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Daily Bruin Account of Shai Feldman Talk on "The Middle East and Israel after the War with Iraq"Shai Feldman. Photo by Leslie Evans

Daily Bruin Account of Shai Feldman Talk on "The Middle East and Israel after the War with Iraq"

Current lineup in Middle East opens "window of opportunity" for peace, prominent Israeli political analyst tells UCLA audience.

[The following is reprinted from the May 30 UCLA Daily Bruin. Shai Feldman is head of the prestigious Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, the Israeli equivalent of the Rand Corporation. His lecture at UCLA was sponsored by the International Institute.]

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By Charles Proctor

On the same day that Shai Feldman, a prominent Israeli political analyst, talked at UCLA about the feasibility of the U.S.-backed Middle East peace plan, the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers met in Israel to discuss the implementation of the plan.

The road map to peace, which was co-authored by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, calls for a Palestinian state by 2005. It has received support from both the Palestinian and Israeli governments.

Feldman, the director for the Jaffre Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, outlined what he felt were three reasons for why the road map could succeed.

First, he said, Israelis have woken up to a "demographic threat" within their borders from a rising population of Palestinians. Palestinians currently comprise 47 percent of the population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and dominate the age bracket of 15 years old, meaning that the number of Palestinian youth will increase significantly. Accordingly, if projections for population size are made five to 10 years in the future, Palestinians would constitute the majority.

"This means the ability to retain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with this kind of demography would be impossible," he said. This makes Israelis increasingly willing to give Palestinians their own state, he said.

From the Palestinian point of view, Feldman cites a gradual realization that the 32-month-old Intifada, or uprising, has resulted in a "colossal, strategic catastrophe" to the Palestinian cause. Rather than fulfilling its original objective of breaking Israel's will, Feldman said the Intifada has left the Palestinian government in shambles, damaged relations with the United States, and disillusioned many dovish Israelis.

"If you analyze this from the Palestinian perspective, this has been a disaster," he said.

Palestinians, therefore, will look to the road map over terrorism to achieve statehood.

Finally, Feldman said the political changes wrought by the U.S.-victory in Iraq have opened a "window of opportunity" as the United States wields more political clout in the Middle East.

"Irrespective of what you think about the war in Iraq and irrespective of what you think of the affects of the war within Iraq ... the war accelerated peaceful processes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said.

Feldman cautioned that this "window" should not be regarded as permanent and that leaders should pursue peace quickly.

"Windows are what they are: They're windows. And windows have a tendency to be closed (over time)," he said.

Meanwhile, in his second meeting with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas in two weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Abbas that as a show of good faith he would unilaterally end the 2-week-old closure on the West Bank and allow 25,000 Palestinian workers to enter Israel.

Israel also would ease some roadblocks around Palestinian towns and release some prisoners, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials.

In return, Sharon demanded that Abbas "act decisively to stop terrorism, ... dismantling terror organizations, arresting terrorists, confiscating illegal weapons, stopping incitement and creating an atmosphere of peace," according to a statement released by Sharon's office.

If Abbas were to comply, Israel would begin negotiations to "establish a provisional Palestinian state and afterward a permanent state," the statement said.

Abbas said he hopes to reach a cease-fire agreement with the Islamic militant group Hamas next week and that he might also reach an agreement with Islamic Jihad.

President Bush plans on meeting Sharon and Abbas on Wednesday in Jordan to officially launch the peace process.

UCLA International Institute