MARBLEHEAD — Robert McNulty isn't one for small challenges.
The director of programs at Bentley University's Center for Business Ethics has spent the past three days bringing together two Palestinian and two Israeli professors to discuss the ultimate in ethics, the ethics of peace. The effort included four days of talks at Bentley, with symposiums involving nearly 100 people from the business and academic community, as well as a panel discussion.
This afternoon, McNulty will host three of the professors at his Marblehead home, Samir Ahmad Abuznaid, deputy governor of Hebron and vice president of Academic Affairs for Hebron University; professor Mohammed Bader, head of the department of banking and finance, Al-Quds University, Jerusalem; and professor Liora Katzenstein, president ISEMI, Entrepreneurship College, Israel.
New Jersey-born professor Eugene D. Jaffe, head of MBA programs at the School of Social Sciences and Management, Ruppin Academic Center, and emeritus professor at the Graduate School of Business Administration, Bar-Ilan University, was also part of the program.
McNulty, whose brother is former Marblehead Town Clerk Tom McNulty, acknowledges that this sort of thing has been tried before. Nor does he argue that his efforts will change the world. But he hopes the meeting begins to address the lack of trust between the sometimes hostile sides.
Both Abuznaid and Jaffe expressed some optimism yesterday. Quoting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Abuznaid noted, "Peace and negotiations is our strategic alternative." He added, "At least we're getting it going."
Some might see only frustration with past efforts at bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, but Jaffe countered, "Things have gotten better." For example, he cited a poll showing more than 50 percent of Israelis now willing to countenance a Palestine state — under some conditions — existing right alongside Israel.
Abuznaid pointed to increased world support for the Palestinian cause, including mediation from American envoy and former Maine Sen. George Mitchell.
In their discussions, McNulty said, both sides were able to invoke a tragic past.
Exchanging ideas in a friendly interview, Abuznaid and Jaffe explained that Israelis and Palestinians also communicate regularly back home.
"We're talking all the time," Jaffe said. "But it's a lot easier on neutral ground."
For his part, McNulty hopes to do more of this in the future.