Israeli ambassador visits Minneapolis

David Anderson

At a crucial time in the Middle East peace process and just two months before the American presidential elections, President Clinton’s collaboration with Israelis and Palestinians could turn out his last and greatest accomplishment as president.
But July’s unsuccessful negotiations at Camp David have left many wondering what will come next, nearly a week before the Palestinians’ ultimatum for a final peace agreement.
“In Camp David the Palestinians missed what may have been their biggest opportunity here,” said David Ivry, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. “(Israeli) Prime Minister (Ehud) Barak was willing to go the extra mile for peace. Unfortunately, (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat was not prepared to take the kind of compromises needed to reach the agreement.”
Ivry addressed current developments in the Middle East peace process Aug. 24 at the IDS Tower in downtown Minneapolis. The forum was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the campus-based Minnesota International Center.
The ambassador stressed the need for better understanding from both sides and for changes in education and government.
Ivry also said whether Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush is elected in November will have little impact on U.S.-Israeli relations. He would not comment on Gore’s choice of Jewish Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate.
A peace process at a deadlock
Israelis and Palestinians have been in conflict since 1948, the same year U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the newly created state of Israel.
The latest peace summit at Camp David finished in a deadlock. The two-week negotiations ended when Barak and Arafat failed to reach common ground on Jerusalem’s partition. Palestinians and Israelis both claim the Holy City as their sacred capital.
Like Ivry, Clinton blamed Arafat for refusing to compromise.
“I would be making a mistake not to praise Barak, because I think he took a big risk,” Clinton commented after the July summit, according to wire reports. “The prime minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat, particularly surrounding the question of Jerusalem.”
Arafat has threatened to declare a Palestinian state if there is no final peace agreement by Sept. 13. He recently reaffirmed his refusal to make concessions on Jerusalem at a meeting in Agadir, Morocco.
University perspectives
Jahed Adwan, a University graduate student from Palestine, said Palestinians are pessimistic about a final peace agreement.
“Frustration is very high and disappointment, especially in the American role, is really increasing because of the apparent bias that Palestinians see on the American side toward Israel,” he said.
Several University students who saw Ivry speak agreed with the ambassador on the need to compromise rather than prolong the deadlock.
“There is no easy answer to the peace process,” said psychology senior Jeff Kaner. “I guess what has to happen is a give-and-take on both sides, and I hope that both sides are willing to do that.”
But David Dreytser, a chemical engineering senior and a member of the Hillel Jewish Cultural Center, warns that if a peace agreement is achieved, it must be followed by real peace and not just an absence of conflict.
Barak’s willingness to make concessions on the Jerusalem issue was not as well received in his home country as in the United States.
“It seems like Barak was willing to make some painful concessions,” said Gal Shpantzer, a University criminology senior. While the Israeli society is not entirely in agreement with some of the details, there is an overall desire for peace, he said.
Critics suggest the prime minister, whose popularity has dropped significantly since the July talks, won’t last long at the helm of Israel’s government once Parliament reconvenes in late October.
Education: a core issue
Although Ivry admitted there are no easy answers to the Middle East conflict, he said combatting the mistrust and hatred often taught in schools would be a major step toward better understanding in the region.
“Signing a paper is not enough to make peace,” he said. “You have to change the culture.”
Dreytser said many Middle Eastern textbooks still describe Israel and Jews as the enemy. At the same time, some Israelis feel the same way about their neighbors.
Adwan went to high school under Israeli rule. He said the conflict was taboo and teachers could be prosecuted for broaching the subject. Now that the two states are separate, Palestinian school curricula are not hostile toward Israelis.
Despite the progress, one fact remains vivid in Israel’s schools: Jewish and Arab children rarely mix.
“We need to approach (the peace process) from an educational perspective and change the attitudes toward each other for mutual recognition and the right to coexist,” Shpantzer said.
Local political figures, including Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman were also present at the forum to express their support for Ivry and the peace process.
“I’m really worried if this all crashes, if there isn’t some accord, some political settlement, some reconciliation,” Wellstone said. “I fear a history where Israeli and Palestinian children kill each other.”
The ambassador was in town to attend an American Israeli Public Affairs Committee dinner. The event was relocated from Eastcliff, University President Mark Yudof’s residence, last month after Yudof stated the mansion would not be used for fund-raising events.
Ivry looked to future meetings between Barak and Arafat.
“We are determined to reach the peace agreement,” Ivry said. “It is our emergency, so that we can end the 100 years of conflict in the region and realize the true potential of a great country.”

David Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]