When Michael Tarazi moved to the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2000, he was unsure of where he would work. Two years later, Tarazi serves as a legal and communications advisor to negotiators for the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Tarazi, a Kuwaiti-born Christian Palestinian-American, spoke to an audience of more than 40 people at a Davenport College Master’s Tea Tuesday. In his talk, he presented a series of possible “creative solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and also participated in a question-and-answer session that became heated at times, causing Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld to intervene and refocus the discussion.
Dismissing the idea that the decades-old conflict is a question of “irreconcilable differences,” Tarazi said the persistence of the divide is the result of a lack of trust.
Tarazi said Palestinians cannot trust Israel because of the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israelis cannot trust the Palestinians because of fears of terrorism.
“Israel is the equivalent of a burglar in your house,” Tarazi said. “Only the burglar, afraid that you might get mad if he leaves, refuses to leave.”
Tarazi proposed solutions to what he called the “big three” problems — territorial control of Jerusalem, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and Palestinian refugees’ right of return to Israel.
He said Jerusalem could either be divided or jointly controlled. Tarazi expressed optimism about a scenario in which Jerusalem would be an international city, which Palestinians and Israelis could enter freely. But when citizens leave Jerusalem to return to their native lands, they would be subject to passport checks, Tarazi said.
Palestinians could not accept a plan that calls for Israeli annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Tarazi said. Therefore, Israel should encourage settlers in the West Bank to move back to Israel by offering them the same benefits they now enjoy in the settlements, Tarazi said.
Otherwise, Tarazi said, the settlers could live as aliens in a Palestinian state or become Palestinian citizens.
In addressing the difficult issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, Tarazi said that a peace agreement that excluded some right of return would not be an enduring one. This would not be an easy hurdle to overcome, however, he said.
“We often hear from the [Israeli] left wing: ‘Take the 1967 borders — but don’t talk to us about 3 million returning,'” Tarazi said.
This persistence, Tarazi said, was due to the perception of a “demographic threat,” and he compared the Palestinian situation to the position of the Albanians in Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic’s regime.
Tarazi said the solution to the problem of the right of return was in a plan that allowed for a limited number of refugees to return to Israel annually, perhaps as a certain percentage of levels of Jewish immigration.
In the question-and-answer session following Tarazi’s presentation, students challenged him on his comparison of Israel to Serbia and questioned the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, whether it provided incitement to terror, and whether it denied rights to homosexuals.
Tarazi asserted that Yasir Arafat was democratically elected and argued with regard to incitement that “the Israelis do it too.” The rights of homosexuals, he said, are not the most important issue in the Palestinians’ current debacle, and “no one talks about it.”
Richard Leiter ’06, however, said he was not convinced by Tarazi’s response.
“After listening to the way he was answering questions — my opinions didn’t really change,” he said.
However, he said he found the tea, as a whole, informative.
“It definitely — opened me up to constructive solutions, things that I hadn’t really thought about before,” he said.