Tension at Israel-Palestine discussion: what does it say about hopes of reconciliation?

Security and tension were at an all-time high when the KCL Politics Society hosted diplomats from both Israel and Palestine to discuss the US Embassy move in Israel on Monday. After understandably rigorous security checks at the entrance, King’s students were allowed into the lecture theatre at Waterloo Campus, where three of the esteemed speakers waited except for the fourth – the Israeli diplomat made his appearance much anticipated.

From the left; Mr Michael Freeman, Dr John McHugo, moderator Dr Barbara Zanchetta, Dr Ian Black and Dr Fady Abusidu

This was the first time a diplomat from the Israeli Embassy and a diplomat from the Palestinian Protectorate sat down to discuss the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. The speakers present were Dr Ian Black, a visiting fellow at LSE and former Middle East and Europe editor of the Guardian, Dr John McHugo, Honorary Senior Fellow at St Andrew’s, Mr Michael Freeman, a diplomat of the Israeli Embassy, and Dr Fady Abusidu, of the Palestinian mission in the UK. A good 30 minutes passed with students in their seats before Mr Freeman arrived, and when he did, the tension in the room could be cut with a knife. Mr Freeman, without addressing his co-speakers, immediately lit Hanukkah candles, before greeting the other speakers. Everyone except Dr Abusidu, who did not even look up to address his counterpart, received a handshake.

While Dr Black and Dr McHugo tried to remain focused on the topic of the event, the debate quickly spiralled into a he-said-she-said argument. Of the many controversial topics discussed, the 1967 partition, terrorism and radical Islamism, international law and Jerusalem were amongst them. The two diplomats did not manage to move away from the familiar arguments, empty promises and lies that have been expressed by the two blocks a thousand times before. The Israeli diplomat accused the Palestinian population of their apparent wish to “wipe out the world’s Jewish population”, and claimed that the Palestinian territory Israel holds is not illegally occupied. The Palestinian diplomat accused the Israeli army of “hunting Palestinian children for sport”, and defended the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.

When introducing himself, Mr Freeman said: “maybe an event like this will take us a little closer to a solution.” After two hours of listening to the two opponents debating, if anything, peace seems further away than ever. For if the two parties could not even shake hands or look into each other’s eyes at a university event – how will the two nations ever reconcile?

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