Faculty Experts Discuss Middle East Peace Talks

In the wake of yesterday's announcement that Israel will attend a Middle East peace conference, members of the Harvard faculty said that even though both sides have agreed to come to the conference, there are still large obstacles to peace.

Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France Stanley H. Hoffmann said that he believes the conference, which is scheduled to begin in Madrid on Oct. 30, will be a failure.

"The only condition that might make it successful is a strong pressure on Israel to exchange territories for peace, and I don't see much evidence for that."

Lecturer on Social Studies Professor Martin H. Peretz said the mere fact that the sides are agreeing to meet is an accomplishment but that achieving a lasting peace would "take a very long time."

Nadav Safran, Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, agreed with Peretz. He said the conference will probably not bring peace, but that "it is absolutely crucial for the peace process."

"This comprehensive peace conference, inaugurated by the presidents of the two most powerful countries in the world, will accomplish the same thing as Saddat's going to Jerusalem [in 1979].

"[Just as Saddat's visit served to] unfreeze the hearts of the Egyptians and Israelis to create that minimal measure of hope and trust that was indispensable to the Egypt-Israel peace, so will the hoopla and publicity around this conference break the ice between the Arabs and the Israelis," he said.

But Peretz warned that Israel should be wary of the process because of its close relationship with the U.S., which has a large stake in turning the conference into a success.

"Israel is and should be anxious about negotiations," he said. "[The Bush Administration may] squeeze the Israelis because it is the only party over which we have leverage."

"When they can't do very much equitably, they tend to pressure the party over which they have some cachet," Peretz said.

Hoffmann said that besides strong American pressure on Israel to exchange land for peace, the only other factor that might make the conference a success is early evidence of Arab goodwill on issues such as Israeli security.

That goodwill might be enough to make Israeli public opinion, which Hoffmann called "fairly hawkish," change. But Hoffmann said he could see little evidence for that.

Hoffmann said the fate of Palestinians living in the occupied territories would be another obstacle to the success of the conference.

"The gap between what Israel will offer and the minimum that the Palestinians will ask is so large that nothing will happen," he predicted.