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September 4, 2012

Washington D.C.

The Olive Tree Initiative had the great honor meet with some of the best known United States policy makers, civil society leaders, and government officials involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a two-day stay in the capitol.

The U.S. plays a vital role in advancing a political resolution to the conflict through mediation, persuasion and providing necessary incentives for both sides to come to the negotiating table.

Listening to speakers lend their thoughts, reflections and proposals in ensuring America’s role is done in the best faith has left us with many ideas and insights to bring to the Middle East.

Jeff Helsing

The Olive Tree Initiative’s first meeting was held with the director of curriculum at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Jeff Helsing.

Helsing spoke about preparing psychologically for a trip to the region by emphasizing active listening and framing our journey as a mission to weigh both sides rather than use encounters to reinforce our current convictions.

Robert Malley

Robert Malley is a former White House advisor and acted as an American negotiator during the Camp David Accords. Credit: Tasha Locke

Robert Malley, a former White House advisor and a prominent American negotiator during the 2000 Camp David Accords, outlined the lessons he learned from the Camp David talks.

Malley emphasized that the U.S. must play an effective, honest role whereby it can pressure and/ or coax the parties; he added that past perceptions of bias prevents the US from playing such an effective part.

Malley said Arab support in the negotiations is necessary for their success and that the U.S. must propose collaborative and compromise-oriented solutions.

Robert Malley spoke at length to the group on potential repercussions of a nuclear Iran and current options for peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Credit: Claudia Cheffs

On the Iranian nuclear issue, Malley spoke of the merits of choosing a containment-focused rather than a preventive approach. Containment, he said, would mean Iran could enrich some uranium under strict monitoring for civilian use. This leeway might entice Iran to comprise more readily.

Malley said he also felt Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to appeal to the United Nations for Palestinian statehood indicated his frustration with his limited options.

Ghaith Al-Omari and David Makovsky

Ghaith Al-Omari and David Makovsky have both been parties to high-level negotiations in the peace process, and currently work together to promote civil discourse between opposing viewpoints.

David Makovsky is well known for his maps of a future Palestinian state. Here, he addresses members of the Olive Tree Initiative. Credit: Claudia Cheffs

The two spoke primarily on prospects for continuing the peace process.

Though Al-Omari and Makovsky come from different sides of the conflict, both noted the stagnation of the peace process and that creative thinking will be necessary to reach a solution.

On more specific points, Makovsky responded to questions on three maps of the region he proposed for the establishment of two-state borders and land swaps.

Al-Omari and Makovsky said that although they may hold specific ideas for reaching an agreement, neither are wedded to one particular solution and only want to help provide a “menu of options” for the leaders and people of the conflict.

Dennis Ross

Acclaimed American negotiator and former ambassador, Dennis Ross, who recently served under the Obama administration, spoke with the Olive Tree Initiative of his career and manners in which to reach a viable solution to the conflict.

Members of the trip pose for a picture with former ambassador Dennis Ross. Credit: Claudia Cheffs

Ross reiterated several times the need to be steadfast in one’s optimism that an agreeable resolution can be found, especially in a line of work often met by many disappointments.

Ross also presented his 14-step plan to an Israeli-Palestinian peace, which would seek to bolster confidence on both sides in preparation to discuss a final status agreement.

When asked about how he would explain the allegations of pro-Israel bias against him, Ross responded that individuals on both sides have expressed their frustration with him, but that the allegations were the result of his honesty to both sides.

Hannah Rosenthal and Farrah Padith

Among the final speakers of the day were Hannah Rosenthal and Farrah Padith of the United States Department of State.

Rosenthal’s work centers on identifying and combating anti-Semitism, while Padith operates programs to reach out and build partnerships with Muslim youth around the world.

The two spoke primarily on a project they started last year, Hours Against Hate, which asks individuals to donate time to look at an issue from someone else’s perspective. Volunteers use this time to do all kinds of things – from making sandwiches to combat hunger to practicing dance.

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