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Former United States Ambassador to Israel and Syria Edward P. Djerejian said Hamas’ attack on Israel may lead to an “opportunity for diplomacy” in the form of an Arab-Israeli peace agreement at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum Friday.
The discussion, moderated by Harvard Kennedy School professor Tarek E. Masoud, also included Brandeis University professor Shai Feldman and University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami. The forum was scheduled following Hamas’ invasion of Israel last week.
Djerejian — who has served in foreign affairs under eight presidents, beginning with John F. Kennedy — said from his experience, “catalytic events” often lead to heightened diplomacy.
“I have seen when leaders are ready to take the risks for peace, things can happen,” Djerejian said. “Having said that, that requires leadership on both sides.”
“I’m going to be very blunt — in my opinion, I think we have a deficit of leadership today,” he added.
Telhami called on political leaders to take “the moral high ground” and said there is “no cause in the world that would justify targeted or recklessly endangering civilians.”
According to Telhami, Hamas invaded Israel because of feelings that there is “no hope in sight,” adding that he believes the likelihood of an independent state of Palestine is “much lower” than it was a decade ago.
“There was an enormous amount of despair taking place and that’s what militant groups exploited, because if there’s no peaceful paths — if there’s no peaceful hope, as they had put it — that’s the perfect opportunity for militant groups to say, ‘But you see, we can do something about it,’” Telhami said.
The panelists also shared their opinions on Iran’s role in the conflict.
Djerejian said he believes the expansion of the Abraham Accords, a peace agreement between the U.S. and several Middle Eastern countries, signaled to Iran — which was not part of the agreement — that there was a geopolitical strategy to marginalize Iran from the region. This would have been a factor in Hamas’ attack, Djerejian argued.
But while Telhami said it is clear that Iran is funding and equipping Hamas, he argued that there is no evidence that Iran was behind this particular attack.
“We have to be careful,” he said. “We don’t want to be dragged into a war with Iran.”
Feldman said he believes efforts by Middle Eastern countries to aid Palestine have failed because of fighting within the region, which has caused a “general fatigue in the region about the Palestinian issue.”
“Part of that fatigue results from the fact that Arab states, one after the other, said to the Palestinians, ‘If the struggle with Israel is so important to you, then how come you’re spending 90 percent of the energy fighting among yourselves?’” Feldman said. “And Hamas contributed to this.”
Telhami condemned Israel’s order for 1.1 million people to evacuate Gaza, calling it “impossible” and “not enough.” Hamas has told Palestinians to stay in their homes.
“Right now the immediate issue is humanitarian — we need to figure out how to help people,” he said. “The international organizations need to find a way to get there and there has to be, at least for a little bit, a pause in the bombings for people to get help to people who need immediate help.”
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