Report from Israeli-Palestinian Academic Conference

Report from Israeli-Palestinian Academic Conference

Dr. Moises Salinas, chairman of the recent Pathways to Peace conference, provided us with this summary of the event:

With the support of Meretz USA, the Jewish Academic Network for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (JANIP) sponsored the First International Academic Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: Pathways to Peace. The Conference took place on March 28-29 at Central Connecticut State University and was co-sponsored by the American Task Force on Palestine and the Geneva Initiative North America. It featured top-level keynote speakers Herbert Kelman, Naomi Chazan, Stephen P. Cohen, Sami Adwan, Daniel Levy, Gaith al Omari, and Saliba Sarsar, as well as over 36 other presenters.

The conference concluded with a summary of some of the recurring ideas, and out-of-the-box suggestions for follow up:

1. We cannot ignore the human element. As many of the presenters stressed, this is not only a conflict about political issues, or even about abstract issues like justice or safety. This is a conflict about real people who are driven by real emotions — fear, hatred, perceptions of injustice, prejudice. It is also a conflict with an enormous human toll — psychological, physical, and economic. It is important to frame our discussions in a way that recognizes the human element on both sides. Some presentations stressed how involving Arab-Israelis in the process can be an important step in achieving that goal.

2. There has to be light at the end of the tunnel. Increasingly, people regard the conflict as intractable, and terms such as “conflict management” become more commonplace, instead of conflict resolution. If people don’t see a clear, achievable end to the conflict, frustration and helplessness take over, and the willingness to work towards resolution is diminished. As Dr. Dennis Fox wrote, many Palestinians might have shied away from the conference because they are frustrated about efforts that lead nowhere and don’t recognize their plight. As Dr. Kelman suggested, there has to be a clear vision of where we are going even while we figure out how to get there.

3. We have to help Israelis get out of their complacency. The brilliant presentation by Naomi Chazan summarized it well: Israelis don’t realize (or don’t want to think about) the fact that the current situation is untenable and that failure to achieve a solution in the near future will lead to the end of the State of Israel as we know it. While most Israelis live now without day-to-day fear and a preoccupation on the conflict, as frustration mounts, Israel will be under pressure to take even more drastic actions against the Palestinians. Many of the presentations showed how public opinion in the world, even Jewish public opinion in the U.S., is shifting and support for Israel is eroding. It is becoming harder to defend Israel rationally against accusations of racism and apartheid, and to advocate a two-state solution. It is a matter of time until Israel becomes more isolated, as well as more theocratic and militaristic. Dr. Chazan even ventured that Israelis might need to be “frightened” into understanding that a path that does not lead to peace only leads to a Jewish theocratic Middle East state instead of our vision of a western democracy.

The next step is to brainstorm about what we can do with those ideas so we can translate some of them into practice. We will certainly continue our efforts with a follow-up to the conference, by publishing the proceedings, and establishing a list-serve to continue communicating. We will also be using the JANIP Web site as a platform to continue the dialogue and spread new ideas.

By | 2008-04-09T18:02:00-04:00 April 9th, 2008|Blog|11 Comments


  1. Anonymous April 9, 2008 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    Ron , Please..
    when people in Israel (& palestinians) can find no Job, why do u think that pother issues matters? are such crucial for us, unemployed??
    I wanna work and earn, I dont care of Army stuff & politions
    see & Sign & forward please:
    Most appreciate,
    Thank U

  2. Anonymous April 9, 2008 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    “It featured top-level keynote speakers Herbert Kelman, Naomi Chazan, Stephen P. Cohen, Sami Adwan, Daniel Levy, Gaith al Omari, and Saliba Sarsar, as well as over 36 other presenters.”

    Sorry, but were there seem not to have been any top-level keynote Palestinians speakers? Seems like Rafi Dajani, ATFP’s old top-level speaker and darling of Brit Tzedek Shalom and Meretz didn’t make it. Maybe it’s hard to get prison furloughs.

    But still, I would have thought you could have found some other Palestinians somewhere who you could pay enough to get them to attend. Maybe Walid Shoebat?


  3. Ralph Seliger April 9, 2008 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    Ted, you can do better than this. Half of the keynote speakers were Palestinians: Sami Adwan, Gaith al Omari and Saliba Sarsar.

  4. dennisfox April 10, 2008 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    I appreciate Moises’ mention of my concerns in his post-conference summary. I’d like to clarify that those concerns are not simply to persuade frustrated Palestinians there is “light at the end of the tunnel.” The core of my concern is that an avowed even-handed search for dialogue and reconciliation that does not acknowledge the clear imbalance of power and the greater victimization of Palestinians cannot possibly lead to a sustainable solution.

    I’m sorry I had to leave before Naomi Chazan’s talk, which Moises’ summary indicates moved in a useful direction. Moises says this about it: “We have to help get Israelis get out of their complacency.” There’s another group where complacency seems to me rampant: American Jewish supporters of an even-handed, equal-victimization approach.

    Justice is central. Not just each side’s “perceptions of justice,” but actual justice, assessed by universal principles of justice and human rights. So at the risk of crossing the threshold of annoyance, I will reiterate yet one more time that approaches trying to sidestep this issue will go nowhere no matter how many signed agreements they generate. The bottom line is that efforts grounded on Israel’s primacy, inherent in groups such as JANIP, Brit Tzedek, and Meretz, are inappropriate in settings claiming either the mantle of academic objectivity or the relevance of morality and common sense.

    My conference paper, which considers much of this in greater detail, is on my website:

    My conference impressions are on my blog:

    It was good to talk with many of you at the conference. I know that some of you share my concerns. I hope this central issue will be addressed more directly in the future.

    Dennis Fox

  5. Ron Skolnik April 10, 2008 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    Your comment is undignified and, IMHO, insulting to the Palestinians who attended. Trying to push past your unproductively glib and smug tone, I suppose what you’re saying is that the only Palestinians who would attend a conference dealing with the two-state solution are those getting bribed to do so. Is that what we are to understand? If that’s your argument, then I’m not sure if you’re attacking the conference from the anti-Zionist left or from the settler-Zionist right.

  6. Anonymous April 12, 2008 at 2:52 am - Reply

    Look Ron, let’s face it, the Palestinian speakers were not people who can be described at “top-level” in any objective sense. They shouldn’t be played up by the conference organizers as important people because they are not.

    They three are not people playing any significant leadership role in the Palestinian community, are not well-known academics, etc.. They would not be known or recognized by most Palestinians in the US, Palestine or anywhere else.

    The only claim to fame of one of them, Ghaith Al-Omari, is that he was once an advisor to Abu Mazen. The way to learn about two of them, Al-Omari and Sarsar, is by looking at the ATFP website.

    Unfortunately, for Meretz, et al, ATFP has a very bad reputation in the Palestinian community, and has had this bad reputation since well before Dajani was fired for stealing money. Many people have long been convinced that ATFPers must be in it out of self-interest (and perhaps financial gain) and not because of any real commitment to the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

    ATFP is seen as an illegitimate organization that is not representative of Palestinians, is too close to the Bush administration, which has no intention of doing anything real for Palestinians, and which has a large budget that is not being used to benefit Palestinians. Though now we know that was not true, because it was benefiting one Palestinian at least, Rafi.

    In short, ATFP is seen as the Palestinian version of the Iraqi American Congress, with Ziad Al Asali as the Palestinian Chalabi.

    If you can only get lesser versions of the Palestinian Chalabi at your events, best not to market them as “top-level.” It might also be wise to examine carefully why these are the only Palestinians that Meretz can attract to speak (and I note that two appear not even to have been present in person anyway, but spoke by teleconference).


  7. Anonymous April 12, 2008 at 3:05 am - Reply

    Sorry, that’s Iraqi National Congress, of course.


  8. Ralph Seliger April 12, 2008 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Gaith al-Omari is Director of Advocacy for the American Task Force on Palestine and Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation. He has served in the Palestinian Authority as Foreign Policy Advisor to the Palestinian President, Director of the International Relations Department in the Office of the Palestinian President, and Senior Advisor to former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. He was a member of the Palestinian negotiating team throughout the permanent status negotiations (1999–2001). After the breakdown of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, he was the lead Palestinian drafter of the Geneva Initiative. Mr. al-Omari is a lawyer by training and a graduate of Georgetown and Oxford universities. Prior to his involvement in the Middle East peace process, he taught international law in Jordan and was active in human rights advocacy.

    Dr. Sami Adwan, a Professor of Education at Bethlehem University (in the West Bank) and teleconferenced from either his office or his home in Bethlehem.

    Dr. Saliba Sarsar is a Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

  9. Anonymous April 12, 2008 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    Yes, I was able to locate these three people’s bios also. I reaffirm that I don’t think you will find many people involved in the issue who have heard of any of the three. Despite Al Omari’s somewhat impressive sounding credentials, Al Omari is a relative unknown, seemingly a creature of the well-funded and bankrupt “peace process” that has dragged on for 16 years now, and produced plenty of process, but no peace, while skyrocketing people like Dajani and al Asali, who have no legitimacy in their communities, into positions that are viewed as important by some outsiders.

    And indeed they could achieve momentary importance if the US and Israel choose to fly them into Gaza in helicopters under the protection of Mohammed Dahlan, ala Chalabi and the INC in Iraq.

    Again, I would ask, what it says if these are the only Palestinians that Meretz is able to get to speak.


  10. Ralph Seliger April 13, 2008 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Ted again shows his ill will by attacking the peace camp. Meretz is in the forefront of Israeli efforts to foster negotiations and come to a speedy resolution. Chaim Oron, the new party leader, is the primary interlocutor with Marwan Barghouti and advocate for his release. Meretz also supports all efforts to reach a cease-fire agreement with Hamas.

    Ted derives perverse pleasure in ridiculing the ATFP and other Palestinians who advocate a peaceful two-state solution with Israel.

  11. Anonymous April 13, 2008 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    I am not attacking the “peace camp” nor those advocating “a peaceful two state solution with Israel”. This is a nice effort at smoke and mirrors.

    I am criticizing those widely and justifiably viewed amongst supporters of Palestinian rights as advocating “peace” and two states in a manner that will not bring about a viable peace, but will rather sacrifice vital Palestinian rights while allowing Israel to maintain a discriminatory system.

    The Geneva Initiative, six years after the fact, falls clearly into that camp. Geneva legitimized the concept of Israeli holding onto the “settlement blocs”, a concept which has now been exploited by Israel and the US to attempt to push upon Palestinians a completely non-viable state of bantustans. The Geneva Initiative also was inadequate in dealing with the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It is well past time for even those who formulated the Geneva Initiative to recognize that it is no longer relevant and abandon them. They have become part of the problem, and have become part of a well-financed peace industry that is advocating non-viable solutions.

    Advocating for the release of Marwan Barghouti is a positive step and I appreciate anyone who is doing so, though again, this may be too little, much too late. Marwan’s time may have passed, unfortunately. Advocating for a ceasefire with Hamas is also a very worthwhile initiative.

    Personally, I have not heard ATFP advocating for Marwan Barghouti’s release. Nor do I hear ATFP speaking forthrightly and critically of Fateh, Israel or the US on a number of important issues. By failing to do so, by failing to stand up for vital Palestinian rights, and by attempting to ingratiate themselves with the Bush administration, ATFP has placed themselves in the position of being viewed as well-funded opportunists and sell-outs.

    Meretz should not be hooking itself to the Geneva and/or the ATFP stars if it really seeks enduring peace and a viable Palestinian state.


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