David Makovsky Speaks on Israel Conflict

By Joelle Leib ‘17
Staff Writer

 David Makovsky at a previous speaking engagement. Photo courtsey of Mike Sherwin

David Makovsky at a previous speaking engagement. Photo courtsey of Mike Sherwin

Two years ago, a Claremont McKenna College professor referred to a Pitzer College student as a “cockroach” after the student antagonized him during a reenactment of an Israeli checkpoint at Collins Dining Hall during Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) Apartheid week.

This year, an unknown student stole several mezuzot (sacred Jewish scrolls) from the doorpost of a Jewish CMC student who had an Israeli flag hung on his wall. These recent outbursts have tarnished the Claremont Colleges’ reputation as safe spaces in which to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue while highlighting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as likely one of the most contentious issues on campus.

A new 5C club, the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance (CPIA), is hoping to change the hostile atmosphere on campus regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by encouraging students of all political ideologies to respectfully debate with one another on the future of the conflict and the possibility of peace.

On Tuesday, Feb. 10, CPIA brought the distinguished Middle Eastern policy expert David Makovsky to campus in an effort to promote the prospect of a two-state solution and peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Makovsky, who received his graduate degree in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, most recently served as an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry on Kerry’s Middle East Peace Team. Under the Obama administration, Makovsky negotiated directly with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders for nearly ten months in peace talks that were ultimately left unresolved.

Makovsky is also the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute and the director of the Project on Middle East Peace. He is a firm believer in the likelihood of the two-state solution and has written numerous articles in support of its implementation in publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Makovsky addressed an audience of around 50 students, faculty members and community members in Benson Auditorium at Pitzer College. Members from the conservative leaning Claremont Students for Israel attended as well as members from the liberal clubs JStreet and Students for Justice in Palestine.

In his speech, Makovsky spoke of the difficulty he encountered while working on the Peace Team, but maintained a strong sense of optimism that peace is still possible.
“My message is to tell people not to give up on peace,” Makovsky said to the audience. While working for the government, Makovsky toiled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over five key points: borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees and mutual recognition.

Makovsky divulged that Netenyahu was much more lenient on borders and offered to give Palestine more land than expected, as well as was willing to help improve the living conditions of Palestinian refugees. Despite these breakthroughs, the two leaders could not agree upon issues of security and mutual recognition and the status of Jerusalem. “Obama offered Abbas the best deal I’ve ever seen and Abbas never got back to us,” Makovsky said.

Makovsky also touched on the extremely controversial topic of settlements, which are Israeli neighborhoods built on demolished, former Palestinian land by religious Jews who believe that the West Bank is part of the Jewish homeland. Although Makovsky is not in favor of settlements himself, because “anything psychologically demeaning can be corrosive [to peace negotiations],” he believes that the issue of settlements has been heavily conflated. “Eighty percent of settlers live on five percent of the land,” Makovsky said. According to Makovsky, when peace negotiations eventually go through, these concentrated settlements will be annexed by Israel. Even Abbas has allegedly agreed to this plan of action. The remaining settlers, however, will be forcibly removed from all of the land that becomes part of Palestine.

Following Makovsky’s speech, CMC Religious Studies Professor Gary Gilbert moderated a question-and-answer discussion. The audience primarily asked questions regarding the future of Gaza, to which Makovsky replied that the Palestinian Authority needs to return to Gaza even though it is unwilling to work with the militant factions that currently control much of Gaza. Makovsky parted Claremont with the optimistic message, “Don’t give up hope.”