On Wednesday, November 4, Colgate’s political science students were treated to a visit by Dr. Khalil Shikaki, who delivered a lecture on the political situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip titled The Prospects For Arab-Israeli Peace.
A mix of all grade levels packed the Persson Auditorium to hear his presentation, which was designed specifically to give its attendees a broader understanding of the situation they are currently studying.
Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle Eastern & Islamic Civilization Studies Bruce Rutherford asserted that the main goal of Shikaki’s appearance was to “help students learn more about the Palestinian side of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
“Dr. Shikaki is one of the few analysts who bases his positions on careful research among the people involved – both Palestinian and Israeli. He has made a particularly important contribution to improving our understanding of Palestinian views through his extensive public opinion polling among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,” Rutherford said.
Dr. Shikaki, who has often been called the pioneer of public polling in the Middle East, describes himself as one who is “trying to look at more recent development based essentially on surveys” conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, where he serves as Director.
“My thesis,” Dr. Shikaki continued, “is that to understand [Palestinian] politics one must understand the two forces which drive it.”
He went on to describe, in great detail, a schism within the Palestinian Nationalist Movement, which is composed of two demographics of older and younger members. The older members, who Shikaki refers to as being “essentially the Founding Fathers of the Nationalist movement,” have a less liberal vision for Palestine and are losing ground in popular elections. Most recently they were ousted from 95 percent of their political seats in favor of younger members. This younger political demographic, composed of well-educated, modern-minded individuals, charges its predecessors with corruption, and claims that they do not know how to go about building a stable state in the current political climate. By and large, the younger group is dedicated to establishing a realistic and practical two-state compromise and Shikaki believes that they may be the key to resolving the dilemmas surrounding the Palestinian crisis.
Student reactions to the lecture were quite positive, with Rutherford reporting that his own students felt that they left the lecture more informed about the issues surrounding the conflict. Rutherford hoped that everyone would take with them the idea that “there are thinkers and leaders among the Palestinians who are serious about the peace process and about finding a way to implement a two-state solution.”
“Dr. Shikaki’s argument was well put together,” first-year David Choi said, “and his conclusion was that there is hope, a hope that I personally didn’t know was there. It was an optimistic lecture [and] by listening to an expert on the matter I feel that I now have many more details, especially with Palestinian politics, details that I did not have before, which have helped in my overall understanding of the conflict.”
Contact Mstislav Fedorchuk at [email protected]