Two days after the U.S. presidential election, Amb. Daniel C. Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001-05 and U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 1997-2001, hosted a discussion of the U.S. election and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The panel that gathered to address this topic included Shai Feldman, the Judith and Sidney Swartz Director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, and Khalil Shikaki, professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, Palestine.
The first to speak was Feldman, who began by describing a textbook that he co-authored with Shikaki and professor Abdel Monem Said Aly, a fellow leading scholar in the field of Middle East Studies. He explained that it was based on a class that all three of them co-taught. The book in question is titled Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and Peacemaking in the Middle East.
Feldman then went on to explain how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was affected by four different groupings — global and international policies, regional policies, domestic policies, and the policies of individual leaders.
“In my view, one must always consider what drives a leader,” Feldman said. He provided the audience with two possibilities: a leader driven by opportunity and one that perpetuates fear. Israel, he added, was created by leaders who were motivated by the former. However, he drew a parallel between the latter and America’s newly elected president.
Shikaki began his portion of the lecture by discussing the fact that the Obama administration has maintained the status quo when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He added that “majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support a two state solution.” However, he noted that either side overwhelmingly distrusts the other.
“Everyone underestimates the other side’s willingness to compromise,” he said.
Shikaki also began to speculate on what he thought president-elect Trump would do once in office. He said that he thinks Trump is unlikely to make the situation worse although he did not rule out the possibility that he could.
The question and answer session was moderated by Amaney A. Jamal, the Edwards S. Sanford professor of politics, director of the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice and director of the Workshop on Arab Political Development at Princeton University.
One audience question pertained to Donald Trump’s pledge to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv. Both Feldman and Shikaki agreed that this would only serve to aggravate the situation in the region.
Another audience member noted that Shikaki and Feldman had not discussed the other major players in this conflict, including Hamas and Iran.
“If you look at Israel and Hamas, Hamas protects Israel and Israel lets products go into Gaza,” Shikaki explained. “Iran has very little control over this.”
The last audience question came from a local high school student. She asked about how the newly elected president and the majority Republican Senate would affect Americans of Middle-Eastern descent. Their response made reference to Trump’s authoritarian tendencies but was also somewhat deferential.
The lecture took place at 7:00 p.m. at Robertson Hall, Dodds Auditorium. It was sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice.