Conflict: an inside look

In an emotional exchange, Arnon Perlman and an audience member yelled back and forth about Israeli occupation during a forum Wednesday.

When a woman from the audience asked Perlman, the chief spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, why he did not support an end to Israeli occupation of disputed lands, Perlman demanded that Palestinians accept some responsibility for the conflict.

“It is useless to blame Israel for everything. Take responsibility,” Perlman said.

Perlman also said the occupation will likely end when Palestinian violence ceases, to which the woman responded by saying, Palestinians want peace as badly as the Israelis do.

The dispute was part of the question-and-answer session of a discussion at the Phyllis P. Marshall Center. Before a crowd of about 200 people, Perlman lent his unique perspective to the conflict.

USF Hillel and Caravan for Democracy, a pro-Israeli organization devoted to providing a forum for discussion about the Jewish state, sponsored Perlman’s visit in an effort to encourage an open dialogue about Israel.

“I truly believe that Palestinians and Israelis will always live together. That is our destiny,” Perlman said. “No number of bullets or even a bomb can destroy the will of a people.”

He acknowledged that Israelis must remember when they deal with Palestine, they are dealing with human beings, and not all of them are terrorists.

“They live in miserable conditions. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

He reiterated, though, that the first step toward peace and the creation of a Palestinian state “is for Palestinians to stop terrorism.”

“There will be no peace — no peace at all — as long as there is terror,” Perlman said. “Letters, words and promises are worth nothing. What we need to see from both sides is action.”

Perlman talked about the Road Map plan, the only agreement to date upon which Palestine, Israel and the United States have all agreed. The plan, he said, has three stages. The first stage calls for Palestine to arrest terrorists, dismantle terrorist organizations, confiscate illegal arms, inform Israel when it has prior knowledge of terror attacks and “end the incitement that is responsible for the next generation of hatred.” The second stage calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, and the third seeks a permanent end to the conflict and agreement on final borders, he added.

Perlman insisted that it is because of their own leaders that Palestinians do not have their own state.

“Their leaders have failed them again and again and again,” he said. “Their failure to uphold promises and refusal to stop terror have thwarted efforts to settle the conflict and move toward two peaceful states,” Perlman explained.