Israelis and Palestinians at Harvard: Part 8 of 9

01/06/2015 02:34 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2015

America's Role
Perhaps it is arrogance, perhaps it is capability, or perhaps it is expectation -- whatever it is, the U.S. has been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for decades. However, some Palestinians I spoke with said that the U.S. is not the right party to mediate a two-state solution whereas Israelis has said it is. However, other Palestinians said to me that the U.S. can pressure Israel to get results but the party should be the UN to mediate. One Harvard educated Muslim told me "It is very clear it is not the American interest to have democracy in the Middle East." He continued to give an example of when in Algeria, an Islamist group won the election, the result was not honored by Westerners and the result was 100,000 were killed. The same thing happened in Palestine with Hamas." He suggested that if Hamas were allowed to try to do its job, it would quickly become evident that they won't be successful and they would not be reelected. But the West doesn't want to take this chance and declares no support for the election's results.

An Israeli woman said to me that "Israelis built themselves for sixty years, from scratch; the Palestinians could do the same [in Gaza] but they don't value doing so." There is no meeting of the minds and each side gets hung-up on the details -- the Devil is truly in the details.

Wassim, a Palestinian I interviewed while we were both students at Harvard, told me that he and many other Palestinians would like to see an international presence assist the development of a Palestinian state. He explained that Hamas' popularity would change if there were a Palestinian state; what would they struggle against? Hezbollah became weaker after Israel withdrew from Lebanon, as an example.

I asked what the U.S. and or Israel is getting wrong and Israeli Dr. Freilich perhaps said it best: "each countries maximum is less than the other countries minimum." Moreover, Dr. Freilich said, "Israel has managed to convince the world that it is the state that doesn't want a two state solution, when in fact that opposite is true... Palestinians have only started talking about it in recent years." Freilich pointed out that "Rabin was the guy who led to the Oslo breakthrough in 1993 and who wanted a two state solution, and in 2000 it was Ehud Barak, who went to Camp David who forced [President] Clinton, Arafat to go the Camp David Summit; Clinton didn't think situation was right yet, while he was ready for it in principle. Arafat didn't want to go. Barak forced it on the two of them." Barak put forward 90-91 percent of the West Bank over 10-15 years and 100 percent of Gaza, and right of return for many Palestinians, but Arafat rejected it "saying no to everything that was proposed."

One Muslim, who wished not to be identified by name, responded to me it is the same for both sides:

"You are not going to get what you want (peace) though the military. At the end of the day, you need to understand that you have to do good for your neighbor. You are in the Middle East, and you have to go through this process by acting as one of the guys, not the only guy in the neighborhood. Israelis are missing that... Justice is very important... America can continue to support Israel as much as it wants, but it has to remember that this area is full of surprises. And they shouldn't make the mistake that the Europeans made in the past and wake up one day and find that the carpet was pulled out from under their legs anymore. You cannot ignore this huge nation called Arabs and Muslims. You cannot continue by different excuses by saying it is not up to us, it is up to you. It is up to America to say we do not like to interfere in your business but we think this is wrong. As the unipolar state, you have different responsibilities."

I discussed negotiations and Yasser Arafat with another Israeli with a security background. I pointed out that Arafat once denounced jihad in an interview, but then the interviewer showed Arafat a clip of Arafat chanting "jihad, jihad, jihad!" and then I asked if Arafat could have been trusted. Much to my surprise, this Israeli quickly said, "but this is the people who we have to negotiate with... at the end of the day, we are going to need to create dialogue with Hamas, and with everybody there." Israeli Natasha said that she would negotiate with anyone because - she does not care how bad the other people are, she isn't doing it for their sake, she is doing it for her sake; "we should negotiated with whoever can stop this conflict." Furthermore, to negotiate with Hamas over PLO would kill the PLO, but the international community needs to choose who the partner is and PLO is the better of the two alternatives. Conversely, in addressing negotiation with Hamas, Israeli Orna said that "if we really reach an agreement, do you really think they are going to follow it? They want you to be dead! ... We can only get through to them through a third party." And Dr. Freilich noted that it is a dubious proposition that even if a successful negotiation occurred that there is no Palestinian body that could guarantee the peace would last. It is no wonder that progress has been slow; people on the same side don't always agree with how to proceed.

PAUL HEROUX is a state representative from Massachusetts who previously lived and worked in the Middle East, was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, and is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations discussing the Middle East. Paul has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.