The U.S. needs to move quickly to provide economic resources to Palestinians and help ensure the success of new peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a Kansas University professor said today.
"The success of these initial steps hinges, on the Palestinian side, on the ability of the PLO to improve the lives of ordinary people in tangible ways," said Deborah Gerner, an associate professor of political science and author of "One Land, Two Peoples: The Conflict Over Palestine. "And that's going to require money. The most constructive thing the U.S. can do is provide economic resources for development, to some extent in Jericho but also in Gaza, which is an economic nightmare at this time."
Israel and the PLO shocked the world, including many Israelis and Palestinians, when they announced that secret negotiations in Norway had led to mutual recognition agreements. A separate agreement signed Monday in Washington gives Palestinians a measure of self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.
Economic assistance may not be able to buy peace in the Mideast, warned Naser Alzayed, a physics graduate student who is president of KU's Muslim Students Assn.
Alzayed, who is from Saudi Arabia, said he doubts that Israelis and Palestinians, with different cultures, languages and religions, can co-exist peacefully.
Even though the PLO now recognizes Israel's right to exist, groups such as the Islamic Jihad and Hamas may continue to fight, not only Israelis but also the PLO, he said.
"I believe the peace is forced against the majority of people," Alzayed said. "Those people will cause problems, a lot of problems among Palestinians. I don't think the so-called uprising in Israel can be stopped this way. A war between Palestinians themselves will be very dangerous to Palestine, inside the land itself."
But a similar threat of violence exists among Israeli settlers who oppose giving land back to the Palestinians, Gerner said.
"What the United States and United Nations and American Jewry and Arabs who are not Palestinians, anyone involved with the conflict, needs to do is strengthen the hand of the people trying to work for a negotiated settlement of this long-standing conflict," she said. "It strikes me as counterproductive to undercut the parties by saying, they don't represent all the constituents. ... If we're serious about a fair and just resolution to this conflict, we have to start with what the two sides can agree on."
Jamal Saeh, chairman of the General Union of Palestinian Students at KU, said he sees the peace accord as a positive first step.
Saeh, a chemistry grad student from Bethlehem in the occupied territories, said he and his family are hopeful the peace agreements will mean a relaxing of restrictions.
"People who have been living under occupation for decades and decades, they see this with a sense of relief as a chance for a better life and prosperity," Saeh said. "At the same time, people in the Middle East are very cautious in interpreting what they hear and wait until they see things implemented.
"Unless we see it implemented, it will be difficult to be convinced entirely. We're hopeful, but we don't want to be naive."