Campus Conflicts

With every new semester comes the opportunity for a fresh beginning. But as the Palestinian Authority awaits the Security Council vote on its third bid for statehood, any opportunity for novel approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has disappeared from the world stage. The problem: Palestine’s bid for statehood is a blatant attempt to avoid negotiations. Not only does statehood violate earlier agreements, but is also a tremendous steps backwards. In The Declaration of Principles in 1993, both parties agreed, “disputes which cannot be settled by negotiations may be resolved by a mechanism of conciliation to be agreed upon by the parties.” Seven years later, Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak agreed on “the importance of avoiding unilateral actions.” Most recently, in 2003, both parties agreed that the only way to reach permanent status agreement that ends the Israel-Palestinian conflict “is through a settlement negotiated between the parties.” In a world bombarded with violence, it is understandable that verbose and outdated documents calling for distant peace do not seem so important on the ground.

However, there is a glaring need for real proposals, not just from the Palestinians, but from the Israelis as well.  Israel has consistently extended its hand in peace, but both sides need to flesh out tangible demands that the two parties can potentially agree upon. In its bid for statehood, the Palestinian attempt to forgo this process of negotiations is detrimental to the region and every individual’s hope for peace.

A parallel: American universities have long been forums where students rise to respond to pressing conflicts of the world. It is not the politicians and world leaders who pride themselves on their willingness to compromise, but instead students with their endless creativity who advocate new approaches to stagnant problems. Let us not forget, regardless of whether you agreed or disagreed with their grievances, it was our 1968 protests that advocated a spirit of change in colleges across the nation.

Therefore, I cannot understand why the failures of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are echoed on our campus.  Last year, Students for Justice in Palestine signed onto the anti-normalization policy that lead to its refusal to co-sponsor any event with Hillel. According to SJP’s press releases, the group “maintains a firm stance that this [the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] is not a ‘conflict’ that requires ‘dialogue.’” However, this fails to explain why working with the largest Jewish organization on campus is, by default, impossible.  When a student group refuses to work with another on a college campus, especially one like Columbia University, it not only reflects poorly on the group, but our entire generation as students.

Ramifications: Anti-normalization is not an isolated issue at Columbia. Instead, it is an established concept that stretches from campus and governments across the globe, signifying a jarring break from a strong tradition of grassroots action by students. As Palestinian leaders move away from negotiations, from dialogue, from partnerships, and from peace, my hope for this year is that our campus will be different.

Of course, it is never as simple as wishful thinking or constructive approaches – as neither are guarantees of peace. It is, however, about working with others toward a tangible outcome within the complexities of any global conflict. If we are unable to do that on our own campus, there is little hope that new approaches can be applied on the world stage.

The views expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and it does not reflect the views of the Columbia Political Review.