Middle East experts see a 2-state solution as the path to peace


SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Ghaith al-Omari and Dennis Ross, Middle East policy experts and senior fellows at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, presented a comprehensive analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and prospects for the future when they spoke at the University of Rhode Island on March 26 in a program sponsored by URI Hillel and the URI Department of Political Science.

The scholars visited two Political Science classes during the day and gave an evening presentation to about 70 people gathered in person and another 50 who joined on Zoom.

Drawing on decades of experience in the diplomatic field, the two modeled how to hold a respectful, productive and forward-looking conversation on a topic that inflames passions. Former U.S. Ambassador Ross was the point man in the peace process in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, and al-Omari was an adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team during the 1999–2001 permanent status talks.

“The current war in Gaza is a tragedy that has divided our classrooms and our wider URI community. So I was thrilled when URI Hillel reached out to us with this opportunity to bring in Dennis Ross and Ghaith al-Omari for a series of engagements on this topic,” said Prof. Marc Hutchison, chair of the URI Department of Political Science.  “Their deep knowledge and expertise on the complex Israeli-Palestinian relationship is critical for providing context to the current [Israel-Hamas] conflict.  And their deep decades-long friendship, despite their differences, is a model on how to engage in dialogue even on issues that evoke strong emotions.”

One thing Ross and al-Omari agree on unequivocally is that the only way for sustainable peace is through a two-state solution.

“It will not be produced any time soon, but we can’t give up on it,” said Ross. “We need to work on how we can preserve it as an option.”

Al-Omari stressed the importance of recognizing the legitimate attachments that both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians have to the land, and how those attachments are inseparable from their identities.

“We can’t only speak about compromise, we must speak about sensitization,” he said.

Addressing recent tensions between the United States and Israel regarding the U.S.’s decision not to veto the latest U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, the speakers underscored the unique position that the United States has – and will always have – in these negotiations.

Despite the fluid political landscape, characterized by shifts in the Israeli government and changing U.S. administrations, the U.S. remains the most viable intermediary capable of brokering substantive and lasting negotiations between Israel and Palestine, Ross and al-Omari said.

When asked how students can get involved in meaningful ways that could potentially lead to real, practical change, the speakers discussed the importance of supporting and pursuing internships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that bring Israelis and Palestinians together for initiatives and dialogue. They also encouraged students to get involved in the policy world, citing a concern that the policy landscape is severely lacking in representation from the younger generations.

Brett Ruben, a Ph.D. candidate at URI, said, “Hearing from those who have been on the frontlines of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians gave me new insights on the importance of visionary leadership on both sides to bring about a future where Israelis and Palestinians can recognize each other’s legitimacy and aspirations.”

Daniel Groysman, a URI senior, had the opportunity to attend the 2023 and 2024 Hillel International Student Leadership Israel Summits, where Ross and al-Omari gave similar talks to student groups.

“I was deeply moved by having these two geopolitical experts come to URI,” Groysman said. “Mr. Ross and Mr. al-Omari cut through the noise surrounding this conflict by focusing on a pragmatic view of how the region can move forward and how neighboring Arab countries can play a role in the long-term path to stability.”

AMY OLSON is URI Hillel executive director. DANIEL GROYSMAN is a senior at URI.