Turkey, which recently got Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to shake hands in its capital, has plans to open a university in Jerusalem that would appeal to both Israeli and Palestinian students — another step to make a peaceful future possible in the Middle East.
The idea of a university where both Palestinian and Israeli students could pursue their education emerged from the Peres-Abbas meeting last week, held ahead of a US-sponsored Middle East peace meeting later this month in Annapolis, Maryland. The two leaders, sources said, agreed at the historic talks last week to allow Turkey’s Bilkent University to establish an institution of higher learning in the city of Jerusalem. The decision was made informally at a reception attended by Bilkent University Rector Ali Doğramacı and hosted by President Abdullah Gül in honor of the two visiting leaders.
A statement from Bilkent’s Deputy Rector Abdullah Atalar last week seemed to confirm this plan. Atalar, in a speech in İzmir last week, said his university had projects “that will contribute to building peace in the Middle East.” The deputy rector had declined further comment, saying not all the details regarding the project had been agreed upon by all the sides involved.
Sources said the two leaders as well as Gül agreed on a new university in Jerusalem through the joint efforts of the Al-Quds University in that city and Turkey’s Bilkent.
Although the plan has yet to be confirmed and announced officially by the three countries, sources say the initial goal is to finish preparations for the new university by the end of next year. A school of medicine, possibly the biggest in the Middle East, is likely to be a part of the new university, which might be named the University of Peace.
Peres had been given an honorary degree during his visit to Bilkent University last week, where he also gave a speech, the highlight of which was his opinion that Bill Gates, without an army, had accomplished far greater things than Napoleon.
The university to be established by Bilkent University in Jerusalem is also expected to be in close collaboration with the industrial zone to be established by the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) in Gaza. Gül is said to have pledged to closely monitor the progress of these two projects.
It was also reported that the heads of state of Israel and Palestine both expressed their expectation to see Turkey invest in the Jerusalem 2015 project, an undertaking which seeks to restore Ottoman buildings and monuments in Jerusalem.