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Experts Say Turmoil Alters Peace Prospects

A Middle East composed of democratically elected governments will dramatically alter the behavior of the Israeli government and change the terms of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, said Middle East experts Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah in a J Street U Harvard-sponsored talk yesterday in Sever Hall.

“This is an opportunity to move to a legitimate peace, but it means not doing things in the same way,” said Atallah, a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team.

Atallah and Levy, a former Israeli negotiator, are co-directors of the Middle East Task Force for the New America Foundation, a public policy think tank.

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The discussion’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, hosted by the Harvard chapter of the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street, was altered to address the effect of the ongoing upheaval across the Arab world on the peace process.

Over the past weeks, uprisings have swept through numerous Middle Eastern countries, changing the political landscape.

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Protests in Egypt, a prominent ally of the Israeli and U.S. government, led Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign last Friday, sparking concerns about the future of its relations with Israel.

But Levy countered concerns that a new government in Egypt would result in severed ties to Israel.

“I think the last thing an Egypt in transition wants, that the military wants, is to test themselves against Israel,” he said.

Further dismissing concerns that the uprisings would result in anti-Israel sentiment, Atallah said that even if protesters across the region are not pro-Israeli, they are not necessarily anti-Israeli.

“What’s there is a public that recognizes that they can make peace with Israel in some future sense,” Atallah said.

But a future peace necessitates change in the position of the Israeli government, he said.

“It is also absolutely, totally clear that the idea that Israel gets to continue occupation, or that Israel gets to humiliate Palestinians, or that Israel gets to continue having discriminatory treatment against non-Jews­­­­—that [the Arab protesters] are not going to tolerate,” Atallah said.

“And I think that creates a much more difficult situation for an Israeli government that is predicated on ... everybody out there is bad and we are good,” he added.

The current climate in the Middle East will result in a “collapse of the peace process as we know it,” Levy said. “And I welcome that.”

—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at jryan@college.harvard.edu.

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