Student panel discusses Middle East treaty

by Suparna Dutta | 10/22/93 6:00am

A student panel discussed the benefits of and problems with the recently signed peace treaty between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization in Rockefeller Center last night.

The signing of the peace treaty in Washington this past month was a historic moment for both sides, Michael Arad '91 said.

Arad said the treaty marked the first time either side recognized the other as a legitimate organization, and the first time both parties were willing to compromise on resolving the standoff in the Middle East.

The disagreement between the Israelis and the PLO has been raging for 45 years, since the end of World War II, when the British agreed to a Jewish state in the former Palestine.

Since then, war has raged between these two parties continuously with each party claiming ownership of the land.

The panel was composed of three Jewish students and three Palestinian students.

All of the panelists said they sincerely hoped that this peace treaty was going to work and that this was a beginning of the long awaited peace in the Middle East. But, they also expressed reservations about it.

Orit Halpern '94, described herself as "cautiously optimistic."

Shakeeb Alireza '97, a native of Saudi Arabia, said ,"We have been brought up to perceive one another with stereotypes that are ingrained in our culture, but the view of either side 'winning' was not feasible. I look upon the treaty with hope, but there are still several unresolved problems."

Orit Halpern, who has lived in Israel in the past, agreed. "There is a lot of hatred and distrust on both sides. This is, after all, a 45 year old disagreement. It is a document between governments, not people."

Representing Egypt, Amel Ahmed '96 said, "The peace treaty is a step in the right direction, but it is superficial. There is no economy for the Palestinian people, and no stable government structure for them. These logistics still have to be worked out."

"Peace is a process born out of the impotence of war," said Azzam Hneihen, who was born in a refugee camp outside of Bethlehem.

He said that the Israeli occupation was not a benign occupation, and "the Palestinians had it bad" during the years of occupation.

The panelists' comments were followed by a question and answer session with the audience. The audience asked questions about the PLO and the validity of Yassir Arafat as the spokesperson for all the Palestinians.

"Arafat has done more harm than good. His stance during the Gulf War didn't do much to help the Palestinian people," Alireza said.

"The only reason he agreed to the peace treaty was because the PLO was in desperate straits. Arafat is not the best choice for a leader of the Palestinian people," he added.

But Hneihen said "The PLO is respected around the world because of its position in the Palestinian community. Arafat was and is the sole leader of the Palestinian community and if there was an opportunity for election, he would be an elected leader."