An Israeli intelligence expert and a Palestinian political science professor — once neighbors in Jerusalem — told a Drew University audience March 4 that peace may soon be possible between their two peoples.
Avi Melamed, an Israeli intelligence analyst and adviser on Arab affairs to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Saliba Sarsar, a political scientist at Monmouth University, joined March 4 in what was billed as “a constructive conversation about the challenges and opportunities for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
Their dialogue, sponsored by Drew University Hillel and the Marjorie M. and Irwin Nat Pincus Fund, came one day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that his country will reap “the fruits of peace” if it reaches an agreement with the Palestinians.
Leading off a far-ranging discussion in Crawford Hall on the Madison campus, Melamed said, “The question should not be whether it is possible to obtain peace but whether it will be possible to obtain peace that endures and lasts. As of now, given the current conditions in the region, the answer is ‘no.’”
Melamed conceded that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are themselves divided about the future of the Palestinians.
“But the good news is they have started to take their first steps in that direction,” he said.
Melamed said he does not believe that “there is no Palestinian side we can talk to.”
He said, “Israelis by and large have come to the conclusion that their most important ultimate strategic interest is to have peace with the Palestinians that involves compromise.” But, he lamented, “The Palestinians are not there yet.”
Sarsar, born and raised in Jerusalem, started on an optimistic note.
“If the current negotiations are designed to end the conflict, then peace is possible,” he said. But he noted that “the two societies remain stuck in positions that have hardened,” referring to “ultra-Orthodox settlers and pressure groups which totally oppose land concessions, and Hamas, which favors armed struggle which calls for liberation of all of Palestine.”
Sarsar, a board member of the American Task Force on Palestine, said key issues of security, borders, and the fates of both Palestinian and Jewish refugees could be resolved, along with the future of West Bank settlements, safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza, and water rights.
He argued that some Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to their homes, while others should be compensated for lost property. He said safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza “can be done just like we travel on the Garden State Parkway, with all the necessary exits.”
Moderator Jonathan Golden, an associate professor at Drew’s Department of Religious Studies, asked both speakers about their views on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement targeting Israel.
“This is a movement that has secured some strength recently, but I do not believe ultimately it will succeed.”
Rather than waging economic war against Israeli policies in the West Bank, “what we need are peace negotiations,” said Sarsar. “I wish that when the occupation is ended, Israel has its security, Palestine has its security — then we will not be arguing over BDS because the objective will be achieved.”
Melamed called BDS “juvenile” and “irresponsible.” “When people come to me and start threatening me with sanctions,” he said, “I don’t feel like I want to cooperate.”
He did concede that Israel has a powerful right wing that takes an uncompromising approach. “At the same time,” he said, “the mainstream in Israel, manifested in the Israeli political system, at the end of the day stands for the concept of a two-state solution.”