Israeli Consul discusses Middle East affairs


by Antonio Zaragoza

Ambassador Ido Aharoni, the Israeli consul general of New York, visited San Diego State yesterday as a guest lecturer in a religious studies class.  During the hour-long lecture held in Nasatir Hall, students listened to the ambassador speak about general misconceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Religious studies and lecturer Lori Stewart said the ambassador’s talk was comprehensive and valuable to students.

“The ambassador gave us an excellent talk on issues in the Middle East right now, from the Arab Spring to Israeli-Iranian relationships to international diplomacy,” Stewart said. “It was a rather far-reaching and informative talk.”

Aharoni began his lecture by discussing the concept of the Arab Spring. He said the word “Spring” creates misconceptions about events that have unfolded throughout the last18 months in the Arab world.

“Spring’ implies two things—first that we are looking at something that is seasonal and secondly, we are looking at something that by definition will be positive or will have a positive impact,” Aharoni said.

The ambassador also said it was not realistic to expect major changes in a year or two but rather that change may require several generations. He said the shifts happening in the Arab region could have wide-ranging effects on the future.

“Maybe we are looking at a process that would redefine national boundaries in the Middle East that will in fact serve as the undoing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916,” he said.

The Sykes-Picot agreements, signed by England and France, divided their influence in the region, thus creating many of the different nations, that comprise the Middle East.  The nations created by the agreement largely disregarded religious, ethnic and tribal affiliations.  Aharoni emphasized if the world is truly witnessing a realignment of boundaries and borders in the Middle East, then a long period of instability should be expected.

In his lecture, Aharoni also discussed the theory of democratic peace, in which democracies do not display aggression against one another and are not destroyed by tyrannies.

“A more democratic Middle East, by definition, is a safer Middle East  for Israel, which is why Israel whole-heartedly supports those forces who call for more freedoms and more democracy in the region,” Arahoni said.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Aztec, the ambassador discussed recent events between Israeli and Palestinian people, as well as Israel’s outward image.  One of the key topics from the ambassador’s discussion was the worldwide misconceptions of Israel and the Middle East. He said one of the biggest challenges is to share the image of Israel as a beautiful country filled with history, art and culture in a time when most people around the world are only exposed to images of violence and conflict.

“When I come to visit SDSU, my main message is that Israel is more than just its problems with its neighbors,“ Aharoni said.

Aharoni discussed the Israeli settlements and the recent decision by the Israeli government to build on an area designated as E1.  The decision to build up to as many as 3,000 new homes in the area came soon after the United Nations General Assembly upgraded Palestine’s status.

“Some people say Israeli settlement activities is the No. 1 obstacle to peace, but what most people don’t know is that the conflict between us and the Palestinians is not necessarily about land,” Aharoni said.  “Theoretically speaking, if Israel decided tomorrow to remove all settlements and all settlers from the West Bank, like we did in Gaza, and hand it over to the Palestinians, it would be hard to find one person that could guarantee that we would have full, comprehensive and final peace agreement with the Palestinians the next day.“

Some students did not agree with Aharoni’s Israeli-Palestinian point of view.

In a written statement, co-chair of Students for Justice in Palestine Nadine Hassoun, said,  “Aharoni is serving as the head of Brand Israel, Israel’s propaganda campaign to hide its atrocities and war crimes against the Palestinian people and its continuous violations of international law, in an effort to show Israel’s prettier face… His talk in SDSU on the Arab Spring is an attempt to deflect attention away from the latest happenings in Palestine, such as Israel’s attack on Gaza and Israel’s recent announcement of the illegal settlement expansion on more Palestinian land.”

Nonetheless, the ambassador stood by his word and ended the interview by stressing the most important element is for there to be compassion and goodwill among both parties.