Trip Blog — Day Five

May 31st, 2016

Editor’s Note: Lili Kalish Gersch, Director of Alumni Engagement at Project Interchange, and Dan Elbaum, Assistant Executive Director and Managing Director of Regional Offices at AJC, are in Israel with Project Interchange’s delegation of University Presidents and Chancellors and will be blogging about the delegation’s experiences.

Today was like a journey to a new land. We had a different bus, a different driver, a new tour guide, and our passports in hand – all to travel just a few short miles away into the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

While driving through the West Bank we were surprised by how developed some Israeli settlements have become, and by the presence of giant (and often empty) mansions owned by Palestinian American businessmen.

We were honored to meet with the education Minister of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and hear about his hopes for K-12 education reform and for more employment opportunities for the many Palestinians who pursue higher education.

Then we heard from Dr. Khalil Shikaki, who has done extensive survey research on Palestinian attitudes towards governance, a two state solution, and the use of diplomacy versus violence. He has measured, in real terms, the profound effect of Oslo’s collapse, the shaky status of the Palestinian government and the gradual loss of support for peace over the last 20 years. Palestinian American female business powerhouse Huda El-Jack, however, gave us great hope for what can be achieved with better engagement and investment from the private sector.

This much was made clear during our discussions in Ramallah: generations of Israelis and Palestinians have grown up with less contact than ever before, and most of their points of contact are fraught. This makes it even more difficult to lay the groundwork for a lasting peace.

But it’s not impossible. We ended our day by meeting with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiator Dr. Tal Becker, who brought us so many insights, but perhaps the greatest lesson we learned is that despite it all, Tal keeps returning to the negotiating table to try again. The process is incredibly difficult and may not bear fruit in his lifetime, but for all, it is worth the fight.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.