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W&L Professor Explores Middle East Issues on Academic Exchange

Washington and Lee politics professor Ayse Zarakol is a perfect example of the way that the research experience of W&L’s professors benefits their students.

Ayse is one of a select group of American scholars who will participate in the Academic Exchange (AE), a joint program of the Milken Institute, the Rand Corporation and the Yitzhak Rabin Center, that is designed to deepen understanding of Israel within the American academic community. AE provides educational missions to Israel for American scholars in the fields of political science, international relations, international law, international economic development, modern history and Middle East studies.

During the summer of 2010, Ayse was part of an academic delegation that toured Israel and met with Israeli politicians, ministers, generals, journalists and civil-rights activists. They  also crossed into Ramallah and met with the Palestinian prime minister.

Then, earlier this month, the scholars assembled in California, where they heard from a variety of speakers from Israel, including the current and former minister of defense and the ambassador to the U.S., along with journalists from a left-wing newspaper. They also heard panels about Hezbollah and Hamas, composed of people who work in Gaza or in Lebanon and report from the ground.

Ayse was one of only two participants representing liberal arts colleges, which is a significant honor for her individually and for the University.

And how do W&L students benefit?

Based on these two experiences, Ayse is revising her international security seminar as a special Middle East edition. And she will be addressing issues from her new first-hand knowledge.

“My general impression, given what I saw in Israel and what I saw in the conference, is that there are many people in Israel—and I think this is especially true on the right of the spectrum—who are more or less satisfied with the status quo,” Ayse said. “They think Israel is relatively secure. They don’t really want to give up control over the West Bank. So the peace process is not really on their minds. And I think domestically this is the more popular opinion. It is the left wing that acutely feels the pressure of the international community, and they think Israel’s control over the West Bank hurts Israel’s aspirations to be a democratic western country that respects human rights. So they want to give up control, but they cannot sell that perspective to the domestic constituency, which believes that any more concessions will actually make Israel less secure, not more secure.

“There may be some kind of temporary solution, but I don’t see a permanent agreement being worked out. Of course, now with all the developments elsewhere, one could say that maybe Israelis stick with the status quo at their own risk, given what’s happening around them,” she added. “But the impression I got from the more recent conference is that they think all these developments have made Israel more valuable to the U.S., not less valuable. So at the least, the right wing thinks that perhaps the American pressure on them is going to be decreased, given what’s happening in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere.”

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