“Peace is never perfect but always possible.” This was the sentiment of Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, after listening to the varied perspectives as a distinguished panel of International Relations experts and diplomats from geo-strategic jurisdictions discussed The Grab for Gaza: The Israel-Palestine Conflict – Causes, Concerns and Consequences at The UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.
A collaborative initiative between The Office of the Vice-Chancellor and the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences of the St. Augustine campus invited expert opinions of panellists Professor Andy Knight, Distinguished Professor, Faculty of Arts, Department of Political Science, University of Alberta; Ambassador Alon Pinkas, Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and Adviser and Negotiator in the Israel-Palestine Conflict; Dr Dahlia Scheindlin, public opinion expert, international Political and Strategic Consultant and specialist on the Israel-Palestine Conflict; Ambassador Curtis A. Ward, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations and Attorney-at-law; and Mr. Mirza Ali Mohammed, Adjunct Lecturer, The UWI-Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business, Training Consultant, and researcher and presenter on Israel-Palestine conflict. The forum was moderated by Dr Indira Rampersad, Head, Department of Political Science, The UWI, St. Augustine.
Delivering opening remarks, Vice-Chancellor Beckles highlighted the university’s commitment as an academic and development institution to participate in all global events that are significant to the developmental ideals of the world. Vice-Chancellor Beckles said “As a university rooted in Caribbean civilization, we understand all too well the issues that have emerged as relevant in defining this crisis. The issues of colonization, ethnic genocide, racism and apartheid, ethnic domination, the quest for freedom, crimes against humanity, issues of sovereignty and national security—in a Caribbean world, we know these with a level of intimacy that is unmatched in many other parts of the world.” Noting the position taken by CARICOM and the United Nations, the Vice-Chancellor confirmed The UWI’s support for “the search for peace and whatever is required to lay the foundation for lasting and sustainable development.”
The distinguished panellists all agreed that peace, though the objective, is no perfect or simple resolution. They adeptly used the discourse to ventilate several of the complexities around peace and resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Acknowledging the calls for cease-fire and a two-state solution by responsible international actors such as the United Nations, the United States and CARICOM, forum Chair, Dr Indira Rampersad said “clearly these calls are more easily said than done. In this war it is challenging to find a happy medium with the protracted ethnic war pitting the international community into diverse camps.”
Dr Dahlia Scheindlin stated candidly “We have to get rid of this idea that there is this perfect peace resolution that ends all violence.” She however believes, with all the complications, that we can do much better than the current reality.
Setting historical context, Mr. Mirza Ali Mohammed emphasized that history did not start on October 7, 2023. He provided insights into the forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948, drawing hard hitting parallels with 2023. Further exploring the complexities, Professor Andy Knight said “Hamas itself as a militant organisation is an ideology. No amount of sheer military force can defeat that ideology.” Professor Knight joined the call for a cease-fire but pressed CARICOM to take a more active stance that international humanitarian law be brought to bear on the conflict. Also commenting on the application of international law, Ambassador Curtis A. Ward noted that it was Israel who would be held to scrutiny as a sovereign state; “Israel faces daunting challenges in abiding by its responsibilities under international law. The measure of Israel’s response to October 7 must reflect the responsibilities of a sovereign state.”
The topical Vice-Chancellor’s forum also provided some insight into possible outcomes and consequences of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Dr Scheindlin suggested that the only long-term political programme capable of containing the conflict, to the extent possible, is a two-state solution which has built into its fundamentals ‘cooperation’ and even some ‘shared institutions’.
Ambassador Alon Pinkas proposed that a two-state model, though currently undesirable and unviable can be entertained but gave the important condition that there would need to be leadership changes on both sides. “It is not easy to change both governments, but this needs to happen. The Palestinians cannot govern yet Israel cannot stay.” Ambassador Pinkas suggested that new, innovative, creative thinking which puts in place a neo-trusteeship might be the solution.
The UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum, The Grab for Gaza, was a sequel to prior sessions on pressing international issues; Of Ukraine Oil (March 10, 2022) and The Russia-Ukraine War (June 17, 2023). The international viewing audience engaged the panel in a lively Q&A session including the suggestion of a dedicated platform for student discourse on the current Israel-Palestine conflict.
The recording of the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum on The Grab for Gaza: The Israel-Palestine Conflict – Causes, Concerns and Consequences can be viewed at UWItv Global.