Political tensions are putting progress toward a peace deal between Israel and Palestine on hold according to think tank The Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy fellows Ghaith al-Omari and David Makovsky in the Healey Family Student Center Social Room on Tuesday.
“What are the main threats right now? I think it is politics. Often, people — they look at this conflict and say that it’s unsolvable,” al-Omari said. “These are difficult issues that I believe are solvable.”
A new student initiative, Georgetown Bipartisan Pro-Israel Dialogue, hosted the panelists to discuss the future of U.S.-Israel relations, for its first-ever event.
The event was co-sponsored by Georgetown University College Democrats, Georgetown University College Republicans, Georgetown Israel Alliance, J Street U Georgetown, the Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition and the foreign policy discussion group Alexander Hamilton Society. GBPID Director Matthew Gregory (SFS ’17) moderated the event.
Al-Omari has been a negotiator for the Palestinian Authority and the executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, an organization that promotes Palestinian statehood in the United States.
Makovsky has served as a senior advisor to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and as the executive editor of The Jerusalem Post.
Al-Omari said domestic political troubles in both Israel and Palestine are making progress on a peace deal challenging.
“On the Israeli side, we see a coalition that is quite right-wing, a coalition that cannot, in its current formulation, actually make the concession that would let us reach a peace deal,” al-Omari said. “And on the Palestinian side, what do we see? We see a divided politic. We see a president who is in the twelfth year of a four-year term. We see a parliament that is also long defunct. We see the Palestinian public — 80 percent of Palestinians believe the government is corrupt.”
According to Al-Omari, although most Israelis and Palestinians believe that peace is desirable, they fear that peace is not possible.
The two sides were able to make progress towards peace under former President Barack Obama’s administration, according to Makovsky, but regional troubles in the aftermath of the Arab Spring prevented a deal from being reached.
Makovsky stressed the success of the Obama administration in improving the borders and security of Israel.
President Donald Trump has made a series of policy announcements with respect to Israel, from planning to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to charging Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, with the task of advancing peace in the region.
The nature of the situation regarding U.S.-Israel relations in the Trump administration, al-Omari said, is uncertain as of yet.
“What we don’t know, we simply do not know, in foreign policy, at least, in the Middle East, where this administration is. We will not know for a while. Policy is not only made by a president,” al-Omari said. “So, on foreign policy as yet, I am withholding judgment. If I were to judge, I would even say cautiously optimistic.”
Al-Omari said the early policy indications are positive.
“On the Palestinian-Israeli issue, I think, frankly, political things aside, he has shown restraint,” al-Omari said. “He came as a president who was against the establishment, yet, as I look at the practice at the embassy — not moving any time soon.”
Makovsky said it is important to be optimistic regarding the ability to make progress toward a peace deal.
“There’s always, in the American imagination, the idea of American interest and American values,” Makovsky said. “I think what [al-Omari] said was accurate: don’t write things off so fast, because the way our leaders have reacted over the Iran nuclear deal and the other issues where they thought that the U.S. would—they thought the U.S. was going to throw them over the edge.”
Gregory said GBPID is looking to establish dialogue on the peace process with guaranteed Israeli sovereignty.
“The fundamental premise upon which this program is based, however, is actually quite simple,” Gregory said. “Once parties agree to accept Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state, particularly one retaining its Jewish and democratic character, only then may constructive dialogue be held to determine how best to go about achieving peace in the region.”
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