The yes/no question, "Is Israeli-Palestinian peace still possible?" was confronted by professors from both sides of the conflict at a discussion panel last night. Yet none of them could offer a definitive answer to what they saw as an almost impossible problem to solve.
Sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, the panel was comprised of distinguished professors representing various perspectives from overseas and American universities. The professors came to give their own academic and personal viewpoints on the conflict and on the prospects for a possible peace between the two peoples.
The discussion opened with optimism from two political science professors — Khalil Shikaki of Birzeit University and Zeev Maoz of Tel Aviv University — said the long-term goal of peace was possible in spite of the current conditions of the situation.
"It is this belief that the (Israeli and Palestinian) public is moving toward moderation. That leads me to believe that the answer is ‘yes' (that peace will be achieved)," said Shikaki.
But that optimism for peace quickly turned to skepticism when political science Prof. Gabriel Sheffer of Israel's Hebrew University said he was utterly doubtful about those prospects and added that the bare reality was surveys have shown that both sides still see violence as a means to solve their problems.
"It is true that the majority are for peace. But at the same time, the majority are for the use of force," Sheffer said.
He added that the central issue to the conflict is land, and until Israel gives up that land, no peace will be achieved.
Even more dire prospects came from sociology Prof. Sharif Kanaana of Birzeit University in the West Bank, who said he saw no chance for peace in the past and sees no chance of it in the future. He added that neither side had the intentions for peace, but each is delaying any productive action in order to prevent a possible resolution that would not go in its favor.
"Everybody is playing their own game. They are not looking at each other's games and are not working (with one another)," Kanaana said.
Kanaana earlier explained that the question, "Is Israeli-Palestinian peace still possible?" is riddled with the assumption that there are only two players in the conflict and that the two sides are on a level playing field. He added that the U.S. is the real actor in the conflict and has helped Israel eliminate the Palestinian Authority, which used to only consist of Yasser Arafat quarantined in a room.
"The Palestinian Authority at the present time only has control of two rooms and one bathroom. … These are seen as equal as each other? Israel is the fourth most powerful country at the present time."
Despite these heated comments, Kanaana's views drew the most criticism when he said that the Israel state is ready to commit genocide against the Palestinians in order to purify the Zionist state. Since the Second Intifada began in the fall of 2000, the Israeli Defense Forces have targeted Hamas leaders in assassination attempts. Kanaana added that Israelis already occupy around 90 percent of the territory and so have no reason to begin making concessions since they are in an ideal position to occupy all of Palestinian land.
Palestinians are now confined by the construction of the wall in the West Bank, which Kanaana called a temporary detention camp.
"I think the Israelis are priming for a genocide if the Palestinians oppose them," he said.
Contrary to Kanaana;s perspective, Shikaki compared the prospect for peace to a tunnel, where the light can already be seen, but there is not yet a mechanism to reach that light. Maoz added on those prospects, saying both sides just need strong leadership willing to make courageous steps and political sacrifices.
"Both sides know what to do to create the atmosphere for peace. There is just not enough self-criticism of the actions of each side to make that peace," Maoz said.
He added that both Palestinians and Israelis will eventually come to a peace because they are gradually recognizing that there is no way out through violence.
Avi Jacobson, Director of the Hamagshimim Israel Fellowship, said of Kanaana's remark, "I was shocked and appalled by the comment that Israelis were preparing for a genocide. It's demonization and propaganda."
Still, Jacobson, an Engineering senior, did add that he found the discussion interesting because some speakers raised real possibilities of hope which reaffirmed his belief that peace is still possible in the Middle east. "Peace is still possible, because both sides want it," he said.
Psychologist and University faculty member Majeda Humeiden also said peace would be possible, but added some of the American public are unwilling to support the Palestinian movement. "Being pro-human rights or being pro-Palestinian is sometimes seen as being anti-Semitic."
She said she hopes people overcome that thinking so that American people can make a more concerted effort to help solve the conflict.