The inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States elicited a gamut of emotions in Americans ranging from elation to apprehension. Yet one sentiment was common to both those who adore and detest our nation’s next leader—uncertainty.
Predicated upon populism and opposition to corrupt elitism, Mr. Trump’s campaign promised change on a scale whose enormity was matched only by the extent of its vagueness. By consequence, as the new president formally assumes power, few can accurately predict which of his grand array of propositions can be realistically expected to come to fruition.
Nowhere are the implications of this unpredictability more potentially destabilizing than the ever-volatile tinderbox of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. President Obama struggled to balance concurrently strengthening Israeli security capabilities and pressuring Tel Aviv to cease provocative behavior, signing a $38 billion military aid agreement but later taking the unpopular step of refusing to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning settlement construction in the West Bank.
Under the incoming administration, the fate of this tightrope act remains unclear. Trump drew praise for strongly denouncing Obama’s decision to abstain during the UNSC vote, but was met with puzzlement upon announcing his intent to task son-in-law Jared Kushner with brokering Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Questions additionally abound concerning his ambassadorial appointee, David Friedman, who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and has used the derogatory slur “kapos” in reference to liberal American Jews.
These developments serve to further complicate an already contentious and polarizing issue. As a result of strong familial, religious, and cultural allegiances, discussion of the region’s troubled history cuts deeper than abstract questions of borders and governance to produce an impact felt at a profoundly personal level. Many cannot help but view political realities in the region through strictly human terms: the anguish of the displaced to return to their homeland, the humiliation of life under a repressive authority, the relentless fear that death could lurk on every bus or under every overcoat.
From this standpoint, support for any one party appears to entail condoning its transgressions, and criticism of an opposing side is tantamount to denying the validity of its existence. Even contemplating a contrasting viewpoint is seen as discrediting the experiences of those who have suffered and legitimizing the perpetuation of institutionalized violence. The subject thus often feels beyond the scope of civil deliberation.
Despite the strong emotions elicited by the conflict’s admittedly heartwrenching humanitarian considerations, the advancement of social justice causes in the Middle East is inextricable from the tangible policy challenges that define the continuation of hostilities. The conflict is inherently political in nature –the status of contested territory, the use or non-use of force, and the rights granted to citizens are all products of governmental decisionmaking- and therefore, despite its elusiveness, it does have a political solution. For while acceptance of an imbalanced diplomatic power dynamic may appear to validate the mechanisms of domination and control, only the development of legitimate, constructive policy options can feasibly hope to alter an unsustainable status quo.
If credible alternative strategies are necessary to resolve a political conflict, the open exchange of ideas is requisite to catalyze their innovation. This process is not only vital to the development and implementation of effective policy, but also intrinsic to the character of our university. Indeed, founder John Carroll envisioned a learning institution emphasizing “general and equal toleration, . . . giving a free circulation to fair argument,” and as Rev. James Walsh wrote, rather than stifling uninhibited intellectual debate, Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage “requires that we live up to that ideal.”
It is with this purpose in mind that I am pleased to announce the inception of a new student-led initiative aiming to promote thoughtful, informed engagement on the subject of Israel’s relations with the United States and its regional neighbors. Called the Georgetown Bipartisan Pro-Israel Dialogue, the program will be comprised of speaker events, roundtable discussions, and a forum for the submission of editorial articles. While fundamentally supportive of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign, democratic Jewish state, we nevertheless welcomes criticism of American and Israeli policy, a vision reflected in our motto, “advancing peace through dialogue.”
As GBPID expects not to revolutionize campus discourse on the divisive matter, our objectives are resultantly humble: to improve the quality of existing dialogue and incorporate new voices into the conversation. And while GBPID seeks to develop a lasting framework for organizational cooperation and student participation, our ultimate goal remains flexible enough to respond to the rapidly changing circumstances characteristic of an uncertain world.
During times of unpredictability, when even the most seasoned experts can claim no authority on what will occur, only through ponderous reflection can we hope to comprehend the evolving threats and opportunities of the contemporary world. While the future of Israel and the Palestinian Territories is a question that at the moment seems bereft of answers, if a potential solution does exist, it will only materialize through dialogue.
MATTHEW GREGORY is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.