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May 29, 2008

Losing Hearts and Minds
Posted by Moran Banai

The New York Times just reported that the U.S. State Department has rescinded Fulbright offers to Palestinian students from Gaza and is “redirecting” the money to other students. State blamed the Israelis for not allowing the students to leave Gaza.

Canceling the Fulbrights is inexplicable. First, was the United States really incapable of working with Israel to get permission for several students to leave Gaza? The New York Times points out confusion among Israelis, with a defense official saying that education was not a humanitarian concern worth the risks associated with allowing the students out, while  the prime minister’s office asserted the opposite. Given that 100 Gazan businesspeople were just permitted to go to Bethlehem for an investment conference the U.S. strongly supported, it seems that had the U.S. made this a priority, the Fulbright students would be able to leave Gaza.

How is it that reaching out to the people of Gaza, and in particular to the best and the brightest of the young people in Gaza, is not a primary interest of the United States? If the U.S. and Israeli policies are premised on reaching out to and strengthening moderate Palestinians then how does this quote from Abdulrahman Abdullah, who was one of the students who was meant to get a Fulbright, fit into the equation?

"If we are talking about peace and mutual understanding, it means investing in people who will later contribute to Palestinian society … I am against Hamas. Their acts and policies are wrong. Israel talks about a Palestinian state. But who will build that state if we can get no training?”

Last October, Taghreed el-Khodary, the New York Times journalist in Gaza and herself a Harvard Nieman fellow, spoke to us at Middle East Bulletin about the situation in Gaza. She is on the committee to select Fulbright scholars and, at that point, last year’s group was unable to leave. She told us:

“When talking about Fulbrights – this is a very select group. These are the brightest students, with strong undergraduate records; they are generally among the most  open-minded too. They want to pursue graduate studies in the United States to continue  their education, and come back to work and change society here. They are the ones with the potential to make changes; and they want to better understand the U.S., and to have Americans better understand Palestinians. You know this is what Fulbrights are all about. And these people are missing this chance, entirely.”

For almost a year, Israelis, Americans and Palestinian leaders now in the West Bank seem unable to thread the needle between isolating Hamas and not isolating or punishing the people of Gaza. To provide the people of Gaza some reprieve without benefiting Hamas requires a secure means of manning the checkpoints that allow people and goods in and out of Gaza, for example, without giving up control to Hamas. It is difficult but possible and necessary to find a balance between protecting the critical security needs of Israel and the long-term interests of everyone in the region. To do this, the basic needs of the people of Gaza must be met, they must be able to see a better future on the horizon and we must demonstrate to them that we care about their present and their future.

What the United States has just done in canceling the Fulbright opportunities for these students says just the opposite on all counts. It is indefensible not to keep our commitments to these students and incomprehensible that this is not a primary interest of the United States.

Update: Secretary Rice says she hadn't heard about this and will "look into it." How did this not make it onto her desk before it happened?


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Cut the US annual grant to Israel.

I can believe a matter like this would not have reached the Secretary of State's desk. That's not a defense of Sec. Rice, just an observation about the kind of issues that are likely to rise to her level in a Cabinent Department. It probably isn't a good idea to have the Secretary of State devoting time to who gets Fulbright scholarships.

Buried in the Times story, though, is an interesting line that I would have liked to see elaborated upon: "...the failure to persuade the Israelis may have stemmed from longstanding tensions between the consulate in Jerusalem, which handles Palestinian affairs, and the embassy in Tel Aviv, which manages relations with the Israeli government." Another thing that probably isn't a good idea is to allow American policy, by default, to be made by officials of a foreign government. That could happen if two American officials, or their offices, decided not to agree on what American policy ought to be -- or if, for example, the Tel Aviv Embassy was content to defer to the Israeli government on a matter, the handling of which reflected on the United States.

I don't know that this is what happened, and I don't wish to speculate. Over the course of several years, though, the Bush administration has managed to create the impression that American policy at all levels in the Middle East is determined in large measure by the Israeli government. This is unfortunate; it is not an impression we should be reinforcing.

Seeing how this administration is so anti-intellectual, they naturally are against anything that helps educate people, especially a program with that actually contains the word, "bright."

oops. That last phrase should read: "...especially a program that actually contains the word, 'bright.'" Guess i'm not too "bright" myself. Hey, sign me up for a job at State!!

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account

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If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account

I would like to also share Israel has blockaded Gaza in the year since the Hamas gained power. Israel allows humanitarian cases to leave, but officials say students are not included. However, Israeli officials indicated a solution would be found for the students...

I have found so many interesting articles & information on various topics in your blog especially its discussion. I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work. I like your presentation.

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