Middle East takes steps to peace
On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, Israeli and Palestinian leaders met in Annapolis, Md. at the invitation of President Bush to discuss peace negotiations between their two parties. Also present at the meeting were leaders from across the globe, including the European Union, United Nations, and the Arab world.
This event marked the 60th anniversary of the Partition Plan for Palestine.
The Plan, devised by the United Nations General Assembly, divided what was then Palestine into distinct Jewish and Palestinian states. It was that decision that solidified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the dominant political struggle in the Middle East that remains today.
Once again, Israelis and Palestinians stand at an important point in their collective history — on par with the June 1967 Six-Day War or the Oslo Accords of the 1990s — that might shape the future for the two groups.
Senior Hanadie Yousef, chemistry major and public relations chair of the Arab Student Organization, expressed optimism as to what the conference could accomplish.
“I do believe it is a good start,” Yousef said. “This is the first time Palestinian and Israeli leaders are meeting with the stated goal of solving the core issues: the status of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, borders, and water and natural resources.”
In the weeks leading up to the meeting, a great deal of uncertainty about what would be discussed at the meeting led many world leaders to seriously doubt the usefulness of summit in the first place.
The potential impact of a fruitless meeting had serious consequences for both sides.
Some Israeli experts predicted that Hamas, the Palestinian political and military organization currently in control of Gaza, might attempt to produce unrest in the wake of the meeting that could snowball into a possible third intifada.
While Israeli and Palestinian officials (from Fatah, the ruling party of the West Bank) had been working on developing a joint statement to make at the summit, no such document had been produced by the day before the conference was scheduled to be held.
When President Bush rose to the podium to greet his guests at the conference on Tuesday, however, he did so with a joint statement signed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In the statement, both leaders pledged to begin final-status peace talks next month, through bi-weekly meetings, with the plan to reach an agreement by the end of 2008.
Both leaders also pledged to fulfill those requirements dictated by President Bush’s “roadmap,” as reported by haaretz.com, for peace in the region; for the Palestinians, that means denouncing and fighting terrorism, and for Israelis, halting illegal construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Calling the meeting a “hopeful beginning,” according to haaretz.com, both Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice affirmed that no one could afford to allow these discussions to fail.
On campus, the events of last week were put in historical perspective by the Hillel Jewish University Center, which painted the fence in Israeli colors to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Partition Plan.
Carnegie Mellon students weighed in with their opinions on the conference.
Sophomore Daniel Liptz, a mechanical engineering major and board member of Tartans for Israel, expressed cautious hopefulness about the conference at Annapolis.
“I’m optimistic,” Liptz said. “I don’t anticipate any huge steps at first, but Olmert’s and [Abbas’s] approval ratings are fairly low right now. They really need to accomplish something substantial if they want to regain the confidence of their constituents.”
Other students questioned the motives for the meeting in the first place.
“I’m afraid the whole summit may be too unilaterally driven on the part of the United States for anything significant to get done by Palestinians and Israelis,” said junior psychology major Elliot Onn.
Yousef stressed that progress in the peace negotiations is particularly important for Palestinians.
“Palestinians must agree among each other,” Yousef said. “Hamas cannot be disregarded in any peace negotiations, especially since they were democratically elected. There must be efforts to unify the Palestinian government.”
Editor’s Note: Hanadie Yousef was Sci. and Tech. Editor in 2006 and Elliot Onn is a junior staffwriter.