War, terrorism, peace talks. These are words often shared when discussing the Middle East. But who’s responsible for the so-called, “peace process” or who’s preventing it from happening? ISV Reporter, Rustam Niyazov finds different opinions on the matter.
ALBANY, New York–War: is it the first word that comes to your mind when you hear “Middle East”? Does words such as “terrorism,” “security,” “peace-process,” “autonomy,” or “self-determination” pop up like it does in the mainstream media? How do you see the role of the U.S. in the Middle East? And what does Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks” mean? Are they talking at all? And if they are, then, what are they talking about?
With these kind of questions in mind, on November 21, 2013, I went to listen to Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University and editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, discuss his new book “Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. has undermined peace in the Middle East” at the Albany Law College, NY. I haven’t had the chance to read his book yet, but this was an opportunity to hear the author himself talk about it. As a reporter, I was also curious to hear and see the audience questions and reactions with my own ears and eyes.
Before going to the event I posted on Facebook about my plans and asked my friends if they have any questions to the presenter about his new book. One of my friends who lives in Russia asked me to ask him this question: “What is the reason for Arab League to not support Syria in the U.S. actions against Syria?” But I could not ask that question because it turned out that his book was about U.S. foreign policy only concerning Israeli-Palestinian relations.
When I found the place, I asked the moderator, Rabbi David Gordis, ex-president of Hebrew College, if I can take Prof. Khalidi’s photo while he’s talking, he said, “I don’t mind, but ask him.”
As soon as he entered the room, I approached our distinguished speaker and he said, “Sure, no problem.”
As people started entering the room, I was amazed to see how few students there were (4 or 5), and the rest were senior citizens from the local community (about 40-50). You can see two gray haired men in the pictures I managed to take with my old camera. There were also some people from different backgrounds, but mostly it was Caucasian looking men and some women sixty years old and up. That’s just my observations of people attending the event. But I’m mentioning it for purpose because it baffles me how few young Americans are interested in foreign policy of their country. Who is going to make the U.S. foreign policy happen when today ends and tomorrow comes?
One of the most gratifying pieces of information Prof. Khalidi revealed was that his book and research has been triggered by his Ph.D. student (Seth Anziska) who uncovered some important official documents on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
In short, Prof. Khalidi says the conflict between Palestine and Israel has been made worse by the evolution of an Orwellian language employed by U.S. policymakers and the mainstream media.
So first, what the U.S. should do as he proposes is to use the right words and an honest language because words wielded by diplomats and politicians define situations and determine outcomes. Although John Kerry, the U.S Secretary of State, seems to be very optimistic on bringing “peace” to Middle East, Israeli and Palestinian leaders already described their U.S.-brokered peace talks as broken. Then why does the U.S. keep going to its peace mission, says Prof. Khalidi, if they only side with Israel, give them billions of dollars in aid, and in fact, the U.S. has been more conservative on peace terms than Israel itself? All these led him to conclude that the U.S. has been undermining peace in the Middle East.
After the presentation and some questions and answers, I found two students and took a brief interview about their impressions on the presentation and the presenter. One of them was a Jewish student, the other looked like from a Palestinian background. The Jewish student said Khalid’s research was biased because of his certain upbringing (Khalidi was born in New York, his father a Saudi citizen of Palestinian origins was born in Jerusalem). The Palestinian girl said, “He’s so cool” after talking to Prof. Khalidi for about ten minutes and buying his book with his signature. But, she added, she’s not optimistic about peace between Israel and Palestine in the near future.
I went online and read some of the articles on the Middle East available in New York Times and Los Angeles Times and it confirmed how freely some reporters use terms like “peace process” that have become so routine, that they rarely attract media attention and almost no media reflection. No wonder that generates some considerable frustration from both sides be it Israel or Palestine.
Secretary Kerry in his statement following his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, December 5, 2013, said that “…we discussed issues of security in the region, security for the state of Israel, security for a future Palestine…the goal is a viable Palestinian state with the Palestinian people living side by side in peace with the state of Israel and with the people of Israel…but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis very serious questions of security and also of longer-term issues of how we end this conflict once and for all” (http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/12/218371.htm).
I believe that in order “to end this conflict once and for all” it isn’t enough only for Jewish people and Palestinian people ‘do something’ about it. At the end of the day, the avoidance of their problems because it is not our problem will lead to far greater moral atrocities than the calamities this conflict is bringing with itself. That’s the belief the U.S. government holds in brokering “peace” negotiations, but it has to do better because all the world hopes it can, including, I assume, international students from the Middle East who are studying today in the U.S., who will go there as the future leaders of that area, the area that is also struggling to find its modern identity and build its own democracy. We need to think harder along with these students on how to make peace in the Middle East because tomorrow is not only their future, it’s the future of the world who wants to live peace, not just talk peace. No doubt, it is sad that today everything we know about the Middle East, we know because of wars, but tomorrow when we say – the Middle East – we want this word come to our mind first: Peace.
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