Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian activist, told more than 400 people at the University of Kentucky on Tuesday she's among the dwindling number of Palestinians who believe a two-state solution in the Middle East still can be achieved.
It will take international attention, concessions from Israel and evidence that Palestinians can set up a healthy democracy, she said.
Until Palestinians can live freely in a homeland along with Israelis, the Middle East will remain combustible, she added.
"Palestine is the key to regional stability," she said. "It shapes attitudes. It shapes perceptions. It's like an aging wound that's been allowed to fester."
Ashrawi's hour-long speech follows former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's remarks at UK in October. The two speeches are part of the foundation being laid at UK for a living-learning community called the Peace House, in which a dorm will be reserved for students interested in exploring social justice and peace issues.
Unlike Olmert, whose speech was interrupted by hecklers at several points and drew a protest outside UK's Singletary Center, Ashrawi was received to a standing ovation and received applause throughout her remarks.
She said she's among a dying breed who believe "a two-state solution may yet be possible."
But she said too much of officials' focus has been on a peace process, rather than deciding what the solution should be.
In the meantime, Israelis have exerted more power over Palestinians to the point of "ethnic cleansing" in Jerusalem by forcing them out of the city and building a segregation wall.
"Walls do not work," she said, before calling the current Israeli leadership "one of the most extremist, hard-line governments" Israel has had.
Ashrawi, a Ramallah native who has a doctorate from the University of Virginia, has long been a prominent advocate for the formation of two sovereign states — a Palestine alongside Israel. She gained international prominence while serving as spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation during peace talks in the early 1990s.
Despite numerous failed negotiations and repeated cycles of violence — most recently in December 2008 in Gaza — Ashrawi said she clings to hope.
"No conflict on earth, no situation on earth is beyond solution," she said.