Peace found at conference

April 7, 2000

A Haifa University conference last month served as a microcosm of what the Middle East could be like if there were a working peace.

Academics from Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Europe and the United States travelled to Israel to present papers at the conference, the third in a series sponsored by Oklahoma and Bethlehem universities and the Horizon Centre in Jordan.

Former Jordanian foreign minister Kamal Abu Jabr, dean of philosophical science at the University of Jordan, was standing in for Prince Hassan. He led the Palestinian and Jordanian delegations to the Madrid Conference in 1991. "Nine years after Madrid, I never dreamt I would be questioning whether it would work. Our attitudes towards each other have to be changed. Reconciliation requires new thinking."

The desire for peace sometimes has been shared by former enemies. General Shlomo Gazit, former coordinator of the territories (West Bank and Gaza) and former head of Israeli Intelligence,said: "Real coexistence and normalisation are possible. Israel has the basic desire to remove the threat of war. The Arab goals are to rid the Arab Middle East of an alien Israel.

"For me, the peace process began in 1977, with the dramatic visit of Anwar Sadat. If the Arabs would have joined Sadat, we would have solved the problem."

Conference participants highlighted the fine line between academia and politics. Some of them are involved in think-tanks and advise their governments.

Maha Rashidi, an Egyptian researcher, presented a groundbreaking report titled Frozen Peace: A Case Study from an Egyptian Perspective (Why there isn't a warmer peace between Egypt and Israel). She interviewed a random selection of 68 people of different ages, most of whom had negative attitudes towards peace with Israel.

Ms Rashidi, who has ties in Israel, said: "The younger generation is more pessimistic than the older one. It should be a social responsibility to promote peace."

At a time when Jordanian academics do not generally support academic ties with Israeli universities, Mohanna Haddad, a professor of anthropology from Yarmuk University in Jordan, has become visiting professor at Haifa University, teaching courses on "Minorities in the Middle East".

"Since the Oslo Accords, a number of Israelis and Palestinians have been trying to assess education in both systems - to see what kinds of stereotypes are being used and to try to think together as Arabs and Jews about how to create a better education for the new generation."

Professor Haddad, who has founded many non-governmental organisations in Israel working on peace education, said: "We are pressing towards a ministerial conference for ministers of education in Jordan.

"We want peace education to be a main policy of these ministries, otherwise the idea remains in the realm of the voluntary organisations."

Muhammad Bassiouny, Egyptian ambassador to Israel, said: "I want you to imagine this area under the umbrella of a complete peace. We have all the natural resources, technology and experience. We have everything necessary to make it a paradise."

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