Former Israeli foreign minister speaks at U

Shlomo Ben-Ami was on the U campus Tuesday to discuss his views regarding the current situation in the Arab-Israeli conflict and what prospects exist for future peace.

One of his ideas is that simply going back to the negotiating table will not be enough to resolve the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis, given today’s political conditions.

Ben-Ami cited many problems with the current condition in the region, including anarchy and a lack of leadership in the Palestinian Authority.

“Giving the Palestinian Authority control of land would be like building Afghanistan next to Utah,” Ben-Ami said.

It is imperative to nurse the Palestinian Authority along because Israel needs a stable neighbor in order to attain peace, according to Ben-Ami.

Ariel Sharon is not a political figure with whom Ben-Ami generally agrees.

Sharon is, however, in the process of making a stride in the right direction by disengaging from the Gaza Strip and dismantling settlements, he said.

He added that Sharon would need international support following the disengagement to police the area and prevent emergence of a mini-Taliban.

“If [Sharon] goes through with this action, he will have contributed to peace more than Rabin, Barak and [Shimon] Peres together,” Ben-Ami said. “He does have the political conditions to do it, he just needs to be supported.”

One of the hot topics of debate among scholars in resolving the conflict is the question regarding whether Sharon’s wall should be built.

Ben-Ami was sure to clarify that 80 percent of the structure is actually a fence, as opposed to the commonly perceived wall.

He says a fence, even along the 1967 line, would not look good from a humanitarian standpoint, but stresses that it would improve security.

“Israel has fences with all our neighbors. In the last three years of Intifada, there has not been one terrorist from Gaza because of the fence. They have all come from the West Bank,” Ben-Ami said. “However, for Israel to [build the fence], they would be accepting defeat.”

Ben-Ami has a large degree of authority on the topic of Middle East turmoil stemming from his former positions as the Foreign Minister of Israel from 2000 to 2001 under Ehud Barak and as Minister of Public Security from 1999 to 2000.

In addition to these positions, he accompanied the Pope to the Temple on the Mount during his visit to Israel, he participated in secret talks with Abu al-‘Alaa in Stockholm and he was a chief Israeli negotiator at the 2000 Camp David Summit with the foremost leaders of the world including Barak, Yasser Arafat and then-President Bill Clinton.

Ben-Ami says he believes the Bush administration’s role in the process has been very poor, but at the same time he understands Bush’s position politically.

“Mr. Arafat has excelled in destroying his peace partners politically-he destroyed Rabin, Peres, Barak and, in a way, also Clinton in his last days in office,” Ben-Ami said. “But, being the president of the United States is a challenge and you need to try to devise new ways.”

Ben-Ami does not believe that more peace talks under the Bush administration would prevent Arab hatred toward the United States.

“In the Arab world, people will blame America no matter what happens,” he said.

As a whole, Ben-Ami says he believes civil society is ready for a far-reaching compromise, but authority figures are not ready to make the proper efforts.

“Politics, instead of playing the part of a mechanism for change, has become a barrier,” he said.

There are multiple disputes that must be solved in order to bring peace to the region, the most important of which deals with borders, according to Ben-Ami.

“The conflict is a combination of religion and land. It’s a very complicated situation,” Ben Ami said. “If you want easy decisions, don’t go into politics.”

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