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On Sunday evening, Aug. 1, The Aspen Institute sponsored a very well-attended discussion on the Middle East, specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.The featured speaker was Dennis Ross, U.S. envoy to the Middle East under both the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations. Mr. Ross was joined by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a panel discussion moderated by Walter Isaacson, president of the Institute.We would like to thank Mr. Isaacson and The Aspen Institute for bringing to the Aspen community such an interesting, timely and thought-provoking forum and offering it to the public free of charge. The objective of the presentation was stated to be twofold – first, to shed light on the complexity of the issues, and second, to serve as a catalyst that would encourage people of good will to attempt to facilitate the dormant “Middle East Peace Process.” While we found that it served the very needed purpose of opening up channels of communication, there were several items raised during the discussion that we felt could have been misleading to the audience without clarification.Sen. Feinstein apparently has a genuine concern for Israel and a keen desire to see the two sides reconcile their differences. It was most likely an oversight on her part that she referred to the barrier built by the Israelis to protect their population from the continuous bombings experienced over the last three years as a “wall” when, in actuality, more than 96 percent of the proposed 240-mile separation barrier is a security fence.The remaining 4 percent consists of concrete barriers designed to block the activities of snipers who target innocent children and adults in very specific areas. Thebarrier is intended by the Israelis to be temporary and was designed to be dismantled once the Palestinian authorities forswear and implement actions to halt terrorism.Albright’s presentation followed Feinstein’s and the audience was then given the opportunity to pose questions to the panel. One question came from a university student who asked the panel what they suggested could be done in response to the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism on campuses across the country. We were bothered by the tone of Albright’s response.She basically stated that, yes, she concurred that anti-Semitism is indeed a growing problem. She then alluded to the unfavorable conditions under which the Palestinians are living as a factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Whether Albright intended it or not, it appeared that she was insinuating that those against whom anti-Semitism is directed (possibly even Jewish students on campus) were somehow bringing hatred upon themselves by not taking better care of the Palestinians.A thorough discussion of the living conditions of the Palestinians would be impossible in this venue, but two questions come to mind. The first is, who, exactly, is responsible? One must remember that the refugee camps in the West Bank, for example, were originally created under Jordanian control following Israel’s war of independence in 1948. Israel only inherited the problem in 1967 after gaining the territory during the Six-Day War, a war into which she was forced by all of her neighbors who were bent on her destruction.The second question to be considered is, what has been done with the billions of dollars of aid from the United States and the European Union that has been handed to the Palestinian Authority since the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993? Have we seen even one road, one school or one hospital built by the Palestinians in the territories since then? The failure of the Palestinian Authority to use these funds for constructive purposes demonstrates the lack of good intentions and responsibility on the part of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, and not the Israelis.In response to another question from the audience, Ross pointed out that approximately 250 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks while the Oslo peace process was in place, while roughly 1,000 Israelis and three times as many Palestinians have died as a result of the process being set aside. He came to the conclusion that the region is benefited and innocent lives are spared when the parties are engaged in a peace process supported by the United States.This seems like a reasonable conclusion on the surface and we assume that Mr. Ross came to it innocently, not having realized and, in turn, failing to communicate to the audience, that for many years prior to Oslo, if there were any successful terrorist attacks in Israel, they were rare.Although the Oslo peace process was an important and historic agreement, it was a great risk for the Israelis and a significant benefit to the Palestinians who were afforded access and empowerment (they were provided with arms intended to be used for security purposes). Unfortunately for both parties, the result has been the spate of attacks on Israelis and the necessary actions taken in response that we have seen in the last three years.The complexity of the issues is real. In the end, it will be up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to decide their own fates, but the need to keep a negotiating process alive – with support of the United States – is important. That is why we are appreciative that the Institute brought Ross, Albright and Feinstein to engage in the conversation. All three have vast experience and knowledge in this area and have worked tirelessly on it over the past years.The discussion seemed to be well received, and we as community members are grateful to Walter Isaacson and the Institute for the opportunity to participate.Judy S. Kava is founder and co-chair of the Aspen Media Watch Committee, a grassroots media monitoring organization based in Aspen. David J. Kudish lectures on terrorism and the media in Chicago, New York and Aspen.
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