“What do you do if you see a friend drunk at the bar and you see him stumbling towards the car with his keys in his hand?” asked Dr. Stephen Zunes on Thursday, March 20, when he spoke to about 50 students, many of them studying Peace and Justice at UVU.
His discourse focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict—his area of expertise—and used the analogy of a drunken friend to point a critical finger at the enabling foreign policies of the American government—policies that have allowed for Israel to walk a dangerous and self-destructive path on the world stage.
As Zunes pointed out, America gives $3 billion of aid to Israel every year to help them illegally occupy parts of Palestinian territory, an occupation that has ultimately damaged Israel’s international reputation and left it teetering on the edge of danger.
“I told this analogy to a couple Israeli friends,” Zunes said, “They told me it was a pretty good one, except they would add that the United States is the bartender.”
The Arab-Israeli conflict is a complicated subject when it comes to peace and justice. The often-hypocritical double standard of American foreign policy doesn’t do much to help the matter either.
Zunes is a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco and is recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on the United States’ policy in the Middle East—a position that often makes him one of the leading critics of those policies, as well.
“The problem with U.S. policy is not that it’s too pro-Israel,” Zunes said, “It’s the failure to push Israel to compromise on things that are ultimately bad for Israel.”
The Arab-Israeli conflict is rooted in a decades-long struggle for possession of Palestinian territory between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
The obvious religious components of the conflict have further complicated a land-grab, which began in 1947 when the United Nations granted part of the Palestinian territory to form an Israeli state.
Since that time, tensions have mounted between Zionism and Arab Nationalism as Israel began to occupy more of the Palestinian territory and force its residents out. These issues have lead to increased fear in the region and sometimes a tendency towards terrorism.
“In reality, just as occupation and repression can never, ever justify terrorism, certainly terrorism can never justify occupation,” Zunes said.
Calling on his expertise in American foreign policy, Zunes was able to shed an intriguing—if not contradictory—context to the current world theater and America’s place in it.
While, for decades, America has unilaterally supported Israel and used taxpayer dollars to support its occupation of Palestine, Zunes pointed out that it has, in recent history, slapped the proverbial wrists of other world leaders for doing the same.
Zunes used examples such as the Gulf War, when America expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait, to illustrate the hypocrisy of the nation’s policies—deterring Iraq from invading another country while actively aiding another. But, he called on more recent and controversial topics to illustrate his point as well.
Having narrowly avoided conflict last year in Syria, America still seems eager to engage in international bickering as they threaten Russia with sanctions concerning the current Crimean situation—actions that have been noticed by the international community.
“They tell us that we are violating the norms of international law,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech on March 18. “First of all, it’s good that they at least remember that international law exists.”
Zunes’ discussion at UVU came at a time when the geopolitical landscape has been plagued with upheaval and mounting tensions. And, perhaps more importantly, a time when the Millennial generation has taken interest in international affairs.
Still, even entrenched in such international turmoil when pessimism seems an easy alternative, Zunes holds out hope for peace and believes resolutions can be met—and that perhaps active interest will generate results.