Jennifer Miller, the daughter of Aaron Miller, one of the lead negotiators for the U.S. Department of State on the Middle East Peace Process, has written a book about her experience with Seeds of Peace, a leadership program that brings Middle Eastern youth to the United States to learn skills needed to promote coexistence and peace.
In her book, Inheriting the Holy Land: An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East, Ms. Miller also shares her insights on some of the most influential policymakers involved in the Middle East, including Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Yassir Arafat, and the current President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA and VOA senior Middle East correspondent Meredith Buel, Ms. Miller explained that Seeds of Peace takes young people out of an environment of conflict and puts them in a safe space where they have an opportunity to see that conflict from the other side. She said the experience forces them, as it did her, to confront some of their own biases.
Ms. Miller said she believes that the fate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rests in the hands of 15- to 24-year-olds in the region. So, it is crucial that their educational systems and textbooks do not incite them to violence or encourage extreme forms of nationalism. And she noted that the newer textbooks are improving, which is a cause for optimism.
Jennifer Miller said she also had the opportunity to interview former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat, both of whom she described as being “unwilling to look critically” at their own policies. She contrasted their attitudes about handling the conflict with those of the negotiators, men who “talk about one another with admiration and respect,” and with Mahmoud Abbas, who at age 69 modestly described himself as a “transitional leader.” For that reason, Ms. Miller said, students running for student council in the universities represent a group it is critical for the Palestinian leadership to focus on. And she observed that more Palestinian youth are beginning to recognize that the violent actions of militants have induced rather than diminished retaliation from the Israeli side.
Similarly, Jennifer Miller notes that Israeli young people, especially those who have gone through the Seeds of Peace program, are learning to grapple with seemingly conflicting notions: the need to protect Israel while simultaneously confronting the harmful consequences some security measures have on the daily lives and attitudes of Palestinians.
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.