Former Carter advisor gives talk at MU on Arab-Israeli relations

Friday, May 1, 2009 | 12:03 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Kenneth W. Stein opened up his lecture on Arab-Israeli relations by saying he was going to base his talk as much as possible on facts, not bias. Then he immediately disclosed that he thinks a two-state solution is the answer to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

On Thursday night, Stein, one of former President Carter's advisers on Middle East affairs, spoke to about 100 individuals at a lecture titled "American Foreign Policy and Arab-Israeli Negotiations: Peace-Seeking, Peace-Making, and Peace-Keeping."

Stein took the audience through a brief history of the region and of U.S. foreign policy goals after World War II. He then talked about what has and has not worked in creating solutions in the Middle East.

One of his points was that promoting the self-interests of the Middle East nations involved led to greater success for negotiating peace in the region than other tactics. Arab states and leaders who negotiate with Israel do so primarily to protect the nation's leadership and interests, he said.

"It's not about the lion and the lamb laying down in the same field. It's about promoting self-interest," Stein said.

Stein also said that in the last 50 years, a couple of things have changed in Middle East relations. One of those things is that both sides have begun to admit that they have made mistakes, which shows a maturity that wasn't previously there. Another of those things is that the language of those on both sides, who don't live in the Middle East and are further away from the conflict, has become more antagonistic.

He said he is hopeful about current Arab-Israeli negotiations because quiet discussion and diplomacy have occurred between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators since the end of 2007.

"As long as they maintain their silence, that's good," Stein said.

Yossi Feintuch, rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom and professor at MU, said many of the speakers on the Middle East who have visited the Columbia area have been ideologues promoting a one-sided agenda. Feintuch said Stein's background includes history, facts, academia and experience in the Middle East, which is one of the reasons he wanted Stein to lecture at MU. Stein was Feintuch's doctoral professor at Emory University.

Mary Hartigan, one of the event coordinators, said the primary goal of the event was to reach students. She said she was really excited to see the number of students, who made up about one-third of the audience.

Stein served as former President Jimmy Carter's adviser on Middle East affairs from 1982 to 1996. He also served as the first director of the Carter Center from 1983 to 1986 and fellow at the center until he resigned in 2006. He then established the Middle Eastern Research Program, the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and founded the International Studies Center, all three located at Emory University. He is the William E. Schatten Professor of Contemporary Middle Eastern History and Israeli Studies. He has published four books, including one co-written by Carter.

The lecture was sponsored by the Center on Religion and the Professions, the Truman School of Public Affairs, Peace Studies Program, the Jewish Student Organization and local community members.

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