Institute of Politics yesterday evening.
Shai Feldman, professor of politics and director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, argued that Israelis need to be convinced that the road to peace and the two-state solution will not jeopardize their security. Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab studies and director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, said that the world powers should focus on building Palestinian political unity rather than delegitimizing Hamas. The panel was moderated by Harvard Kennedy School Professor R. Nicholas Burns.
While introducing the speakers, Burns emphasized the effects of the 61-year struggle on the Israeli and Palestinian people.
"The Israeli people have not known a single day of peace, and the Palestinian people have not seen a single day of justice," he said.
Khalidi acknowledged the gravity of the situation, especially in light of the recent escalation in violence in Gaza, but said that he remained cautiously optimistic.
"I actually think there is a glimmer of a possibility to break this gridlock," said Khalidi.
For Feldman, an important component of achieving peace is convincing Hamas to adopt nonviolent means.
"There is no way Hamas can meet the expectations of their constituencies in a state of conflict," said Feldman.
Both panelists applauded President Barack H. Obama's choice of former Senator George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East, but they also had reservations about Mitchell's effectiveness.
"The Senator has no chance in hell in achieving anything if he doesn't have the full support of the President and the Secretary of State," said Khalidi.
"I would say that it's okay to have Senator Mitchell go once or twice more for fact-finding missions," said Feldman, arguing that excessive visits would decrease his legitimacy.
Students in attendance expressed mixed opinions on the content of the panel.
"I appreciate that there is a civil discourse taking place on this issue," said Abdelnasser A. Rashid '11, a member of the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee.
Matt R. Cohen '11, a co-president of Harvard Students for Israel, generally approved of Feldman's statements but was skeptical of the effect that the friendship between the two panelists may have had on Feldman's willingness to defend Israeli policies.
"Coming from what appears to be a long-standing relationship with Professor Khalidi, I don't believe he was the best representative of Israel," he said.