International Conference on Palestine in a Changing World

The Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute of International Studies at Birzeit University held on May 6-7, 2017 an international conference to discuss the question of Palestine under the current changes in the region and the international system. A number of local and international academics, researchers, and officials participated in the conference.

The two-day conference, organized in cooperation with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, tackled three main issues: a characterization of the international context, including changes in the nature and influence of significant world powers and their effect on Palestine over three decades, an examination of specific world powers (the U.S., the EU and China for example) and their attitudes towards Palestine, and an analysis of the prospects of achieving breakthroughs in realizing Palestinian national goals.

Birzeit University president Abdullatif Abuhijleh pointed in his welcoming remarks to the major changes that have occurred in the international system, making it vital for academic institutions to discuss and analyze the effects on the Palestinian cause, especially that Palestine lies at the intersection of complicated and tense regional and international systems.

Abuhijleh stated that the conference is a fulfillment of the university’s mission to offer a platform for scholars, academic and diplomats to focus on the main challenges that face Palestinians.

Director of Konrad Adanauer Stiftung Marc Frings talked about his organization’s longstanding relationship with the Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute of International Studies and that future development can only be achieved by exchanging and sharing perceptions between experts and students.

Director of Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute of International Studies Lourdes Habash said that this conference offers a panoramic view of the changes that are underway in Palestine, the region and the world.

“The conference comes at a time where major transformations are happening across the globe, such as the rise of public governments in Europe, the emergence of non-state actors, and bloody wars underway in the Middle East. The effects of these changes cannot be separated from the general context in Palestine, starting with the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike to the stagnation of negotiations and the expansion of illegal settlements.”

One of the main focuses of the conference was a collective analysis of international prospects for Palestine in the 21st century. The panelists spoke about the changes and alterations currently occurring in the world and offered an overview of the position of Palestine today.

Nicolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, said that global and regional transformations cannot be discussed without addressing the problem of social inclusion faced by Arab people are facing. “Analysts should take an in-depth look at the question of dignity, identity, and people’s political representation.”

Professor of political science and international studies at Birzeit University Ahmad Hamad said that the world is no longer a polarized system. “We are in the era of non-polarization. The United States might be the most powerful country in the world but it is not the only one. The changes in the types of actors and threats, the world’s moves towards regionalism and the emergence of international organizations are all indicators that the world is no longer polarized.”

Hamad emphasized that states are going towards the politics of identity and are struggling to emphasize their values, norms and ideologies.

Commenting on the two papers, professor of Political Science and the director of the MA Program in International Studies at Birzeit University Ali Jarbawi said that non-polarity cannot be reflected to the Palestinian cause amid the dominant role of the United States on this dossier. “Other States and non-state actors do not want to challenge the United States’ hegemony, and even the international law.”

The panelists in the second session examined the role and attitudes towards Palestine of world powers, such as the United States. This was examined by the director and senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Michele Dunne, while the foreign policy of Russia towards Palestine was discussed by the director of the newspaper online OrientXXL, Alain Gresh.

Examining the Palestinian Question within the historical changes and the tensions of the region, researcher and analyst Mouin Rabbani said that the phenomenon of normalizing the relationship with Israel that first occurred after the Camp David Treaty, led to the rise of Israel in the region.

Rabbani concluded by emphasizing that the actions that Palestinians take and do not take determine their future.

Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies professor Ibrahim Fraihat said that the Palestinian question is not going away as a major regional and international issue. “It is a cause which has maintained an existential hold on Arab identity,” he said.

The prospects for a possible breakthrough in the Palestinian cause were the focus of the concluding session of the conference. Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine in the United Nations Riyad Mansour said that Palestinian officials must examine and make policies within broader and deeper contexts. Palestinians, according to Mansour, should build on the international resolutions that condemn settlements, and promote the European campaign that calls for boycotting Israeli settlements products.

Professor of Cultural Studies and International Studies at Birzeit University Ghassan Khatib examined the means of boosting the Palestinian image within the international community. Palestinians, according to Khatib, should choose the symbols that reflect their identity carefully and represent them as moral actors.