Campus Gets Perspective on Middle East After Arafat

Speaking at Saint Mary's College just six days after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Tel Aviv University Associate Professor Yoav Peled expressed pessimism about Israeli-Palestinian relations now that Arafat is gone.

"I'm sorry to say that the picture after Arafat doesn't look any more promising than during Arafat," Peled said on November 17 in a presentation sponsored by the College's Department of Politics. "Arafat is a huge loss for the prospects of peace and two states. There is no one who even remotely resembles Arafat in political influence. There will be total chaos on the Palestinian side. With total chaos, who can you negotiate with?"

Peled described Arafat, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, and U.S. President George W. Bush as the key figures in determining the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Blame for the failure of peace efforts, said Peled, long focused on Arafat. But, he added, "Even if the blame has even a grain of truth, it's not the whole story. Arafat became demonized."

Peled assigned considerable blame to Israel, particularly to Sharon. Peled said that he does not believe Sharon will follow through on a proposal to remove Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip.

"Sharon wants peace through victory, not compromise. He wants to impose his conception of peace by force," said Peled, recipient of the 2002 Albert Houranti Award from the Middle East Studies Association of North America and a MacArthur Foundation research and writing grant for work on Palestinian refugees. "And Bush is not going to start pressuring Israel."

To best understand where the situation is headed, Peled said, requires a look back, particularly to the Oslo Accords of 1993, a series of agreements intended to lead to the peaceful coexistence of the Israeli and Palestinian people. He described the Oslo Accords as signaling a major shift in Israel's policy, from denial of Palestinians' rights to their recognition. He said it represented a change in Israel's economic, political, and social conditions, as well as a "lowering of the volume" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Acknowledging that many people would disagree with his interpretation of the Oslo Accords and events surrounding the agreements, Peled noted, "Of course, it didn't lead anywhere. There were forces working in favor of the peace process and forces working against it, and the forces against peace prevailed. It's as simple as that."

-- by Amy DerBedrosian
College Communications