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Students Comment on Accord

By Andy Stark

Arab and Jewish students expressed various reactions, hopes, and fears about the peace agreement in the Middle East.

For many students, the accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization came as a big surprise. "Everything happened very quickly, in the sense that nobody knew about it before it actually happened," said Dalia G. Trachtenberg '96. "It was shocking."

Yael Gertner '96 said that he knew Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was working toward a peace agreement, but he "didn't realize it was going to happen so soon."

Andrew Bagel '96 found the concept of the peace agreement a little difficult to deal with. "It's weird that after 45 years of constant battle, [the Israelis and the Palestinians] could suddenly just switch their positions," he said.

However, Hisham A. Hasanein G said he was not really surprised by the peace accord. "Many things have happened that were suggestive" of the agreement, he said. "The peace process was expected."

Accord is just a first step

Under the Sept. 13 accord, Israel and the PLO signed a framework agreement for peace. Students agreed that this act was symbolic but a lot remains to be worked out before a lasting peace in the region can be achieved.

Fouad P. Saad '95 said that the symbolism of Rabin and Arafat shaking hands was a first step. "At least something is getting done," he said. Still, "I don't think anything concrete has been done yet."

Saad emphasized the importance of future talks, saying that at the end of the temporary agreement, at the "actual" peace talks, is "when the real work has to be done."

Gertner believes that the recent talks were quite valuable. "I was really happy that [Rabin and Arafat] were going to get a settlement," she said. "It's a big step that Israel made toward the peace process. Israel is trying to do the best it can to have no more war. This proves it."

On the other hand, Trachtenberg said that the recent talks did not really change anything. "I don't think something significant has really happened. This is only the first part of the plan. I'm very cautious" about measuring its importance, she said.

Palestinian factions should meet

In the next step, leaders from all of the Palestinian factions should meet to develop a treaty with Israel -- not just Arafat, Hasanein said. The treaty would "need the aspirations of all Palestinians. . . . [Otherwise] there will be a government which is detached from its people," he said. The problems "will be shifted from between the Israelis and the Palestinians to the Palestinians who have power over their own people."

Moreover, Hasanein said that in order to guarantee a future treaty's success, it must be based on justice. Nothing will be solved if one side is getting less territory while the other side gets everything, he said.

Whether or not they place great importance on the peace accord, the students have not abandoned hope that true peace will come to the region someday. "Frankly, the situation is pretty bad now," Trachtenberg said. "Both sides have gone through at least a war each decade. They're at a very low point now, and they're struggling to get out."

Peace with other Arab nations

Bagel said that the recent talks might lead to cooperation between Israel and other Arab nations as well. He hopes the final treaty does work. "I think it should, unless the fundamentalists start fighting," he said. If it does succeed, "then other countries might follow the example. But somehow I doubt that the whole [Middle East] will collapse into a whole big peace."

"I don't know if [the treaty] is going to be successful, but I hope so," Gertner said. Palestinians should stop terrorism to "show that they're really interested in peace."

All of the students unanimously agreed on one thing: The United States should do all it can to support peace between Israel and the PLO. "The United States has always had high leverage [in the Middle East], so it should always play a part," Hasanein said.

"The United States is vital," Trachtenberg said. "It promised financial support and hopefully will remain in a position to keep supporting [peace efforts]. If the United States weakens so that it doesn't have the [financial] incentives [it has now], it could be a disaster. What could follow could be complete chaos," she said.