Pathways to Peace



In a far-reaching initiative that shaped international students into priceless ambassadors of the Arab world and proposed comprehensive solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, UAE businessman, philanthropist, political and social commentator Dr Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor launched the Pathways to Peace initiative in 2014.

Taking a proactive approach to find lasting and durable solutions for the long-ravaged Middle Eastern strife, Al Habtoor invited brilliant young minds and faculty members at the Illinois College in the United States to come up with out-of-the-box, innovative answers through academic and on-the-ground research. A handpicked American academic group was created since the US plays a crucial, moderator’s role in the majority of the world’s peace processes. The youth are the future leaders, law and policymakers of tomorrow; hence students are the natural go-to resources for creative solutions to the world’s issues.

The desire to see every Palestinian regain their basic human rights, remove entrenched cultural hate and differences and put the conflicted region back on the path of progress and development, were the key drivers of the Pathways to Peace programme, which also doubled up as a global dialogue.

Dr Al Habtoor launched Pathways to Peace in October 2014 and was joined by former US President Jimmy Carter, and by former Congressman Paul Findley, among others.


The research processes

To understand and examine the Israel-Palestine conflict in depth, Illinois College designed Pathways to Peace as a seminar and a think-tank body.

Out of the many who applied for the programme, six of the best students — from various academic streams — were picked for diversity of views and ideas to enrich the dialogue, along with six advising faculty members. Each student was paired with a faculty mentor to work together and design a final paper outlining their research outcomes and outlining their individual, unique solution for the conflict.

During their research, the students also worked in an interdisciplinary fashion, merging thoughts and inputs from their different academic specialities — law, political science, history, sociology, philosophy and even science — to propose and expand and extensive range of possibilities.

Besides weekly readings and exposure to political and social commentaries by experts, the students were also educated by guest experts on the conflict and attempted historical peace processes in the region. These experts included former US Congressman Paul Findley who spoke about obstacles to the peace process in the US; and Woodrow Wilson Fellow and career diplomat David Greenlee who talked about monitoring stability in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Joshua Landis, expert on Middle Eastern affairs and an International Studies professor at the University of Oklahoma, presented on the Syrian crisis and its effects on the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

In the most practically relevant part of the research, the student participants travelled to the Middle East, visiting Israel and the West Bank in early 2015.

This move illustrated Dr Al Habtoor and the programme’s commitment, both to finding solutions for the issue and to the students’ knowledge enrichment. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the conflict zone in person gave the students a close-up, educational view of the situation, enabling them to put a human face to the problem. They witnessed the effects of the conflict first hand, the tangible and long-lasting physical and psychological impact from living under Israeli occupation, but also hope in the form of the planned city of Rawabi — for and by Palestinians — in the West Bank.

At the end of the seminar, both students and faculty wrote papers proposing the various solutions — or pathways to peace — for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in mid-2015.


Results out of the ordinary

The students’ research and papers resulted in a comprehensive idea bank of potential peaceful solutions to Israel-Palestine issues.

The various recommendations included the argument for Palestine to be considered a “burdened state” and Israel an “outlaw” state, calling for the adoption of new US foreign policies. Another recommended that the international community, especially the US, support Palestinian property rights — including water rights — pointing out that if Israel had to pay for the actual costs of occupation, it would find the financial burden too great to sustain and bring about an end to the occupation.

Income inequality between Israel and Palestine exacerbated the conflict, and one student suggested a one-state solution that would better integrate both economies and labour markets, thus improving relations and promoting peace.

Merging the Israeli and Palestinian cultural differences through music programmes and intercultural sporting leagues was proposed to help remove the lack of commonalities between them, an approach that has worked well in South Africa in surpassing social and racial boundaries.

Longstanding historical and psychological trauma suffered by the Palestinians could only be removed through education, namely their own school curriculum. Teaching all students in both Israel and Palestine about Islam, Judaism and Christianity, to remove imagined differences and promote peace, was a proffered solution.

Intercultural communication would also reduce identity-conflict (cultural and psychological) which gives rise to interest-based conflict (fight for scarce resources) between Israel and Palestine.

The advising faculty members also put forward their own peaceful recommendations for peace, which included using theatre to create social change; reducing military and other support to Israel; and sharing the most precious resource of water with Palestinians in a fair manner.

The students’ research and scholarship will provide as a basis for future study and practical application for individuals and organisations working toward peace in the Middle East. As for the students, they carry the lessons learned from this programme into their future studies and careers. For some, the experience has helped define career aspirations in justice and international law, or to work for the United Nations and promote peace and create a better world for everyone.

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