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Baker Institute fellow discusses solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Amber Tong     10/20/14 6:35pm

In a talk entitled “Track Two Diplomacy Toward an Israeli-Palestinian Solution,” James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy fellow Yair Hirschfeld discussed his new book and shared the key lessons he has learned from his experience working in the region to establish lasting peace. The talk took place in the James A. Baker III Hall on Oct. 13.

As Director General of the Tel Aviv-based Economic Cooperation Foundation, Hirschfeld is a former member of the Israeli negotiating team that prepared the first Israeli-Palestinian blueprint for the Permanent Status Agreement.  

Hirchsfeld first asserted the impracticality of the current paradigm which is a three-step approach for setting up an interim government, attempting to resolve outstanding conflicts and then moving towards a two-state solution. According to Hirschfeld, the first part of the lesson was learning what does not work setting up an interim government, attempting to resolve outstanding conflicts, then moving towards a two-state solution.

This paradigm is a paradigm that we have tried four, five times and it has failed four, five times,” Hirschfeld said. “It is insanity ... to repeat something that has failed again and again and again.

Hirschfeld then discussed what he considers a more promising approach, namely reversing the steps and prioritizing state building. Hirschfeld said the second part of the lesson was learning the order of the steps should reverse meaning state building should be a priority.

The true paradigm is to work on strengthening Palestinian authority, work on building functioning two-state structure, including the basics of functioning Palestinian state, and then go for solving the outstanding issues,” Hirschfeld said.

The importance of Palestinian-state building, according to Hirschfeld, lies partly in its ability to calm the political volatility and impending polarization.

“The political reality in the Middle East … easily can push Israeli and Palestinian leadership to polarize one against the other,” Hirschfeld said. “That’s a danger that Palestinian authority would break down.”

Speaking about the current situation, Hirschfeld quoted the Chinese definition of crisis to illustrate his belief that the turbulent situation is actually an opportunity for positive change..

“If it is a big danger, it is a big opportunity,” Hirschsfeld said. “The opportunity is six major actors in the Middle East ... If you want to prevent Hamas from re-arming, it is [essentially in the Israeli government’s] interest to work closely together with [Egypt, Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.]


In conclusion, Hirschfeld said despite the obstacles, he is optimistic about achieving peace.

“The truth is that we have big challenges ahead,” Hirschfeld said. “But the truth is that, with the experience we have, with the network of relations we have, the need to prevent a disaster is strong enough to get to the necessary legitimation and work together in order to reform.”

In the question and answer session that followed, members of the audience asked questions on various topics, including the sincerity of the government leaders in solving the issue, the power of and ideal response to Hamas and the recent explosion in Cairo.

Itay Porat, an Israeli student from the University of Houston, asked about the readiness of the Israeli population for a paradigm shift. Porat said he appreciated the content of the talk but wished it could have been longer.

“I think his approach is right,” Porat said. “[But] I thought it would be a little longer and more in depth into current steps that are being taken and to what is currently being done.”

Porat said he noticed there is not much diversity in terms of composition of the audience.

“There seems to be only Americans and Jewish people — there are no Palestinians, Arabic [people] — I thought [there] might be — [and it’s mostly] older people,” Porat said.

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