Israeli Deputy Consul Talks To Students at SF State
November 15, 2004 3:37 PM
After the death last week of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, many world leaders wonder what Arafat’s death and legacy may mean for peace in Israel and the Occupied Territories. This week, SF State students enrolled in International Relations 324 had a rare opportunity to hear first-hand from Israeli Deputy Consul General Omer Caspi about what he thinks the future holds for both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.
On Nov. 15 at 10:15 a.m., in room 349 of the HSS building, Caspi spoke for about 40 minutes, detailing the history of the peace process and discussing Israeli hopes for a new Palestinian peace partner now that Arafat is dead.
After his speech, Caspi took questions from students for another 50 minutes, speaking on topics ranging from the Iranian nuclear program to the disputed massacre in the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin.
“I’m very happy to be here,” said Caspi, after a brief introduction by Professor Dwight Simpson.
Caspi told students that he had also taken classes in international relations when he was a student at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He also said that he came to San Francisco about a year ago to join the consul general’s staff.
“It started in 1977, with Anwar Sadat,” said Caspi. “(The) ‘73 War, the Yom Kippur War – Egypt was regarded as Israel’s number one enemy. I believe that peace became possible mainly because of leadership. Both sides had the courage and the determination to go against their societies. Most important was to have a partner on the other side who can deliver.”
The deputy consul also talked about more recent peace initiatives, and described what he says went wrong during negotiations in the mid-1990s.
“The most important, most difficult issues were left to the end,” Caspi said. “I believe that was the problem. We never had a chance to talk about the really difficult issues, like Jerusalem. We never talked about refugees; we never talked about borders. We failed. Terrorism was never stopped.”
But Caspi also said Arafat too was responsible for the failure to achieve peace.
“We offered them a capital of Palestine, in Eastern Jerusalem,” said Caspi. “We offered them the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the Jewish religion. We offered them 80 percent of the territories in Gaza and the West Bank. Arafat didn’t take it. If you really choose the path of peace instead of terrorism, you go back to Ramallah, you don’t go back to terrorism. Arafat didn’t do all that.
“We realized that we had no partner on the other side,” said Caspi. “For us, the conclusion was that Arafat was no real partner for peace.”
The deputy consul also discussed why Israeli leaders support construction of a security barrier between Israel and the West Bank, a barrier that some Palestinians have called the "Apartheid Wall." Caspi said the barrier was an effective security measure that prevents terror attacks.
“People couldn’t leave their homes,” he said. “Snipers used to shoot workers along the highway. There are points where it takes less then 10 minutes by car from Palestinian-controlled areas to Israel. We realized that only a physical barrier would stop them from coming into Israel.”
Caspi called it a temporary solution, and said that the barrier could be removed in two days, if necessary.
“It’s a temporary measure, and it’s an effective measure,” Caspi said. “Less than 5 percent of the barrier is made with concrete. The rest of the security barrier is a fence, like we have with Egypt. For the last year, we’ve seen a 90 percent reduction (in attacks) in areas where we have the fence. Once terrorism stops, there is no need for this fence.”
After Caspi spoke, many students asked him questions, including one student who said she was from the town of Jenin, in the West Bank. The student asked the deputy consul about a massacre that Palestinians reported in 2002 during an Israeli incursion into the refugee camp at Jenin.
“There was no massacre in Jenin,” said Caspi. “You have to know the facts. It’s the toughest thing for Palestinians and Palestinian supporters to admit that their leaders are liars. There was no massacre. The UN proved it. There were fights – that was true. There was a war going on.”
But the unidentified student persisted. She said she didn't like Arafat's policies, but didn't know how to help change her homeland.
“I don’t have the power for anyone to listen to me,” she said. “We don’t have Britain backing us up, we don’t have the U.S.”
Other students asked about the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
“You should remember his (Prime Minister Sharon’s) situation in Israel,” said Caspi. “Disengagement is the first phase. I believe that, at the end of the day, disengagement will go through. It will be a terrible day for the settlers, but we have to go through with it.”
Student Matthew Davis said he liked Caspi’s talk.
“He was a very good speaker,” Davis said. “He seemed to keep the mood very calm, considering there’s a lot of information on both sides that needs to be resolved. I think he did a good job.”
Rahim Alibhai said he liked Caspi’s relative youth and the corresponding attitudes that appear to go with it.
“I thought that he was a good representative of Israelis, mainly because of his viewpoints,” Alibhai said. “He does have a better view, I think, of what the future will be like.”
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