“But man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”—Job 5:7
At Lafayette, one man has made it his life’s work to understand that trouble. Ilan Peleg, Charles A. Dana Professor of Government and Law, seeks answers when the sparks fly. His latest book (with Dov Waxman of Baruch College and CUNY Graduate Center), Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within, offers insights and solutions to what he calls “one of the most intractable conflicts in the world.”
“There is a 20 percent Arab minority inside Israel. The issue of the book is what can be done to deal creatively with this minority,” Peleg says. “It is essential to sustain Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, but you must also address the issues of the Arab minority.”
Peleg knows firsthand the conflict he details. Raised on a Jewish collective farm in British-controlled Palestine around the time of Israel’s founding, he recalls, “My first memory, as a four-year-old, was hearing gunfire.” Always present, the Arab-Israeli strife defined his life. “Growing up in a country that was so conflicted made me interested in politics, conflict, and above all, conflict resolution,” he says.
In their book, Peleg and Waxman suggest many options for improving relations between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority in Israel. “We talk about the necessity of improving the socio-economic conditions of the Arabs, initiating affirmative action programs, appointing Arabs to positions of importance, and other ideas designed to create better ethnic relations.”
While Israel does have Arab members of the Knesset and the Supreme Court, Peleg points out that their numbers remain small. “Increasing those numbers is one way to increase stability and further fortify Israel’s democracy,” he argues.
For 37 years, Peleg, winner of several awards for teaching, research, and service, has sought to instill in his students interest, knowledge, and analytical capability regarding the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy, and international relations. He focuses on many of the globe’s hotspots, noting that the West has its own ethnic battles: Protestants versus Catholics in Northern Ireland, the French versus the English in Canada, and racial unrest in the United States.
Peleg covered these conflicts in his seminal 2007 book, Democratizing the Hegemonic State: Political Transformation in the Age of Identity, and has lectured worldwide on the topic. Last year, he was invited by the Spanish Ministry of Education to offer a graduate course on this subject at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.
Shaping the thoughts of students toward the Middle East and other regions of conflict remains his focus. “I want students to appreciate the importance of ethno-national conflict,” he says. “How many of us have a chance to impact the mind, feelings, and ultimately, the intellectual world of anyone else?”
Peleg notes that none of his books and articles would have been completed without student input: collecting material, organizing data, identifying bibliographic sources, proofing his writings, and discussing ideas with him.
“They do a lot for me,” he says. “Their names are included in the preface for each of my books. It brings them into the scholarly world in a way that nothing else could.”
Whether making the difference in students’ lives or speaking to international relations issues, Peleg desires to influence the world, especially regarding his homeland.
“Although I fully understand that I am incapable of solving this conflict, I believe that my research—based on decades of studying this and numerous other conflicts—could make a difference, “ he says. “Conflict is not unnatural to human society, but no matter what conflict happens, we must strive for a more just and peaceful world.”