SEPTEMBER 1999, pages 125-130
ADC’s 16th National Convention Gives Arab Americans a Pro-Active Agenda
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) held its 16th national convention June 10-13 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in Arlington, VA. About 2,000 people from all over the country gathered to attend the convention entitled, “Arab Americans: A Pro-Active Agenda.”
A Capitol Hill Kickoff
The ADC convention opened Thursday, June 10, with a day of visits by participants to their representatives in Congress. At a pre-visit briefing ADC directors, congressional staffers and activists discussed techniques to make the calls effective, and points to be raised.
Rifaat Dajani, executive director of the American Committee on Jerusalem, described Israeli actions to hold the Arab population of Jerusalem to 28 percent, which was the percentage in 1967 when Israeli forces occupied East Jerusalem. Dajani said “it is almost impossible” for Palestinian Arabs to get Israeli permits to build or expand homes in East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities are demolishing Arab homes built without permits.
Every four years, when Arab residents must renew their identity cards, which constitute their permission to reside in East Jerusalem, they are required to show receipts for utility payments and other evidence that they have lived continuously in the city. Dajani said that in 1998 nearly 800 residence cards, affecting 2,000 people, were revoked. Palestinians who are U.S. citizens are required to give up their U.S. citizenship in order to have a new Jerusalem identity card issued.
Dajani noted also that since 1967, 180,000 Israeli Jews have settled in East Jerusalem, with their settlements planned to cut off direct links between Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Israel also has expanded the borders of East Jerusalem tenfold since 1967 in an effort to provide more land for Jewish occupants while drawing new municipal boundaries to exclude the Arab owners, Dajani said.
However, Israeli efforts to pressure the international community, and the U.S. through Congress, to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before completion of final status talks have had virtually no success. To date only El Salvador and Costa Rica have embassies in Jerusalem. Dajani noted also that all or almost all of the site made available by the Israeli government to the U.S. for an embassy in Jerusalem has been illegally confiscated from an Islamic waqf (charitable foundation) and from Palestinian owners.
Carl Levan, legislative assistant to Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), discussed Iraq, saying that the food reaching the Iraqi people under the oil-for-food deal is insufficient. He was scornful of what he called Congress’s “love affair” with Iraqi opposition groups, most of which have declined to accept the U.S. embrace because “they do not want to be tainted.” He noted also that Representative Conyers is working on new legislation on Iraq.
Randa Fahmy-Hudome, a counselor in the office of Sen. Spencer Abraham, provided insights into organizing visits to congressional offices, as did Gordon Clark, executive director of Peace Action. Calling his briefing “Lobbying 101,” Clark suggested that for such calls participants “dress respectfully” and hold a “pre-meeting, even if it’s just for three minutes, before you go in. Have your material ready, it shows that you are organized. Be polite, and first find something they have done that you can thank them for. Next, bring up only two or three issues, not a laundry list. Be specific about what you want them to do. If you aren’t specific, they probably won’t do it.”
With such specificity, Clark said, “you can then hold them accountable. A town meeting is an excellent place to follow up.” Clark differed with advice to provide a donation to a member of Congress to obtain access. Members will grant access to a small delegation if they know it represents a large number of voters in their constituency, he said, noting that there are many Arab Americans in most major metropolitan constituencies.
ADC legislative director Kamal Nawash discussed the misuse of secret evidence and described the Secret Evidence Repeal Act introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. John Bonior (D-MI), Tom Campbell (R-CA), John Conyers (D-MI) and Bob Barr (R-GA). (See separate article on p.16.) ADC outreach director Marvin Wingfield, who directed the congressional visits and chaired the pre-visit briefing, also invited executive editor Richard Curtiss of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs to update participants on U.S. aid to Israel (see foreign aid report on p. 45).
Arabs in the Media
Friday’s sessions began with a panel on “Arabs in the Media” moderated by Hisham Melham, Washington correspondent for the Lebanese daily As-Safir and the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, and including Christopher Hitchens, Washington correspondent for Vanity Fair, John Sugg, senior editor of TheWeekly Planet in Tampa, and CBS correspondent Mike Wallace.
Discussing the misrepresentation of Arabs in the media, particularly in regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Melham expressed disappointment with a program aired on CBS last year to celebrate Israel’s 50th anniversary. The program “portrayed Israel as an enlightened society where all three monotheistic faiths live together in harmony,” Melham said. President Clinton further perpetuated the misinformation in the program by praising Israel for “making the desert bloom.” (Defending his network, Mike Wallace pointed out that the program was not made by CBS; the producers of the program simply purchased air-time from CBS.) While Melham criticized such misleading reporting from Israel and negative portrayals of Arabs in the U.S. media, he pointed out that the portrayal of the U.S. in Arab media “can be equally one-dimensional.”
Christopher Hitchens focused his talk on the U.S. bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan in “retaliation” for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Calling the U.S. bombings “an open breach of international law,” Hitchens asked, “Where is the outrage?”
As of May 1999, 2,000 people were dead and 20,000 infected in Sudan due to a lack of proper medicine and proper vaccinations, a direct result of the U.S. bombing of Khartoum’s pharmaceutical plant, Hitchens charged. He attributed the lack of U.S. public outrage to cultural and perhaps religious racism. “It would be nice to have a sincere apology and restitution from the president,” he concluded.
“I’ve never seen a case where one group is singled out for such demonization as the Arabs,” said John Sugg. He criticized secret evidence as well as the sanctions against Iraq. He noted that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has described the deaths of 500,000 children as a result of economic sanctions as “a price worth paying” to depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussain. “Can you imagine her saying this about British children?” asked Sugg. “We are willing to commit genocide on a nation and it is a price worth paying?”
Mike Wallace, known for his even-handed reporting on Middle East subjects on the CBS program “60 Minutes,” the most widely viewed news program in the U.S., discussed changes in U.S. media relations with Arabs and Arab leaders. He recalled traveling to Cairo and Saudi Arabia in the 1960s and being unable to talk to anyone. “Arabs and Muslims have made a giant stride in the understanding of U.S. media over the past 40 years,” he said. “Of course there is bias and misrepresentation, but this happens on a broader range in other places as well.”
In his discussion of Israeli politics, Wallace recalled his interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Wallace asked him, “Do you see no similarity in purpose between Menachem Begin 40 years ago [when Begin led the Irgun Zvai Leumi, a Jewish underground militia that killed hundreds of Arab and British civilians and soldiers] and Yasser Arafat today?” Said Wallace, “I thought he was going to have a heart attack!” Wallace concluded by urging the audience to give Ehud Barak, Israel’s new prime minister, a chance. “I think that he will be a sensible follower of Rabin,” he said.
Rod Driver Receives Human Rights Award
Friday’s luncheon included a talk by House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI) and presentation of the Human Rights Award to peace and human rights activist Rod Driver. Congressman Bonior discussed the Secret Evidence Repeal Act (HR 2121), which was introduced to Congress on June 10. The bill calls for abolishing the use of secret evidence in Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) hearings. Bonior cited the case of Dr. Mazen al-Najjar, a Florida resident who has been imprisoned for more than two years on the basis of secret evidence, calling the case “a travesty of justice.” Pointing out that the use of secret evidence violates the Constitution and the right to due process, Bonior said that “If secret evidence occurred in another country we would have put them on a list of violators of human rights.”
Representative Bonior said he has spoken with President Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger about secret evidence, and President Clinton has promised to review all 26 cases involving secret evidence. “Discrimination has a long history in this country, and when the government abuses the civil liberties of one group, it endangers all of us,” Bonior said. Describing Dr. al-Najjar as a “model citizen,” Bonior concluded, “If they can do this to him, they can do this to you.”
Accepting his Human Rights Award, Rhode Island activist Rod Driver described the resistance he encountered when he attempted to place paid ads describing Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in Rhode Island’s Providence Journal and on local television in Providence. “I believe that the American public wouldn’t tolerate what’s going on in Palestine and Iraq if they knew about it,” Driver said. In fact, it wasn’t until Driver ran for Congress and exercised his candidate’s access to the government-regulated airwaves that he was permitted to run his television ads about home demolitions.
When the ads finally were run, Driver endured harsh criticism. A local PBS station aired a critical discussion about his ads, but would not allow Driver to respond to the attacks. Participants in the PBS discussion called Driver’s ads “nothing more than a scare tactic” and accused him of “abusing the system.” Then, using intimidation tactics recalling McCarthyism of the 1950s, Driver’s critics said that “his tenure [as a math professor at the University of Rhode Island] should be examined.” Furthermore, in response to his ads, the National Republican Party immediately endorsed his little-known opponent in the 1998 Republican primary election.
Nevertheless, Driver lost by only 1,300 votes. (Driver had 40 percent of the votes, while his opponent had 60 percent.) Driver expressed disappointment with the fact that more than half of the Arab Americans in Rhode Island did not vote in the primary elections. If fewer than one-third of the Arab-Americans who did not vote had gone to the polls that day, Driver said, they could have helped pave the way for a more evenhanded American Middle East policy.
Lifting Iraqi Sanctions
Prof. Ayad Al-Qazzaz of California State University, former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday, and coordinator Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness participated in a panel titled “An Agenda to Lift the Sanctions on Iraq.” Dr. Al-Qazzaz listed four recent developments which have had a negative impact on the situation in Iraq: the Serbian war, the election of Ehud Barak as prime minister of Israel, Iran-U.S. relations, and the oil-for-food “propaganda proposal,” as he called it. “More people have died in Iraq from sanctions than from weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear bombs, since 1945,” Dr. Al-Qazzaz pointed out.
Kathy Kelly told the audience that she faces a $160,000 fine for the “crime” of taking toys and medicine to children in Iraq. The people of Iraq have been “poisoned and destroyed,” but they nevertheless extended sincere hospitality to American visitors, she said, as she described her experiences there. She watched a baby die in a hospital due to the lack of a small oxygen tube, and was told by a small Iraqi boy that he wants to grow up and be a pilot so that he can bomb America. The young boy’s comment brought tears to the eyes of his grandfather.
Denis Halliday, who resigned from his position as director of U.N. humanitarian aid to Iraq to protest the hardships sanctions were imposing on the Iraqi people, stressed the importance of working to combat the sanctions. “Genocide through economic sanctions must be brought to an end,” he said. In reference to the U.S. and NATO bombings of Iraq and Yugoslavia, Halliday said, “We do not respect the dignity of others—we impose.” Investment in people, not the military, is more productive, he added.
The Geneva Convention “prohibits the deliberate killing of civilians,” said Halliday. “Have we not seen the double-standard of the U.N. Security Council? We are responsible for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.” According to Halliday, the Security Council deliberately neglects the people of Iraq because member nations dislike and fear Saddam Hussain. This is “no basis to continue to punish the people of Iraq,” he said, “because they can’t punish him.”
Halliday expressed the need for a national movement to demand the end to sanctions, and to let the government know that this policy is not acceptable. “We must speak out and find a solution,” he said. “We all share in this responsibility.” Halliday also addressed the need for a sincere and reasonable dialogue with Iraq, and the need to treat Iraq with dignity and respect for its enormous historical contribution to civilization.
In what has become an ADC convention tradition, Dr. Jack Shaheen, author of The TV Arab, ArabandMuslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture, and many articles on media stereotyping of Arabs, presided as master of ceremonies at the first of the conference’s two evening banquets, the Celebrities Dinner.
With skillfully edited film and video clips shown on giant screens placed around the banquet hall, Dr. Shaheen presented examples of the best and worst portrayals of Arabs and Muslims from Hollywood films and network television. Radio personality Casey Kasem, host of the “American Top Forty” program, presented the evening’s top award to film producer Peter McGregor-Scott for creating a sympathetic Arab-American detective in the feature film, “A Perfect Murder.” Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, Roger Ebert, co-host of “Siskel and Ebert” and Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times also received awards for enhancing tolerance.
Negative notice for escalating intolerance went to Edward Zwick and 20th Century Fox for “The Siege” and Donald P. Bellisario and CBS TV for the TV series “Jag.”
Arab-Americans and Civil Rights
Alexandria, Virginia attorney Albert Mokhiber, ADC vice chair and a former ADC president, moderated a panel discussion on civil rights. Speakers included attorney Rose Zitiello, civil rights policy analyst Carmen Jogeof the National Council of La Raza, and staff attorney Deepa Iyer of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.
Mokhiber denounced airport profiling and told the story of an elderly man in a wheelchair traveling to Lebanon. Northwest Airlines told the man that the flight was overbooked, but when he saw others still getting on the plane he inquired further to discover that he was being kept off the plane “for security reasons.”
We need to strengthen coalitions, organize and litigate, Mokhiber said, through “the two Ls: lobbying and litigating.” He also proposed the creation of an effective lobbying group and a legal defense fund for Arab Americans. The other panelists, who represented various minority groups, spoke of common problems faced by all minorities and their desire for various minority groups to work together for human rights.
Electoral Politics and U.S. Foreign Aid
President Issam Nashashibi of AFTG Inc. of Newport, CA, moderator of the panel on Electoral Politics and Foreign Aid, provided some encouraging statistics. In recent John Zogby polls, he said, 50 percent of Americans supported establishment of a Palestinian state, and 66 percent supported the principle of a shared Jerusalem.
Executive editor Richard Curtiss of the Washington Reporton Middle East Affairs noted that when people complain that Israel, with a population of six million—smaller than that of Hong Kong—receives more than a third of U.S. bilateral foreign aid worldwide, members of Congress have a new mantra: “We’re reducing economic aid to Israel. In 10 years it will be phased out entirely.”
The trouble with that misleading answer, Curtiss said, is that while direct economic aid to Israel is being cut by $120 million annually, direct military aid to Israel is being increased by $60 million annually. In 10 years U.S. military aid to Israel will be $2.4 billion annually, making Israel still the largest U.S. foreign aid recipient, world-wide. Curtiss said that as of Oct. 31, 1999, U.S. foreign aid to Israel since 1949 will total almost $92 billion ($91,816,507,200). That is more than all the U.S. foreign aid given during the same period to all of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Carribean, combined,” he said.
Randa Fahmy-Hudome, legislative counselor to Republican Sen. Spence Abraham of Michigan, listed some of the formidable influences on members of Congress, but advised Arab Americans in the audience, “There’s no reason you shouldn’t get involved with the campaigns of your representatives, or their opponents, and with chairmen or members of appropriate committees.”
Dr. Agha Saaed of the University of California, general secretary of the American Muslim Alliance and chairman of the American Muslim Political Coordination Committee, noted that U.S. support for Israel would be understandable if Israel controlled all the oil in the Middle East and the Arabs controlled little more than sand. But the reverse is true, he said, and yet the U.S. supports Israel.
How it is that “a counter-intuitive American policy” came into place? he asked. The answer, he said, is the tyranny of the minority. He cited examples from Middle East planks in the platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties containing “exactly the language of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies in Israel.”
Noting that “it is in the area of knowledge production and information production that we have lagged behind,” he challenged his audience to find the means “to take positions originated by the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Islamic Association for Palestine, etc., and inject them into the political mainstream.”
With six million American Muslims and two million additional Christian Arab Americans, he said, “together we can make a difference. But we must be organized.”
Now, he said, “there is a God-given mechanism—the American Muslim Political Coordinating Committee and the Council of Presidents of Arab American Organizations.” He concluded by suggesting that support for House Resolution 2121 to abolish the use of secret evidence is a good place to start, since, by combining, Muslim and Arab Americans “have direct access to more than 300 members of Congress.”
Dr. Robert Hazo of the University of Pittsburgh discussed the necessity of organization and defining the community’s purposes, audience and resources for “engaging in lobbying, the electoral process, and public relations.”
“I would emphasize the P.R.,” Hazo said, recommending that “one should Americanize the cause of anti-Arab discrimination.”
“Congress is not populated by heroes,” Hazo concluded, noting that its members may look to interest groups or lobbies for information or for people who can do their work for them, but that 80 percent of the congressmembers’ interest in such groups or their lobbyists is focused on “what money or other support the lobbyist can bring them.”
Abdurahman Alamoudi, executive director of the American Muslim Council Foundation, Dr. George Irani, Washington College visiting assistant professor, Father Drew Christenson, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and Father George Makhlouf of the Virgin Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in New York, discussed the future of Jerusalem in a panel moderated by Ziad Asali, chairman of the American Committee on Jerusalem.
Alamoudi talked of visiting Jerusalem and urged various groups to organize trips for Americans to see firsthand what is going on there. When he was in Jerusalem, he said, he saw visiting pilgrims from Indonesia and Malaysia who received no greeting from local Muslims, “not even an assalamu alaykum.” Zionists certainly do not behave this way with visiting Jews, he said. He expressed his belief that if Americans travel to Jerusalem to see the current situation, “then we will see a change in policy toward Jerusalem.”
Father Christenson said, “Jerusalem is sacred to all three monotheistic faiths and more than 2.5 billion people, and needs to be treated as such.” Ziad Asali added that history has not permitted uncontested control of Jerusalem by any single group. According to Father Christenson the Vatican is not looking for a corpus separatum or an international city; it is looking for the protection of Jerusalem’s heritage, equality of rights, rights of religious communities (in all dimensions, including legal and educational), rights of access to all places, and international guarantees of the aforementioned rights.
Father George Makhlouf, born and raised in East Jerusalem, urged Arab Americans “to act laboriously to save Jerusalem, which is being swamped by new settlements every day.” He expressed hope for some advancement in the peace process due to the election of Ehud Barak and the fact that the U.S. has an outgoing president who wants to be remembered for his foreign policy. “Peace has to be achieved through the recognition of civil and human rights for Palestinians,” he said.
Dr. George Irani, author of The Papacy in the Middle East, spoke of a need for unity among Arab Muslims and Christians. “Exclusion of any sort in Jerusalem is dangerous and lethal,” he said. We need vision and leadership in Jerusalem to promote democracy as well as civil and human rights for all of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, he concluded.
The Crystal City Mariott’s banquet hall was filled Saturday evening for the second time during the convention for the Awards Banquet. ADC president Dr. Hala Maksoud chaired the gala event. Awards were presented to Lakhdar Brahimi, special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general for Afghanistan, and to Ramzi Abou Zeineddine. He was a leader of the students who peacefully “liberated,” at least for a time, the Lebanese village of Armoun, at the edge of Israel’s “security zone” in south Lebanon, whose Lebanese inhabitants had been driven out by Israeli forces.
Edward Said Speech
Renowned author and Columbia University Professor Edward Said spoke to a packed ballroom during the Sunday brunch, which concluded ADC’s 16th National Convention. He urged Arab Americans to take a collective and active role in making the Arab presence and heritage known in the United States. It is important to combat stereotypes, he said, but Arab Americans should play more than just a reactive role to negative images. Through awareness and education, we must “give our culture a real presence in this society,” he said.
The tremendous Arab role in literature and civilization is repeatedly overlooked and “we are responsible for changing this,” urged Said. “We need to understand our culture and actively promote it. Every cultural society in American has done this except for the Arabs, and this cannot be done without collective will.”
He said Arab Americans must take an active and collective role to intervene both culturally and politically. “We should not be afraid to speak out and take positions.”
Dr. Said spoke out against the economic sanctions on Iraq and the bombing of Iraq and of Yugoslavia. “The U.S. bombs Iraq about one in every three days,” he said. As for the situation in Kosovo, Said told Arab Americans not to be fooled by images of U.S. humanitarian concern for the Kosovars. How can we believe in genuine humanitarian concern from the U.S. he asked, “when the U.S is leading a genocidal campaign in Iraq?” Intervention in Yugoslavia made the Kosovar situation worse, he charged, “creating many refugees as a result of the illegal bombings, which were not approved by Congress.”
“We have to speak out as a community in the spirit of activism and intervention,” he continued. Ethnicity does not matter when “you are a citizen of the world and opposed to injustice,” he concluded.
Said’s speech, which repeatedly advocated the need for a community effort to promote awareness and human rights, brought the audience to a standing ovation.
Unifying the varied presentations by prominent academic, political, and religious figures at ADC’s successful convention were their urgings to Arab Americans to take an active role in promoting even-handed U.S. policies in the Middle East and in support of human rights everywhere. Participants were reminded that in order to make the convention a true success, they must not only understand the “pro-active agenda,” they must contribute personally toward its implementation as well.
—Samia El-Mahdi and Richard Curtiss
Faisal Husseini speaks at CPAP
Faisal Husseini, minister for Jerusalem in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and director of the Arab Studies Society at the Orient House in Jerusalem, discussed Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the peace process June 16 at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine (CPAP) in Washington, DC.
As for Israel’s new prime minister, Ehud Barak, Husseini believes that he represents a greater hope for peace. Although negotiations will most likely be difficult, Barak, unlike Netanyahu, supports the peace process and is willing to solve problems through negotiation rather than dictation. Furthermore, Husseini believes that Barak will receive “pressure from the Israeli community, which would like to achieve real peace.”
Regarding Jerusalem and the peace process in general, Husseini asserted, “Any solution must build equality for both sides.” Husseini argued against a divided Jerusalem and proposed that Jerusalem represent the shared capital of both an Israeli and Palestinian state. “We must find a solution where Jerusalem will be accessible for all Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.
Husseini also addressed the problem of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and the importance of dealing with the issue immediately. “If settlements are not stopped, they will be the main cause of explosions in the future,” he said. Husseini refuted the Zionist claim that settlements in East Jerusalem are healthful for Israeli-Palestinian relations. If this is the case, he asked, “Why can’t Palestinians have settlements in West Jerusalem?” Muslims, Christians, and Jews should be able to live together in the same community under the same laws, he added.
Husseini expressed hope for the future of the peace process. “With discussion and dialogue, we can reach a solution,” he said. Husseini advocated a two-state solution based on 1967 borders and U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338. He pictures Jerusalem as the undivided capital of both states. “I can see Jerusalem as the warm sun of the Middle East, but if any party tries to unilaterally claim Jerusalem, Jerusalem will be the black hole of the Middle East and will swallow all hope for peace,” Husseini concluded.
— Samia El-Mahdi
Khalil Shikaki Discusses Palestinian Public Institutions at CPAP Program
According to Khalil Shikaki, the Palestinians have some reforming to do before statehood becomes a reality. Shikaki, who is director of the Center for Palestine Research and Studies, spoke on July 15 at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine in Washington, DC.
Shikaki was there to discuss the recently published Strengthening Palestinian Public Institutions, the first comprehensive analysis of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be conducted by an international task force.
Former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard led a team of Palestinian and international observers in producing the report, which was commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations. The report has been widely recognized as a crucial document on the status of Palestinian democracy as Palestine moves ever closer to statehood.
Thirty experts worked on the report, which involved describing, analyzing, and finally putting forth reform recommendations for nearly every governmental institution within the PA.
The first obstacle the experts encountered was getting permission from Yasser Arafat to conduct the survey, knowing that it would eventually lead to an analysis of Arafat’s own office.
Shikaki noted that, while Arafat agreed at first, the situation became tenuous and cooperation even ended for a time when Arafat and other high-ranking PA officials realized that the observers were getting critical of the PA and the inner workings of various ministries.
Cooperation resumed when President Bill Clinton, during his visit to Gaza in December of 1998, convinced Arafat to allow the project to continue.
But, Shikaki said, the shortened version of the report has been “desensitized.” He also said that Arafat “was not happy” when the final full report was released.
Among the problems the experts in the project found were the PA’s overall lack of accountability in the governing and legislative process. Certain ministries did not have to answer to anyone for their actions, and still others were not sure what their duties were as a ministry.
Shikaki noted that the PLO Executive Committee acts as supreme decision- maker to the degree that the legislative branch, the Palestinian Legislative Committee, can do nothing about the actions of the PLOEC. The group also found that Arafat’s cabinet has little power, and has in fact met only a few times in the last three years.
But while acknowledging the shortcomings of the PA, the report points out that these problems must be understood in the context of Israeli occupation.
As a result of the occupation, funds for the PA are both limited and sporadic. This prevents Palestinian officials from creating and holding to a budget, and also creates what Shikaki refers to as an “underground economy” where goods can be bought and sold without Israeli intervention.
In addition, Shikaki pointed to an indirect Israeli role in preventing democratic reforms. “Because the Palestinians are still under occupation, institution building has been less of a priority and has led to a weak public demand for democratization,” Shikaki said.
Further strains on the PA’s funds and personnel have been created by severing Gaza from the rest of the West Bank, making it necessary for the PA to maintain offices in both places, whereas a centrally located office could serve both regions and be much more costeffective.
Incessant Israeli closures also have forced the PA to fight skyrocketing unemployment (40 percent in Gaza and 30 percent in the West Bank) by creating make-work jobs for the unemployed, resulting in a bloated and inefficient PA. Shikaki credited Israel for not formally protesting any piece of legislation passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council, and for allowing Palestinian elections to take place.
In all, the report outlines 115 specific recommendations to help the PA form a more democratic, comprehensive and integrated government. Shikaki said the recommendations were designed for immediate implementation, and noted that the European Union has agreed to base its funding for the PA on the implementation of those recommendations.
CPAP Hosts Water Resources Expert
The New Water Emergency in Israel/Palestine was discussed by Sharif Elmusa at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine in Washington, DC on July 20. Elmusa is a leading expert on the hydraulic dimension of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Elmusa began by listing the six main water-related issues that will confront negotiators when final status talks begin. These are the maldistribution of water resources, the scarcity of water in the region, the control of water resources, the encroachment of settlements into water-sensitive areas, and the issue of joint management of water resources and compensation.
Elmusa noted that there are two main water resources aside from the Jordan River, which he listed as the mountain aquifer centered under the highlands of the West Bank, and the coastal aquifer located under the Gaza Strip. He also noted that the Jordan River basin is shared not only by Israel and Palestine, but also Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. This underlines the need to reach a formal agreement as soon as possible among the co-riparians, as countries sharing a water resource are known.
To underscore the difficulties which the negotiators will face, Elmusa said that Israeli settlers on the Golan Heights insist that since the Golan contains the headwaters of many streams which feed Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), Israel should retain the territory for national security reasons.
Elmusa pointed out that the Israelis use a disproportionate amount of the limited water available in the region. While Palestinians are forced to import much of what they need because Israeli authorities limit their access to water, Israelis in neighboring West Bank settlements fill swimming pools to the brim and water lush lawns.
Elmusa said Palestinians should be able to utilize the mountain aquifer under their West Bank homes, but that new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has suggested that Palestinians instead rely on desalination. This overlooks the fact that this is expensive even for people living at sea level and with abundant energy resources. It is not feasible for West Bank Palestinians, who live high above sea level, making any type of pumping operation from the coast difficult. He said the more practical solution is to allow the Palestinians to have a more equitable share of the already existing freshwater sources in the region.
Elmusa charged that Israel’s creation of large nature reserves and restricted military areas is just an effort to control more land once owned by Palestinians, and by extension more of the region’s water resources.
During the current drought, the worst in 60 years in the region, Elmusa said, only one-third of normal yearly rainfall has fallen. As a result, many springs are drying up and the underground water table is dropping, causing many wells to go dry.
In closing, Elmusa said that for the region’s water troubles to be handled correctly, ways must be found to increase the supply of available water, negotiate equitable distribution, find better ways to manage water resources and, finally, to “pray for rain.”
—Michael S. Lee