Having visited Israel and Palestinian territories in early January, Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) came to UCSB Thursday to speak about the possibility of bringing peace to the region.
A crowd of about 60 people came to hear Capps’ speech, which took place at noon in Corwin Pavilion. Capps used the opportunity to talk about how recent developments in the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Bush Administration’s policies have affected the possibility of bringing a peaceful end to the decades-old conflict.
“The status quo cannot continue,” Capps said. “Allowing things to proceed as they have been would mean more suffering for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. A sense of hopelessness pervades on both sides of the conflict.”
Capps also talked about the recent signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Geneva Accord. She was one of three members of Congress present for the document’s signing on Dec. 1, 2003. In the accord, which was negotiated in secret for over two years before its signing, prominent Israeli and Palestinian citizens listed several significant compromises they would be willing to make in the name of peace.
Though no government officials from either side signed the accord or had a hand in its creation, Capps said she thought it was a step in the right direction.
“I believe the Geneva Accord demonstrated that there are leaders on both sides willing to make tough compromises,” Capps said. “It was a breakthrough.”
Capps also talked about the security wall being built by the Israelis, on which construction began in 2002. Israel has said the barrier, which will be about 414 miles long, is necessary to prevent terrorists from entering Israel from the West Bank. Capps said she agrees with the Palestinian Authority’s claim that the current plan for the wall intrudes on large sections of Palestinian territory.
“Many Israelis don’t even know much about this wall. Some think it goes along the 1967 green line border, which isn’t true,” said Capps. “The Palestinians I talked to would have no objection to a security wall that went along that border, since they dislike terrorism as well. Right now this wall represents an appropriation of Palestinian territory.”
Capps also said the Bush administration’s handling of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians frustrates her.
“When President Bush released the road map for peace in the region, I supported it,” she said. “Unfortunately, as [the road map] began to fall apart, the president has backed from the tough diplomacy to keep things moving forward.”
Student reaction to the speech was mixed. Kaveh Miremadi, a junior law and society major, said she believed peace in the region was impossible at present, and that the situation would get worse before it gets better.
“I think peace will only happen in that region with more suffering,” Miremadi said. “Something big is going to have to happen to get the attention of people in Western countries and make them really care about this issue.”
Junior history major Kate Masters said she felt optimistic about the situation after hearing Capps speak.
“Any effort people are making is a positive sign,” Masters said. “I think what’s holding things back is the fear that the other side won’t hold up their end of the bargain, so it’s important to have a third party like the U.S. to hold everyone accountable.”
Capps’ talk was co-sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the UCSB Religious Studies, Law and Society, History and Global Studies Depts.