There’s very little time left for peace in the Middle East, said Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs professor Michael Barnett on Thursday. Barnett answered questions and spoke at length about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Continuing Education and Conference Center in St. Paul. The event kicked off the College of Continuing Education’s new Headliners series.
The outlook for peace in the region is bleak, Barnett said, comparing the recent Israeli occupation of Lebanon and other events to ingredients for “the perfect storm.”
“Israel’s strategies for peace have been exhausted,” he said.
Barnett, who is Jewish, discussed the lessons of this summer’s 34-day war between Israel and the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
“The only thing temporarily keeping peace is Israel’s powerful military and its willingness to use it,” he said. “Israel’s unilateral withdrawals in the past have caused Lebanon to view Israel as weak, like when Hezbollah claimed victory after Israel withdrew in 2000.”
Barnett, the Harold Stassen Chair of International Relations at the Humphrey Institute, offered a doomsday scenario regarding the future of the Middle East.
“Violence on the West Bank will increase to levels comparable to those on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority will collapse and extremism will increase on both sides,” he said, adding that these circumstances might result in a collapse of democracy and possibly lead to ethnic cleansing.
With increasing extremism and both sides’ willingness to use civilians as pawns, the chances for negotiation are almost zero, Barnett said.
Barnett did propose a solution to the conflict.
“We need an international concert, led by the U.S., to impose peace,” he said. “If there’s anything that can save the region, it would be a NATO-like force dragging both parties to an endgame.”
University alumnus Sean Gallivan said he left the lecture optimistic about the situation.
“There are so many ways it could go in the next few years,” he said.
Jo Jackson, a first-year University student, said the event was interesting.
“I don’t know much about the Middle East, so a lot of it was over my head, but I learned a lot,” she said.
Jackson was one of a handful of traditionally college-age students there.
Margy Ligon, producer of the Headliners series, said the College of Continuing Education “serves what we call nontraditional students. They are generally older students who have come back to finish their degrees or to audit classes,”
Younger students might also have been turned off by the event’s $10 admission. Ligon said the Headliners series must charge for admission because it is not an endowed program and therefore must pay for its use of facilities.
“But we’d love to have more young students because they offer a unique point of view to the discussion,” Ligon said.
Barnett’s lecture was the first in a monthly series that will feature University and community experts addressing global and regional issues.
“We wanted to offer an opportunity for the public to talk with University specialists on headliner topics from an unbiased point of view,” Ligon said.
Audio files of the lectures will be available on the College of Continuing Education’s Web site, cce.umn.edu, Ligon said.