Avi Shlaim, a fellow of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University, lectured to an overflow crowd Sunday night about the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the current U.S. campaign in Afghanistan and the role of the United States in the Middle East peace process.
Shlaim spoke in Linsly-Chittenden Hall as the seventh featured speaker in the “Democracy, Security and Justice: Perspectives on the American Future” lecture series, which was created earlier this year in response to the events of Sept. 11.
In his introduction, series organizer and history professor John Gaddis described Shlaim as “a member of the Revisionist movement among Israeli historians — whose work has sparked changes in the way Arab-Israeli history is taught in Israeli schools.” Gaddis added that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not want the work of the Revisionists taught in Israeli classrooms.
Shlaim said he believes that American involvement is vital in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and added that the United States cannot expect “unconditional Arab support” against Osama bin Laden until the Palestinian conflict is resolved.
“For the majority of Arabs and Muslims, Palestine is a central issue,” Shlaim said.
Shlaim, who was born in Iraq and grew up in Israel, said that to many Arabs, “the dominant question [in the conflict] is one of the American double standard.” Throughout his speech, he cited examples of what he sees as the United States’ continued preferential treatment of Israel over the past ten years.
Shlaim criticized American Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush for the alleged double standard they used in treating Israel and Palestine, but he was no less critical of Israeli leaders.
Vincent Gulisano, a resident of New Haven who attended the speech without a definite position on the conflict praised Shlaim.
“He is very courageous to take a view so critical of his own country,” Gulisano said.
The United States is in the best position to broker a peace agreement, Shlaim said.
“The pope said that there are two possibilities for peace between Israel and Palestine: a realistic one and a miraculous one,” he said. “The realistic one would be divine intervention; the miraculous would be a voluntary agreement between the two sides.” He paused to laugh with the audience. “I believe there is a third possibility, that of an American-imposed solution.”
Audience members who were passionate on both sides of the conflict questioned Shlaim’s positions, especially his specific characterizations of Israeli and Arab leaders. Few questioners focused specifically on Shlaim’s topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s role in the U.S. war on terrorism, instead challenging minor points in Shlaim’s speech. Shlaim generally responded by reiterating various points he had made earlier.
Multiple questioners challenged Shlaim’s establishment of a clear distinction between Israeli settlement strategy before and after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel’s expansion began to extend beyond its internationally recognized borders.
Shlaim said he did not disapprove of the Zionist movement that led to Israel’s foundation, but he noted disapprovingly that settlements established after 1967 violate many U.N. accords.
Shlaim endorsed Clinton’s 2000 peace plan. According to that proposal, a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem would cover most of the West Bank, Israel would cede sovereignty over Temple Mount, and Palestinians would give up the right of refugees to return to Israel.