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Summer Research project looks for Middle East peace

Sarah Terlizzi ’15 and Becca Leo ’15 have a lofty goal for their Summer Research project: peace in the Middle East.

While they do not expect a major international treaty soon to come from their summer work, they are researching and brainstorming ideas that could contribute towards a peaceful end to the conflict between Israel and Palestine that has waged for decades. “We’re not naive about this issue. We know it’s not going to change overnight,” Terlizzi said. “It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time, but in the end, it will be worth it.”

Sarah Terlizzi ’15 and Becca Leo ’15 participated in Model U.N. this
spring, and now they are exploring Middle East peace opportunities.

Jennifer Dugan, a political science professor, and Terlizzi have been planning this project since Terlizzi first participated in the Model United Nations program in 2012. They invited Leo to join them because she studied the Middle East conflict extensively for the 2013 Model U.N. conference. The purpose of the project is to study the role that the U.N. can and should play in creating peace.

They have studied every peace plan or “roadmap” proposed for the region over the past 13 years so they can look for common concepts. They also are examining proposals that have passed in the U.N. to determine what types of proposals could conceivably be adopted. “Our ultimate hope is to come up with our own roadmap to peace,” Leo said.

Leo was fascinated to see ideas emerge as she examined the proposals. “There was no one who was more pessimistic than I after coming out of a whole semester of studying this problem,” she said. “But there are many more points of consensus among these peace plans than I ever imagined. That’s something really positive to me.”

Terlizzi, Leo, and Dugan are adapting the common themes they identified and adding their own thoughts, too. One idea they hope to incorporate into their road map is to have the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provide management for sacred sites in Jerusalem. This could protect and preserve holy monuments and locations in the city and alleviate some concerns of religious interests in the region, Leo said.

Next week, they will test their ideas by presenting them to two groups in Washington, D.C., one that represents Israeli Americans and one that represents Palestinian Americans. Those meetings will provide feedback to help them refine their ideas.

Terlizzi said her research has given her a more realistic understanding of what has caused the ongoing conflicts. Education is key to unwinding the animosity and establishing peace, she said. Leo added that economic advances and time will be necessary, too.

“As the younger generation gets to the age where they are running for office and being leaders, there will be less animosity,” Leo said. “Public opinion will change. It always does. We’re trying to see what we can do to help create public opinion flow in a way that would be positive.”

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