NEW BRITAIN — Students of the Middle East at Central Connecticut State University got a fresh perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict Monday from a seasoned foreign policy analyst.
Mark Perry, a major authority in Washington, D.C., on Hamas, the Palestinians and Israel, talked about Gaza in the wake of recent attacks, calling his talk, "After Gaza: The Catastrophic Status of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."
He shared his insights on the conflict, including stories about former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and the struggle for control between two Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah.
The Middle East conflict has little to do with God, but everything to do with politics, Perry declared. He said he is skeptical that Israel can be both Jewish and Democratic, and predicted over time the Palestinians will prevail.
"I've had 56 meetings with Hamas officials," he said, "Not once was Allah's name mentioned. In fact, I'd say Hamas is more like Rotarians or the Democratic party in the U.S., less religious than Republicans."
Kevin Casey, a graduate student in history at CCSU, said he usually attends the Middle East lectures and always comes with an open mind.
He noted that attitudes toward Israel are hardening and Perry agreed.
"Twenty years ago, few people could criticize Israel the way we are tonight," Perry said. "U.S. attitudes are definitely changing."
And they'll have to, if Perry is right. Saying there is little hope for peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine, Perry predicted the world would eventually see a radically different Middle East.
"This is not Birmingham, Alabama," he said. "This is war, a war of attrition which the Palestinians will eventually win."
Though Hamas has been strong in Gaza, there is no Islamic state there, no enforced social programs or religious police and, according to Perry, a relatively free press.
Perry told the audience Arafat wanted the U.S. to side with the Palestinians following the Oslo Peace Conference in 2000. However, President Clinton refused to go along and in three days 56 Palestinians were killed by Israelis. Arafat, he said, was wrongly blamed for that conflict.
Perry also related several stories including one about Donald Rumsfeld probing for information about the future head of Hamas.
"He doesn't shoot leaders of the losing side, does he?" Rumsfeld reportedly asked.
An author and foreign policy analyst, Perry's works include "A Fire in Zion," "Inside the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process" (1994) and, most recently, "Partners In Command, Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall in War and Peace." He is currently the co-director of Conflicts Forum, a Beirut and Washington, D.C.-based organization whose goal is to increase understanding in the West of political Islam.
In 2005, Perry led a delegation of American and European senior officials to a meeting in Beirut with the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah. The result was a five-part series of articles in Asia Times entitled: "How We Are Losing the War on Terror." Perry served for 17 years as a senior advisor to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. His most recent journeys to the region included discussions with the political leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Maura Coonoy, 22 of Southington is taking an independent study program with Mezvinsky. She said she plans to be a history teacher.
Coonoy welcomed the fact that Prof. Mezvinsky brings in speakers and authors not usually reported on in the media.
"I like the fact that he presents the other side of the political spectrum," she said, "Usually the media tends to report on the Israel lobby in the U.S. Israel seems to have everything, the Palestinians nothing."
The CCSU Middle East Lecture Series is underwritten by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. The series is sponsored by the CCSU Middle East Studies Committee of CIE, History Department, and Peace Studies Program.