By John Williams

With upcoming talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, UC Santa Cruz students and visiting experts are presenting a range of viewpoints on the Israel-Palestine debate.

The current peace talks are big news for the variety of groups on the UCSC campus that are working for peace and justice in the area. Mahmoud Eriekat, the leader of the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP), a student group on campus, spoke with City on a Hill Press about the central issues of the peace process.

"We believe that the creation of a strong Palestinian state is the most important step toward justice in the area," Eriekat said. "The violence cannot stop while Palestinians are fenced in with no voice of their own.

Corinne Strasser, a member of the Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee (SCIAC), agreed with Eriekat’s point of view.

"A Palestinian state would be a good step toward peace," Strasser said.

However, the wall in construction on the West Bank between Israeli and Palestinian land strikes a more contentious note between the two groups. The wall is in various stages of construction in different areas. In population centers, there are often concrete barriers up to eight meters high, though elsewhere the barrier is made of chain link fence topped with barbed wire.

Sandino Gomez, an organizer at the Resource Center for Non-Violence, has been involved with the Israel-Palestine conflict for
several years.

"The wall is the single most obvious measure of Israeli aggression," Gomez told CHP in a phone interview.

"The wall has its pros and cons, but the fact is that Israel needs to be able to protect itself," Strasser said. Though the Bush Administration has given approval of the wall, the topic is likely to be discussed in the upcoming talks.

Eriekat echoed the concerns of many Arab leaders.

"The wall is a serious human rights violation, not to mention an obvious attempt to annex Palestinian land," Eriekat said. "It is only continuing the violence."

The disagreement over the wall highlights one of the crucial matters of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Melanie Phillips, who recently spoke at UCSC about relations between Islam and the West in her speech "Londanistan," questions whether there is really a legitimate claim behind Palestinian statehood at all.

"Many people are not aware that an Arab state never existed before Israel," Phillips said.

Laurie Brand, director of international relations at the University of Southern California and an expert on the history of the Palestinian conflict, recently spoke at UCSC about Palestinian statehood.

"It has impaired access to lands, education, Holy Places, and ruined any spiritual atmosphere the city once held," Brand told CHP regarding the wall in Bethlehem.

However, Brand also provided some hope for the future, as far as the experts can tell, "the wall appears to be a temporary solution," and with the coming peace talks. "The wall may come down soon."