JStreet U, a national student-lead organization that promotes a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine through the leadership of the United States, hosted the final event of its four part symposium called “Is Peace Possible?” on Tuesday, March 12.
The discussion was primarily focused on the issue of Jerusalem and defining borders. The salient question concerned Jerusalem possibly serving as the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian State.
The series, and this event in particular, was meant to present the issues between Israelis and Palestinians and offer solutions in a way that could engage the student body.
“I definitely think the series went well. Our goal was to lay out this complex conflict in such a way that would be easy enough for newcomers to understand, yet provocative enough to encourage discussion,” freshman Carly Greenspan, a member of JStreet U, said. “I’m just happy we were able to bring this type of conversation to campus. Everyone was really responsive and I think the series turned out really well” she added.
Many attendees said they felt at ease when sharing ideas or opinions because of the open atmosphere that encouraged debate.
Tuesday’s meeting started with an informational film, produced by The Atlantic and the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. The film was meant to be a springboard for discussion among the students. Possible solutions for both the Jerusalem question and potential future border definitions were discussed at length during the documentary. The production is the product of various think tanks, scholars and experts, such as Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, on the issue of Israel and Palestine.
The film discussed how Jerusalem is embroiled in conflict because both Arabs and Israelis lay claim to it. The documentary acknowledged that both groups have justifications in their claims that Jerusalem is an important historical and religious site. The main question posed was whether two viable capitals within Jerusalem could actually be achieved. The film introduced a few different key solutions for the border conflict of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The first solution suggested an open-city model, which would allow for unrestricted movement between its Israeli and Palestinian parts. The second offered a divided-city model, which would have to simultaneously separate and connect the parts of Jerusalem aided by crossing facilities. Dividing the Old City within Jerusalem poses problems, but the film provided several potential ways to alleviate the current stress and violence within the Old City.
One solution for the Old City, the territorial sovereignty solution, asserts that there would be Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish quarter. Its physical division would reflect its political division.
Conversely, the special regime solution suggests preserving the old city as a single entity. This would maintain geographic, historic and religious integrity of the Old City but would also require a third party to intervene and resolve sensitive conflicts. Also it would rely on the cooperation of both sides.
Finally, the hybrid model would strive to create a clear division of territorial sovereignty in the Old City. It would provide for international involvement and satisfy the urges of both sides, yet it would not create one state.
Saturated with the solutions posed by the film, the attendees formed a circle for an open discussion.
There was a general consensus that the film was overly optimistic. One attendee stated that any solution would have to pass the Hamas, the Israeli Resistance Movement, test which asks the hypothetical question: if Hamas were to take control of the Palestinian state, would Israelis feel secure?
Another point arose within discussion, which urged the group to look at the causation of violence. One must take away the impetus for the violence in order to truly solve the conflict, the students argued.
The group concluded that the seed of the violence is a war between religious ideals. Both parties are making strong religious claims; it is not just a political or border conflict.
Only once the religious war is resolved can an effective solution for the conflict of borders be achieved- the group claimed.