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Israeli Consul Discusses Current Conflict in Mideast

By Jessica A. Zaman

STAFF REPORTER

Dr. Hillel Newman, the Israeli Consul of New England, addressed a crowd of over 100 at a dinner talk entitled, “Palestinian and Israeli Relations: Past, Present, and Future” Wednesday.

The event was sponsored by MIT Hillel. “Dr. Newman was brought to bring awareness to the MIT community about the [Israeli] side,” said Jonathan J. Mansfield ’05, vice president of Hillel. The consul attracted a diverse crowd with a wide spectrum of perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian controversy.

Present conflict key issue of talk

Newman began his talk with a synopsis of the current situation in Israel and the progress of Israel’s Operation Defense Shield. “Israel has presently withdrawn forces from Jenin. Arafat has been released from Ramallah,” Newman said.

“Over 1400 terrorists have been apprehended. We have uprooted almost 22 factories and the infrastructure of terror, likewise, has been uprooted,” Newman said. “Our situation now is different from that of past situations because there is no more tolerance for terror.”

Newman said that the motivation for such current initiatives was based on three factors: acts of terror, the failure of the peace process, and the fact that there was no other alternative.

“The background for this operation was terrorist acts against civilians, women, children and city-centers in Israel. There was no justification for terror,” Newman said.

He claimed that Israeli officials have worked for peace in the past, and expressed his belief that former prime minister Ehud Barak lost his political career for the peace process. “Barak’s offer was far-going,” Newman said.

Newman provided a recap of Israeli peace attempts since 1993. He cited examples such as the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 and Camp David Accord as examples as the failure of peace attempts made by the Israelis. He emphasized that the Arabs have continuously refused peace attempts without making a counter-offer.

“Israel was looking for security, so things would be negotiated through peace. However, this was interpreted as a sign of weakness by the Palestinians.”

Cooperation is key, Newman says

Newman said that Israel would be open to negotiations with the Palestinians only after two initial conditions were satisfied: mutual recognition of Israel by Arab states and the cessation of violence. He also indicated that Israel would be more cooperative if there was a new, more cooperative Palestinian ruler.

“Israel has never given up hope of peace,” Newman said. “The Arabs have never talked to Israel.”

“Prime Minister Sharon has said he will recognize a Palestinian State, but after a process. But we can’t get away from the first step -- the cessation of violence.”

Newman also outlined alternative courses of action if Arafat objects to Sharon’s proposal. Unilateral separation at current borders and the establishment of autonomous self-rule that would be under a three-year supervision by the U.S., the U.N., and Britain were some options. Seeking potential for new leadership was also a proposed option.

“We question the legitimacy of Arafat. His signature is invalid,” Newman said. He stressed that Arafat’s commitments could not be trusted.

“To go forth with a peace plan, we need a partner. We have none now,” Newman said.

Consul answers public’s concerns

The Consul’s diverse audience aroused a dynamic question and answer session.

One audience member pointed out that Palestinian peace offers had been rejected by the Israelis, specifically citing a peace proposal made by Hamas in 1997. This proposal guaranteed stopping civilian attacks for an exchange of land in Gaza.

Newman replied that the Hammas peace process was regarded as a joke. “Every other day they come out with a statement saying they would like to see the annihilation of Israel,” Newman said.

Another topic brought up by a member of the audience was the role in American aid to Israel in the conflict.

“We are allies with the United States,” Newman said. “This is something very few nations can achieve. There is friendship and understanding between our two nations.” He claimed that U.S. possessions in other Middle Eastern nations, such as Egypt, were not secure.

One student questioned the current sentiments of the Israeli population in regard to Prime Minister Sharon.

Newman answered this by saying that Sharon was supported by almost 67 percent of the Israeli population. “This is the first time a leader of our society has been faced with unprecedented support,” he said.

Students have mixed responses

“I was expecting to hear the Israeli government’s policy,” said Andrew M. Goldsweig ’03, president of Hillel.

“The press and the government have attempted to put words in Israel’s mouth. It’s important that Israel has the opportunity to present to the community around the world our unbiased story.”

This sentiment was not mirrored by all. “The talk was alright, but it was very one-sided,” said Rodney Huang ’03. “It made the Israeli stance clear. A lot of stuff was true, but at the same time, you can’t put all the blame on the Palestinian authority. It’s a tough situation.”