At the first presidential lecture of the academic year, President Lee C. Bollinger welcomed Itamar Rabinovich, President of Tel Aviv University, to Columbia on Thursday, Sept. 22.
In his remarks titled " The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Accommodation or Resolution," Rabinovich cautioned against euphoria in expecting an end to conflict between Israel and Palestine, despite the recent disengagement of Israel from Gaza.
"I'm not saying there is no hope for a resolution," he said to a full audience in Low Library "Without the Bush Administration engaging in the kind of effort it would take to see an Israeli/Palestinian breakthrough … it's unlikely."
In his speech, Rabinovich didn't single out the Bush Administration, which he described as ideological. He said it would take a unique combination of leadership to broker peace, including a PLO leader with brute strength to lead his organization, and an Israeli who can stand up to hard line Israeli forces to exhibit the character of greatness.
Rabinovich was invited to be this year's first presidential lecturer because of his unique insight from decades of negotiating for peace. He was Israel's chief negotiator with Syria under the late Yitzhak Rabin and Israel's Ambassador to the United States from 1993-96. He is the author of several books including Syria Under the Ba'th, The War for Lebanon, The Road Not Taken: Early Arab-Israeli Negotiations, The Brink of Peace: Israel and Syria, and Waging Peace: Israel and the Arabs at the End of the Century.
In his welcoming remarks, Bollinger recalled Rabinovich's 1993 participation in the Oslo accords and historic quote at the time, "We know [the situation] is too complex for euphoria." Following the disengagement of Israel from Gaza, Rabinovich's lecture to Columbia reinforced his cautious optimism but invited the Columbia community to advocate for change.
Following his lecture, Rabinovich took questions from the audience on human rights, the role of the U.N. and of American universities in promoting the peace process.
"To use your campuses as meeting grounds for Israelis and Arabs, and to foster a culture where Jews and Muslims can dialogue in a constructive spirit, which has not always been the case, would be a great contribution," he said.