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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Bloomington, IndianaIndiana Daily Student
October 21, 2004
Former Envoy Discusses Middle East Peace Process
By David A. Nosko
The barrier to peace in the Middle East is separated by more than a wall-like fence. That's what Dennis Ross, former U.S. envoy to the Middle East and author of "The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace," lectured to the campus community Wednesday night in the Willkie Auditorium.
About 100 Bloomington residents, faculty, students and guests participated in Ross's recount of numerous breakdowns and feasible solutions in the Middle East peace processes.
Steve Weitzman, director of the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program, introduced Ross to the campus community by highlighting his service as chief Middle East peace negotiator for former President George H. W. Bush and former President Clinton. Ross aided the 1994 Jordan-Israeli peace agreement, and he has earned the Presidential Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service.
"It's hard to be optimistic about the Palestine-Israel conflict these days," Weitzman said to the crowd before Ross's lecture. Bloomington is one stop for Ross on a 45-city book tour.
Ross said he wrote the book for two reasons: he has worked on a lot of international issues and he wants to expose each idea so people could understand the roots of the conflict.
"The Middle East is completely consumed with mythology," Ross said. "Mythology is an untruth, the absence of reality. If interpretations of untruths are heard again and again, it becomes unquestioned fact which bears no relationship to reality. You cannot reconcile myths; you expose mythology and debunk myths."
Ross structured his lecture around three myths and four lessons he said were of particular importance. He said campus community members could read the rest in his book.
"Israelis have only experienced war with Palestinians since 2001," Ross said. "Peace processes involve words; negotiating requires mutual adjustment."
Ross said the first myth regards the Palestinians as having never made any concessions on major issues; the second myth involves the right of return for Palestinians to Israel -- a one state solution; and the third myth concerns no concrete solutions being offered by the West -- only vague ideas not on paper.
"The Palestinian Authority is separate from (Palestinian Authority leader Yasser) Arafat these days," Ross said. "You have to make judgments about what is happening and why. Arafat is measured more by what he doesn't want than what he wants. He can live with the process, but not the conclusion."
Weitzman said conflict in the Middle East is important to all campus community members, especially Jewish students who were probably 13 or 14 when the war started.
"Although the Israel-Palestine conflict doesn't seem solvable at this point, it's important to stay engaged and learn about it," Weitzman said. "This issue is central to the Middle East, and we will have to solve the conflict sometime. They're fighting for the same thing -- a right for national self-determination. Unfortunately, each vision is supposed to unfold on the same piece of land. The irony: the visions themselves are very much similar. It is literally a matter of life and death since al Qaeda has taken this issue up."
Zaineb Istrabadi, the associate director of Middle East and Islamic Studies Program, said the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a religious conflict, and the war is about land.
"In my opinion, the only solution is to cut off money; somebody, or something, is benefiting from the mayhem," Istrabadi said. "Certainly, every human life is sacred. The loss of one life unjustly is a terrible thing. What more can be said when one turns on the television except to watch in horrified silence."
Ross said Arab leaders are going to have to legitimize the idea of compromise, condemn terror and terrorist acts in concrete language with concrete penalties through public forums and develop an Arab umbrella of support for peace. Ross said Israel has to adjust to the idea of an independent Palestine, give up control of Palestinians and their daily lives and disengage from settlement activities. Ross said Israel's current withdraw from the Gaza strip is a "revolutionary move," and he said Arafat was a "master maneuverer" born with all maneuver genes.
"(Prime Minister of Israel Ariel) Sharon is not a master of subtlety," Ross said. "What could be an opening, will only be an explosion if we stand where we are. (During the Clinton Administration) we didn't make peace, but we prevented a war. We were talking to each other. Since the war began, 1,000 Israeli's are dead, and 6,000 more have been maimed and wounded. Thirty-five hundred Palestinians are dead, and 25,000 have been maimed and wounded. The measure of diplomacy is not always what you achieve."
Bloomington resident Madi Hirschland, who attended the lecture, said she thought Ross was "great" because he's calling for America to get back into the game -- get back to the negotiating table.
"Striving for a negotiated solution is crucial to stop the violence," Hirschland said. "A negotiated solution is the only way to end terrorism. You can stun terror with a security barrier and (military) sieges, but the only hope is with a negotiated solution." Hirschland, a volunteer for Brit Tzedek v'Shalom -- The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, attended Ross's speech, amongst other reasons, to promote the 2004 speaking tour of Naomi Chazan, a member of the Israeli Knesset -- similar to the U.S. House of Representatives, from 1992-2003. Chazan will speak to the prospects of peace in Israeli at 7 p.m., Nov. 7, at the Congregation Beth Shalom, 3750 E. Third St.
Ross said people often surround themselves with other people who validate their opinions; otherwise, you have to justify yourself all the time to everybody -- think about why you feel the way you do and what those feelings mean.
"We have to delegitimize terror as an instrument," Ross said. "Every time we were making progress, terrorism undercut us. The terror will always undercut the peace. If being the victim is used not as a condition, but as a strategy, you are entitled to something and not held responsible. When you are a victim as a strategy, it means you are never accountable."
Ross concluded his lecture with a question and answer session, designed to stimulate further discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
"If you like (the withdrawal) in Gaza, wait until you see it in the West Bank," Ross said. "Europeans want (Americans) involved; they have proved they can't (assist in the peace process) for a variety of reasons. This is not going to be determined by politics, but by the mindset of the people involved."
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