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Deciphering Camp David


International relations and history intertwine in undergraduate research.

By Caitlyn Spencer

While third year international relations student Sylvia Gackle-Smith knew David Tal was the natural choice for her PURE supervisor, there was one tiny hitch in the plan: Tal, the Kahanoff Chair in Israeli Studies, is a history professor.

A compromise came about with the release of the Palestine Papers, documents detailing the Palestinian point of view during 2000’s Camp David Summit. Camp David was one of the most notable – and notably unsuccessful – attempts at negotiating the Israeli Peace Process.

Recent enough to be relevant to an international relations major and just far enough back to suit a history professor, Gackle-Smith set out to try and provide an unbiased account of what went wrong.

Gackle-Smith quickly ran into trouble when she found that not only were there divergent opinions on both sides, but that the conflicting accounts seemed equally plausible.

“When reading totally contrasting opinions, both sides made sense,” she says. “It’s hard to know who’s distorted fact, or if both sides have. There’s a lot of emotion on either side: if you seem like you’re leaning to one side or the other, you get labeled as pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. It’s easy to be written off as biased.”

For all the troubles Gackle-Smith ran into in trying to present her findings, her summer of PURE research was still a positive experience, and not only because of the preparation it gave her for grad school.

“At the beginning, it was a little difficult to find the structure that worked to me, to be disciplined on my own, but I love this as a summer job,” she says. “There are flexible hours, I can bring my research wherever I want, and I’d be reading about this on my own time anyway.”

Gackle-Smith’s PURE research is only the beginning in her exploration of the conflict, which comes not only from academic interest but a passion for human rights.

“I’m interested in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and the human rights violations there,” she says. “One person can only do so much, but being able to help fight that would be great. In Israel, something needs to change. Palestinians are being denied fundamental human rights. It’s interesting from an academic perspective, but from a humanitarian perspective, something really needs to change.”

To find out how you can apply for a PURE grant, click here.