Political and social ideological conflicts among Arab nations have fostered continued instability in the Middle East. Israel’s 1948 founding as a Jewish state, and the only democracy in the region, forever changed the landscape and interaction among regional interests. The University of Arizona will host “Israel in the Changing Middle East,” a two-day conference taking place Dec. 6 and 7, to review the history of affairs in the region and discuss how the current motivations of nations and interest groups should be addressed.
The viability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one topic to be highlighted during this symposium. Asher Susser, Ph.D., professor of Modern Israel Studies at the university’s Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, will provide perspective on Israel’s current and historical position.
“Israel’s main concern these days is non-Arab states and Iran,” he said. “As for the Arab states, Israel no longer has to face the big powerful conventional armies that it was once very concerned about. Israel has to face the problems not of Arab power, but the problems that emanate from Arab weakness: the disintegration of states, the rise of non-state actors like Hezbollah and Hamas and Isis, and dozens of other organizations that operate in Syria.”
The proposed two-state solution has been a topic of discussion among regional and international diplomats and citizens for decades. “I think it’s viable, but more than its viability, I would argue that, for Israel, it’s necessary,” he said. “Israel has to make choices between a variety of different options which are not necessarily the easy choice between good and evil. It might be the choice between a variety of not really appealing options because the perfect is unavailable.”
Khalil Shikaki, Ph.D., director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, will offer depth to the Palestinian position on the two-state solution. The Palestinian people favor this path forward, he said.
“The establishment of the independent state is the most important priority for the Palestinians,” Shikaki said. “In order to achieve that, the Palestinians have been willing to make essential compromises.”
The influence of the international media has skewed reality, he said.
“The narrative that Israel has been generous and that Israel has time after time offered the Palestinians compromises that would have allowed them to create their own state, and that the Palestinians have always said ‘no,’ this narrative is certainly far from the truth,” Shikaki said. “The Palestinian population would say that the Palestinians are the ones who have in fact made the most fundamental concessions to make this possible and to allow the creation of an independent state, alongside the state of Israel.”
Itamar Rabinovich, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 1993-1996, will be the keynote speaker at a Dec. 7 dinner held as part of the conference.
“We had a wonderful relationship between [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin and [former U.S. President Bill] Clinton and an exceptional cooperation in the peace process,” he said. “Both elements do not exist now. The change in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel were the result of developments on both sides.
“In the U.S., after 16 years of two very friendly administrations, the Obama administration, thought very supportive of Israel’s security, has sought to create daylight between the two countries in order to become, as it saw it, a more effective mediator,” Rabinovich said.
“[The United States] sought to improve U.S., Muslim, and Arab relations to ‘engage’ with Iran and Syria, etc.,” he said. “This coincided with the formation of Netanyahu’s return to power. His policies and those of the administration were bound to collide.”
Rabinovich’s talk, “The Struggle for Syria Revisited: Syria as the focal point of regional and international politics,” will address a current hot-button issue — what should be done about Syria, which is caught up in a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens.
“Syria as a state has been destroyed,” said Rabinovich, who served as chief negotiator with Syria while ambassador. “This is not just a brutal civil war. It became the arena of regional and international rivalries. Both a military victory by either side, or a political compromise, seems remote. Ironically, [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] could be a beneficiary of the waves of refugees and terror. Several European states may well see him now as the least of all other evils.”
For more information on the conference and dinner, visit judaic.arizona.edu/IsraelSymposium or call 626-5758.
Michael Miklofsky is a freelance writer living in Oro Valley with his wife and three daughters. He also is a Realtor® with Realty Executives Tucson Elite and director of administration for The Shoe House, Inc.