The problem with Palestinians and Jews in Israel and the occupied territories is that they live "together separately," a Kansas University associate professor said Tuesday.
"Why is it that after decades as neighbors, Israelis and Arabs are so distanced?" asked Deborah Gerner, author of the 1991 book "One Land, Two Peoples: The Conflict Over Palestine."
She said the answer is Palestinians and Israelis have built cultural, economic and political barriers over the past 25 years in an effort to enforce their will on the other.
The divisions illustrate why peace is such a scarce commodity there, Gerner said at KU's fifth annual James Seaver lecture on Western civilization.
"In the long run, it just perpetuates the conflict," said Gerner, who joined the KU political science faculty in 1988. "It doesn't have to be that way."
SHE SAID one way to resolve the conflict would be to retain the state of Israel and create a state for Palestinians. There is growing international support for the two-state option, she said.
"But the current Israeli government is completely uninterested in moving in that direction," Gerner said. "Palestinians would accept greater integration if that option were available."
She said Israelis and Palestinans wouldn't resolve their differences soon.
"I find myself increasingly depressed and not very optimistic about prospects of an easing of tensions," she said. "I started out 10 years ago a lot more optimistic."
Gerner said Middle East peace talks that began in October in Madrid, Spain, offered only a brief period of optimism. The talks have stalled, she said.
And controversy about the establishment of Israeli settlements in Arab territories occupied by Israel after 1967's Six-Day War hasn't warmed relations, she said.
A FLOOD OF Jews from the former Soviet Union has led Israeli officials to seek $10 billion in loan guarantees from the United States to deal with the immigrants.
Gerner said that as more Jewish settlers arrive in Israel, which has increased the demand for housing, more Israeli citizens have been persuaded to accept government subsidized housing in the occupied territories.
U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III has said that if Israel wants the loan guarantees, it must stop building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas that are supposed to be on the negotiating table at the Middle East peace talks.
Gerner believes the U.S. will reject Israel's request for the loan guarantees. "It looks like that is what's going to happen," she said.