PSU's Great Debate: The US, Israel, and A Changing Middle East

On Wednesday, April 13, the Pomona Student Union (PSU) hosted Robert Malley and Michael Singh in a debate on the current relationship between the United States and Israel and the future of Middle East policy. Robert Malley served as Director for Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs under President Clinton. He is currently the Middle East and North Africa Program Director for the International Crisis group.

Michael Singh served as the Senior Director for Middle Eastern affairs under President Bush, and currently works as Managing Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The PSU and the Salvatori Center cosponsored the debate, which took place at Edmunds Ballroom on Pomona College's campus at 7 pm. The PSU brought in Malley, while the Salvatori center brought Singh.

Michael Levine, PO '11, one of the heads of the PSU who helped coordinate the event, noted that the debate was originally going to focus on the US/Israel relationship. Given the current situation in the Middle East, PSU decided to adjust the topic last minute.

Milia Fisher, PO '13, a PSU director, acted as moderator and posed three questions to Malley and Singh.  The first two questions focused on the nature of the United States' relationship with both Palestinians and Israelis and prompted additional discussion of U.S. policy toward the terrorist organizations of Hamas and Hezbollah.  The last question concerned the changing environment in the Middle East and how the United States should respond to the recent conflict.

Overall, the speakers agreed on their desired outcome for the Middle East. Both speakers concluded that a two state solution is necessary to achieve peace in Israel, and that the U.S. should play an essential role in achieving this peace.

Malley noted that, "You need a third party. The third party needs to know when to intervene and how."

The speakers diverged, however, on how they felt the U.S. should interact with Hamas and Hezbollah. Singh asserted that the U.S. should not negotiate with Hamas, but should negotiate with other Palestinian groups, like the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that recognizes the state of Israel and is not considered a terrorist group.

Malley disagreed, saying that "Principle is always infused with a degree of pragmatism." He went on to say that it is impractical for the U.S. not to talk to Hamas, and the only way to move forward is to stop isolating Hamas.

Lastly, Malley and Singh spoke about current U.S. relations with the Middle East in general. Fisher, in her questioning, cited a statistic that says 85% of Arabs view the US unfavorably, and Malley noted that this isn't a surprise.  He claimed that, since the U.S. does business with authoritative regimes, Arab citizens see Americans as hypocritical. Singh agreed, but also noted that the disdain for the U.S. comes from Europe as well, and part of it comes from being a superpower.

The panel lasted about an hour, at which point students were given the opportunity to line up and ask questions.

Overall, the debate received positive feedback. Na'ama Schwietzer, PO '13, noted that "They did a good job of disagreeing in a way that was still interesting to listen to and productive."

After the event, Singh remarked, "I thought it was a very stimulating discussion and I appreciated the stimulating questions and responses from students. I'm glad I came."