Debate over Palestinian state sparks among students and faculty

Conflict between Israel and Palestine starts dialogue on campus

by Dina Elrashidy

As sparks fly once more between Israel and Palestine, conversations are igniting again on the University of Minnesota campus.

From classes on the conflict, like History of Modern Israel, to involvement from student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Hillel: The Jewish Student Center, University students and faculty are finding ways to discuss the controversy.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request Sept. 23 for full United Nations membership for the Palestinian state.

AbbasâÄô request lays claim to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem âÄî areas captured by Israel in 1967 âÄî a disputed move in the eyes of Israeli and Palestinian activists alike. The region is home to approximately half a million Israelis and 4 million Palestinians.

The U.N. Security Council will begin considering PalestineâÄôs request Wednesday.

The U.S. has said it would veto to block Palestinian membership, and is also seeking cooperation from other members in persuading the Palestinians not to push for a quick vote.

A vote in the Security Council isnâÄôt expected for weeks, but PalestineâÄôs move has shined the spotlight back on the tenuous relationship between Israel and Palestine that has been heated since Israel became a country in 1948.

 âÄúYou canâÄôt ignore it. Somehow word gets to you,âÄù said Allysha Salyani, the events coordinator of SJP, a student group dedicated to bringing awareness to the Palestinian cause.

But awareness on campus is still limited, Salyani said. She said she thinks the controversial nature of the topic has discouraged more conversation.

Small group meetings, speakers and SJP-hosted events aim to provide a comfortable and safe space for students to discuss the issue.

Hillel, too, will be hosting events to increase awareness of the renewed conflict between the two states in the Middle East.

âÄúWe hope students will work with us to create an important discussion on the future of Israeli and Palestinian relations,âÄù Andrea Golden, HillelâÄôs director of student life, wrote in an email.

Hillel member Erez Rosenberg wrote in an email to the Minnesota Daily that AbbasâÄô decision to go to the U.N. âÄúthrows the entire possibility for genuine peace out the window.âÄù

âÄúWhen the Palestinians recognize that the only way to achieve statehood is by negotiations âĦ denouncing violence and recognizing IsraelâÄôs right to exist, then they can expect Israel to be the first to recognize the state of Palestine,âÄù Rosenberg said.

Salyani questioned whether AbbasâÄô move was strong enough.

The region Abbas is requesting for Palestinian statehood doesnâÄôt include almost 70 percent of historic Palestine, according to School of Social Work associate professor Lisa Albrecht. Albrecht has worked with Israeli and Palestinian activists in their homelands.

Albrecht said that Palestinian bid for statehood doesnâÄôt change anything âÄî even if itâÄôs accepted by the U.N.

âÄúThe only solution is one secular stateâÄù that provides equal rights to both populations, she said.

Albrecht criticized the U.S. involvement in the negotiations and its promise of vetoing AbbasâÄô request.

âÄúWe give away more aid to Israel âÄî and it includes military aid âÄî and we hardly give anything to Palestine,âÄù she said.

Mediated talks between Israel and Palestine have been going on for decades. University assistant professor Ofer Ashkenazi said the impasse required a change of tactic.

âÄúThey needed to find something to break the status quo,âÄù Ashkenazi, a visiting professor who teaches History of Modern Israel, said of the statehood request.

Ashkenazi said that most of the international community, including the U.S., thinks that Palestinians should have a state. The question, he said, is how to keep it nonviolent and sustainable.

Albrecht said politicians wonâÄôt solve the problem. The only way for the conflict to be resolved, she said, is through grassroots organizing similar to the revolutions of the Arab Spring.

âÄúUnless people on [the] ground organize something thatâÄôs huge and with Jewish support, things wonâÄôt change,âÄù Albrecht said.

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.