Establishing peace in the Middle East isn’t getting any easier. The most recent development out of Israel and Palestine is that the Palestinian Authority’s President, Mahmoud Abbas, may resign by the end of the year. He announced earlier this month that he didn’t plan on participating in the elections scheduled for January. Some fear that this could lead to the dissolution of the entire Palestinian Authority and halt the peace process for years to come. At the same time, commentators in the United States, namely Thomas Friedman, are urging President Obama’s administration to disengage from the process until both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership show signs that they are serious about peace. There may be something for the various leaders to learn, though, from recent events on the Hilltop.
Last Saturday evening, the “Stand Up for Peace” comedy show was presented in the Lohrfink Auditorium in the new Rafik B. Hariri building. The event, featuring well-known comics Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah, was a huge success. All in attendance, including myself, were impressed by the jokes offered up by Blakeman, who is Jewish, and Obeidallah, who is of mixed Palestinian and Italian descent. But we were even more impressed by each comic’s commitment to a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While the event was ultimately a success, there were a few bumps along the way. An initial misunderstanding between NAS: Arab Society of Georgetown and the Georgetown Israel Alliance at one point threatened the show. However, instead of giving up and retreating back to their respective corners – as some are currently advocating in the Middle East – both groups worked through their initial reservations to reach an amicable solution.
Of course, the two situations are inherently very different – the one in the Middle East has a lot more at stake than a few laughs – but the solutions don’t have to be. Both groups wanted to put on a good show here, and they did so by engaging in dialogue and working toward a resolution, not by ignoring the situation and hoping someone else would fix it. These lessons can and should be adopted by leaders in both Palestine and Israel.
As for the United States, leaving any potential progress at the table is not a viable solution. Those, like Friedman, who think leaving the Israelis and Palestinians to their own devices is a fair way to punish both sides until each takes negotiations seriously, ignore a critical reality: the massive amount of aid given to Israel by the United States every year.
According to a Congressional Research Service Report, between 1949 and 2007 Israel received over $100 billion in aid from the United States. Over half of this came in the form of military grants, with smaller amounts for economic grants and immigrant support.
oney continued to flow to Israel from the United States at the end of the Bush years, and President Obama has no plans to decrease this support. In fact, the budget put forth by the administration earlier this year called for $2.775 billion in aid to Israel, an increase of more than 10 percent over the previous year in total U.S. aid to Israel. While it is true the United States gives substantial aid to the Palestinian Authority as well, the overall amount is not nearly as high.
If the United States wants to send a stern message imploring each party to commit to peace negotiations, abandoning the region is not the most constructive way to do so. Instead, the Obama administration should halt U.S. aid to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Sure, there could be political ramifications at home, but such a bold move would force both sides to rethink their current positions. One would hope that such a measure would influence Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu especially, as even some on the Israeli left have suggested the country may be letting its best chance at peace slip away.
Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going to require patience and commitment of all parties involved, including the United States. But if those parties aren’t willing to take a seat at the table, the Obama administration needs to take drastic action. Hopefully that will not be necessary. But Netanyahu, Abbas, and Obama can follow the lead of the NAS:Arab Society and Israel Alliance by returning to negotiations and finding a common solution. If they are reluctant, perhaps we can arrange a private comedy show for all of them; Blakeman and Obeidallah could head the effort.
John Thornburgh is a senior in the College. He can be reached at thornburghthehoya.com. Worldwise appears every other Friday.
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