Middle East Expert Discusses Iraq and Israel

January 20, 2003

Emily DeDakis, <i>Hullabaloo</i> Editor-In-Chief

On Dr. Keith Weissman's visit to New Orleans he spoke to the community on behalf of the Louisiana America-Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish Federation Community Relations Council. He also took time on Jan. 9 for a more unorthodox stop: the Rue de la Course coffee shop on campus. Tulane-Israel Public Affairs Committee President and Campus Liaison Michael Glassman invited the Middle Eastern history scholar to campus for an hour of discussion with a small group of students.

Weissman answered questions on the possible military conflict with Iraq and its implications for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Weissman serves as AIPACs Deputy Director of Foreign Policy Issues. Before joining AIPAC, one of the most influential lobbyist groups on Capitol Hill, Weissman earned a PhD in Middle Eastern history at the University of Chicago.

A specialist in Middle Eastern and Eurasian energy issues, he has studied in Iran, Israel, and Egypt and taught at the University of Chicago, Loyola Chicago and DePaul University. The student-initiated discussion jumped immediately to Iraq. Asked if war and the loss of innocent civilian life was a necessity, Weissman immediately said, "You got me I ask myself the same question."

He continued by saying that Saddam Hussein's true intentions concerning the use of destructive weaponry are no secret: "Its a certainty that he would use those weapons if he had them."

However, he said the question of when we should address this concern is a more difficult one, as it is not definite that Hussein currently possesses weapons of mass destruction. The plight of people in Iraq is a more pressing issue to him. Weissman stressed the difficulty of living in a state where "everyones an informer" and yet having grave reasons for wanting to stand out against government policies: "The guy kills wives in front of husbands The accounts that have been collected are unbelievable in terms of the cruelty."

Despite disagreeing with the dictator, Weissman said most Iraqis will wait in silence, "hedge their bets" until absolution seems to be a done deal: "Until the day we finally decide to do this thing militarily, most of them will not believe that its actually going to be over. Once theyre sure that hes finished, I think you will see a huge outpouring of relief that hes gone."

Of Iraq's uncertain future, Weissman said, "What I understand is the Americans would like to allow various elements inside Iraq to create a federal, quasi-democratic system. I think its possible. Iraq was the most highly developed of any Arab country before 1990 the highest literacy rate, the highest rate of education, highest rate of women in the workforce, very little fundamentalist problems. It wasnt just an oil-based economy. It was a country that had a future."

To refute the claim that Bush's proposal of military force is aimed at gaining control over major oil companies, Weissman said the U.S. tried that in the Gulf War and failed. Although the U.S. assumed that some control of Kuwait's oil would be forthcoming, the Arab countries reserve their own rights to oil on their land.

Since individual oil corporations act as contractors to the governments of OPEC powers, Weissman saw little chance that a significant change was aimed for in that area. As for the relationship between the possible war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Weissman cited a key correlation based on what he called the "perceived ability of Arab countries to help" in a campaign against Hussein: "The Americans and the Israelis have been trying to get everyone to ignore the relationship. The Americans are involved in this diplomatic initiative called the Roadmap, to try to at least create a process that looks like we can move ahead once the Iraq activities are over."

Irrespective of outside considerations, Weissman said he thinks Israel is more ready than Palestine to approach the negotiating table; however, neither side is prepared on the whole: "The lack of trust on both sides is high right now." He said Israel has mentioned willingness to surrender control of most settlements and East Jerusalem "in exchange for peace," but he said nothing is certain.

Regardless of when or how resolution comes, Weissman predicts a compromise will look much like Palestinian proposals made at Camp David late in the Clinton administration. However, the Palestinian leader, who he considers having lost all credibility, must first be stripped of power.

"Palestine will never get anywhere with Yasser Arafat," Weissman said, yet his departure from power must be graceful: "Any harm that comes to [Arafat] will always be blamed on Israel." In general, Weissman did not sugar-coat his view of current affairs: "The world is a hypocritical place. If you havent figured that out yet, Ill tell you today."

But he encouraged interested students, as future leaders, to foster their knowledge and involvement in politics and the events shaping the world, especially in the aftermath of September 11. He stressed Israel as an interesting focal point, as the closest ally to the U.S. and the only democratic state in the region. TIPAC President Glassman said he intends Weissman to be the first guest speaker in an Israel Forum series expressing TIPAC's concerns about current issues in the Middle East.

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