Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2000, Pages 87-93

Arab-American Activism

Hanan Ashrawi on the Al-Aqsa Intifada

Hanan Ashrawi spoke on the Al-Aqsa intifada from a Palestinian perspective, calling it “an intifada for independence,” at an Oct. 31 Washington, DC briefing co-sponsored by the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Foundation for Middle East Peace, and the Middle East Institute.

Refuting wide-spread American perceptions that the uprising occurred “out of the blue,” Ashrawi reiterated that Palestinians had repeatedly warned that the Oslo agreement was inherently flawed, as was the peace process, which she maintained became an end unto itself, with very little relation to reality, in U.S. policymakers’ eyes. As Ashrawi pointed out, Palestine made an historic compromise by agreeing to U.N. Resolution 242, which relegated only 22 percent of historic Palestine to the Palestinians. Despite this starting point of immense Palestinian compromise, she averred, the U.S. and Israel continued to push for further Palestinian concessions in the face of ongoing Israeli annexation, occupation, and “systematic ethnic cleansing.” Because of this, she said, the Palestinian constituency for peace was lost.

The reality of that is now apparent, Ashrawi said. The events of decades—including the seven years of the peace process—having “primed the powder keg,” Ariel Sharon ignited it. The keg exploded and the result is the Al-Aqsa intifada. The dynamics of the intifada have changed the dynamics of the entire region, Ashrawi asserted, once more putting the issue of Palestine back into the heart of the Arab world, and therefore making it impossible to go back to a situation in which the U.S. is the only other party involved in peace negotiations, “bailing Israel out, right or wrong.”

Ashrawi stated strongly that Palestinian statehood cannot be subject to American or Israeli approval, and that there must be an end to the politics of fear, exploitation and racism. She emphasized, moreover, that Palestinians would not be dehumanized to the point of being portrayed as having no feelings for their children, referring to the many accusations that Palestinian children are being sent out into the streets to die, or used by their elders as human shields.

Finally, Ashrawi conceded that if there were a genuine commitment to peace, there was a possibility for a two-state solution. But, she said, Palestinians never would submit to Israeli desires for separation in an apartheid Israel, or to “the peace of the grave.”

—Sara Powell

The Arab-Israeli Predicament

The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University hosted a day-long seminar on the Arab-Israeli predicament and its implications for U.S. interests in the Arab world on Oct. 25, 2000. Diplomats, academicians and journalists comprised the speakers, who included CCAS professor Mamoun Fandy. In addition to organizing the seminar, Fandy discussed the problem of the Palestinians’ lack of modern legality in their claims because of their lack of printed documentation, e.g., borders, deeds, birth certificates, etc., in contrast to Israel’s documentation of its more recent claims.

Director of the Center for the Global South and long-time Arab League representative to the U.N. Clovis Maksoud spoke on the flawed peace process and the imbalance of the world’s only remaining super-power throwing its weight behind Israel. He theorized that the imbalance and inadequacy of American efforts were a result of prejudice and training, and suggested that the U.S. take “a time out” from its role as “peace broker.”

Vice president of the American Committee on Jerusalem Khalil Jahshan agreed that the U.S. was biased but also emphasized the far-reaching implications of the new intifada. With support for Palestinians spreading throughout much of the world, he speculated that for better or worse the results would be with us for a long time. The bottom line, however, must include the issues of statehood, refugees, and Jerusalem, he said.

Ibrahim Karawan, director of the University of Utah’s Middle East Center, agreed, adding water rights to the list of difficult issues that must be addressed seriously. He warned that some might be too expectant that the present intifada marks a turning point for Palestinians. The Israelis, however, will not withdraw from all of historic Palestine, as they did from southern Lebanon, he cautioned. He further warned that the intifada did not change the true balance of power. Conversely, he warned that those who thought Arabism was dead had better think again, and that Arab solidarity could influence American policy.

Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy spoke about U.S. oil and maritime interests, and American ignorance of Islam, as coloring the U.S. role in the peace process. The U.S., he suggested, should concentrate on offering legally based proposals rather than a domestically based wish list.

Rand Corporation analyst Graham Fuller, author of Point of No Return, spoke about how the Arab-Israeli conflict had been falsely isolated from other issues by the U.S., and that pressures by the increasingly important European Union, as well as by Muslims worldwide, might well cut into the U.S. monopoly on the peace process, thereby changing the balance of power.

As-Safir correspondent Hisham Melhem outlined reasons behind the historic relevance of the current intifada. He cited such factors as the information revolution, which allows much of the world, including the Arab world, to see footage of the failed peace process and the resulting uprising as it happened. Virtually all the speakers seemed to view the current situation as an historical watershed.

University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami reiterated the theme that the U.S. would have to rethink its position vis-à-vis the Middle East, as well as its assumption that Washington can ignore Arab public opinion and concentrate solely on Arab governments. He emphasized that, at some point, there must be an international presence in the peace process.

Sara Powell

4,000 March for Palestinian Refugees’ Right of Return

More than 4,000 people from across the United States came to Washington, DC on Sept. 16 to march for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. The rally coincided with the 18th anniversary of the three-day massacre in 1982 of more than 2,000 Palestinians by Christian militiamen in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon. The march was organized by the nonpartisan, global group of refugee advocates, Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC), known by its Arabic name, Al-Awda. It was co-sponsored by more than 150 organizations worldwide. In London, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, more than 2,000 supporters marched in similar rallies .

The DC march began at Freedom Plaza and ended with a rally of over 25 speakers at Lafayette Park in front of the White House.

Organizer Ali Abunimah said the Washington march was “the largest gathering of Palestinians and their supporters that I have ever attended, and one of the most moving.”

G. Simon Harak, a Jesuit priest from Manhattan whose parents emigrated from Lebanon during World War I, said lasting peace is impossible without resolving the refugees’ status and their right to return.

A press release issued by PRRC noted: “Palestinian refugees represent the largest refugee population in the world. An estimated 800,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes in 1948, and many more forcibly displaced by Israel since that time. Today there are about 5 million dispossessed Palestinians, a number equivalent to the population of the state of Maryland. The suffering of refugees is magnified by Israel’s continued denial of their legal and legitimate right to repatriation and restitution.”

Delinda C. Hanley

Arab Americans Hold State Department Press Conference

As Israel launched a major assault on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, bombing Ramallah and Gaza City, the American Muslim Council (AMC), Arab American Institute (AAI), American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a press conference outside the U.S. State Department on Oct. 12. Earlier that day Israeli helicopter gunships opened fire on and hit Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in the West Bank City of Ramallah. Israeli rockets had also struck downtown police stations and the official Palestinian TV station and the Palestinian radio station in Ramallah.

One young American demonstrator, who said he grew up in the cornfields of Indiana but had visited Jerusalem and knew what was going on, said he’d just had to leave his office that afternoon and show his support. “It’s tough to just sit here and watch.”

AAI president Jim Zogby said the latest Israeli attacks were “an all-out act of war in a spiraling cycle of violence that had taken a disproportionate number of Palestinian lives.” The recent events would cause the unraveling of the peace process as well as the unraveling of U.S.-Arab relations, Zogby said.

AMC president Ali Abuzakook said that guns and helicopters and tanks will not destroy the Palestinian right of self-determination. He said the media was waging a disinformation campaign and blaming the Palestinians for the unrest. “Look at the victims. Look at the provokers,” he concluded.

Dr. Mohamed Nimr of CAIR said that Americans should stand in solidarity with Palestinian self-determination as they do for all minorities suffering under oppression in the world.

ADC vice president Khalil Jahshan said that Palestinian civilian losses were unacceptable, reminding the press that Palestinians also are children of God. The State Department seemed to be ignoring Palestinian aspirations and public opinion, he said, and accepting Israel’s massacre of civilians in silence. One word from Clinton saying, “You will have your state,” could have ended the confrontation.

Palestinian expectations were sky-high after Camp David, Jahshan said, but they soon saw no results, no peace dividends, after 10 years of negotiations. When Clinton blamed only the Palestinian side for the failure of the latest peace talks Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was emboldened to think he has U.S. support to do virtually anything.

Delinda C. Hanley

Edward Said At Georgetown

Georgetown University’s 25th Kareema Khoury Annual Distinguished Lecture in Arab Studies was delivered to a full house Oct. 5 by author, activist and Columbia University Prof. Edward Said. Said had delivered the first Kareema Khoury lecture as well—a foretaste of his seminal work on orientalism. His lecture this year was entitled, “The Special Relationship: The Arabs and the United States,” and included aspects of American orientalism which have been largely responsible for U.S. partisanship toward Israel”“a significant factor in the present execrable position Palestinians now find themselves in.

Said cited such historical antecedents to the rift between the Arab and Muslim worlds and the West as the Crusades and Spain’s expulsion of Arabs and Muslims in 1492, but said that the Western quest for domination was still present, as recently exemplified by Desert Storm. Moreover, though he stressed that Arabs within Islam exist much as Europe does—disparate nations and religions within a region with a common culture and discourse—Said pointed out that there is a specificity between U.S.-Islamic relations with regard to Arabs that does not pertain to those relations with regard to Turks, Indians, and Iranians, for example.

Popular imagination in the West still perceives Arabs as “the bad guy,” according to Said. He asserted that there exists in the U.S. no other culturally sanctioned discrimination as that toward Arabs, not by fringe hate groups, but by respectable, authoritative, and even sometimes admirable intellectuals. However, as someone belonging to both Arab and American cultures, Said noted that the cultural structures of each are not inherent, and can be changed.

He credited non-governmental organizations such as the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee with having some success in changing American popular opinion about Arabs, but said there was still essentially a prohibition against narrating the Arab story in the media. However, Said faulted Arab leaders, too, for not having any academic institutions devoted to American studies and for practicing a “supplicatory and defensive relation” with the U.S.

Nonetheless, Said reiterated that the U.S. had always fought Palestinian democracy, failed to support the human rights and women’s movements, and ignored Kurdish genocide in Iraq prior to the invasion of Kuwait. Though he acknowledged that these were problems for Arabs to rectify, Said said that the U.S. must take some responsibility for assisting the movements because of its self-appointed role in the region. He therefore called on Americans who are aware of the situation to work within their own society to change both American popular perceptions of, as well as governmental policy toward, Arabs.

Said warned that American perceptions of Palestine and Israel would hinder that effort, saying that the Zionist struggle was considered a heroic effort, that Arabs were seen as only one thing—“haters of Jews deserving of death”—and that the well-organized Zionist machine had largely succeeded in reducing Palestinians to cartoons in the perception of the “crucially important North American audience.” However, Said did hold out the hope that there was a feasible reading of Western culture as one which favors diversity, and that much the same could be said for Arab culture. There, perhaps, could lie the basis for a better understanding between Arabs and Americans.

Sara Powell

AU Panel Discusses Future Implications for Peace Process

American University hosted an Oct. 18 panel discussion on causes and future implications of recent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis. The panel included Prof. Herman Schwartz from AU’s law school; Dr. Mohammad Abu Nimr, a visiting Palestinian professor at the conflict resolution program; Yoram Peri, a visiting Israeli professor at the School of International Studies; and Dr. Clovis Maksoud, director of AU’s Center for the Global South. Professors Schwartz and Peri insisted that it was counterproductive to assign responsibility for the clashes to one single side. Rather, they argued, it was more useful to focus on getting the parties back to the negotiation table.

Dr. Abu Nimr insisted it was critically important to focus on the causes of the clashes so as to avoid such violence in the future. He explained that, for seven years, Oslo has been a major failure for the Palestinians. The refugee issue has been postponed repeatedly, but never addressed or resolved. Jewish settlement building on illegally confiscated Palestinian lands has doubled since the start of the peace process. Jerusalem was not dealt with until the year 2000, and when it was, no agreement was in sight. Furthermore, Palestinians in the occupied territories have seen no improvement in their standard of living. Peace has not brought the prosperity promised to the Palestinians. Furthermore, he indicated, in order for peace to be complete and just, the Palestinians’ rights to self-determination and sovereignty must be recognized first.

Professor Peri, on the other hand, asserted that Oslo was a success, since the Palestinians for the first time were recognized as legitimate partners in peace by the Israelis, and Israel’s right to exist was acknowledged by the Palestinians. He added that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s two primary demands at Sharm el-Sheikh’s emergency summit were to pressure Israel’s military to redeploy and, secondly, to allow an international commission of inquiry into the violence. Peri stated that both the Israeli and American positions were a return to status quo ante.

Professor Maksoud maintained that it is impossible to return to the negotiating table without addressing Palestinian grievances. He found it unfortunate that when Palestinians refer to 52 years of Israeli oppression and Palestinian dispossession it is considered ancient history, while people of the Jewish faith can use 2,000 years of history to assert their claims to Palestine. He added that the Palestinians are the only group of people in the world still under occupation, despite Israel’s insistence that its illegal presence on Palestinian lands does not constitute military occupation. Denying its occupation of Palestinian lands, Professor Maksoud explained, allows Israel to avoid complying with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Professor Maksoud also explained that Oslo was flawed because it lacked clarity on the outcome of negotiations: Israel wanted security, while the Palestinians wanted a state. Since Israel never acknowledged its status as an occupying power, however, returning lands to the Palestinians continued to be stalled and redefined by Israel. When an occupation is acknowledged, he explained, there is a transitional phase, with a clear outcome of full withdrawal. Furthermore, Israel’s overdue compliance with international law became viewed as concessions. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ role in the negotiations represented a “wish list” pending Israeli approval.

Addressing the issue of the overwhelming number of fatalities and casualties on the Palestinian side, Professor Schwartz explained that such numbers do not necessarily reflect Israeli excessive use of force, but rather that Israel is the stronger party. He explained that since “the past 52 years have been a history of attempts to destroy Israel in the region,” Israel has had to arm itself. Professor Schwartz conceded, however, that there has been gross discrimination against Palestinian Arabs within Israel.

In response, Professor Abu Nimr reiterated that to date there had been 120 fatalities and 3,000 casualties—all on the Palestinian side. He stated that Israel has to realize the grave effects of its violence on the peace process. As he put it, “you [Israel] cannot bomb the homes of your negotiating partners.”

Professor Nimr also pointed out that Israel has put its population under a siege mentality. Creating an illusion of an existential struggle between the Israelis and others, he explained, justifies Israeli excessive force against Palestinian protesters as a “means of survival.”

Professor Peri clarified that within the third week of October, recommendations were made in Israel to stop the use of live ammunition against Israeli Arab protesters in future riots. He went on to explain that the current crisis began with demonstrations, saying, “If there had been no demonstrations, there would be no Israeli tanks surrounding Jerusalem.” He added that “Israel wishes not to be an occupying force.” As a matter of fact, he said, Israel seeks to “get rid of Palestinian territories.” He stated that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat far more concessions than any previous Israeli prime minister, adding that “some people will try to use violence rightly or wrongly to influence the negotiations.” Professor Peri did not address, however, Israeli violence against protesters in the occupied territories, where 90 percent of the violence has taken place.

Professor Abu Nimr said it was quite simplistic to think that Yasser Arafat can easily control Palestinian masses with a “remote control: green unleashing protesters and red halting them.” He explained that Palestinian protesters are sending messages to both Arafat and the Israelis that they are frustrated with the peace process. He expressed disgust with the media portrayal of Palestinian parents as bloodthirsty, sending their children to the streets to be killed. He asserted that rising up against an oppressive occupation regime is something no one can teach, but rather is a genuine reaction to decades of oppressive military presence. The message sent by the Palestinian youth is quite simple: “We do not want the Israeli army in our towns.” Furthermore, he explained, the lack of any U.S. pressure on Israel to halt its excessive use of force has infuriated the Palestinian community. There needs to be a third party to impose pressure on Israel and the Palestinians without bias, he added.

Professor Abu Nimr pointed out that most Americans do not realize that the Palestinians are negotiating over only 22 percent of historic Palestine, having already conceded 78 percent of their traditional land to Israel. Israeli withdrawal from these lands is not a concession, but rather compliance with international law.

Professor Maksoud asserted that Israeli society has to undergo fundamental changes. “Prescription for institutional discrimination in Israel was built when Israel became an exclusively Jewish state,” he stated. Unless Israel wishes to replicate the South African model for an apartheid state, he said, the only just solution to the conflict is the emergence of a two-state system with an independent, sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state.

Schwartz agreed, adding that the current territories returned to the Palestinians are neither contiguous nor integrated. Settlement building also has continued. Professor Peri differed, arguing that attempting to draw borders between two future states is logistically very difficult. Israel “needs” to maintain some settlements along the Jordan River for “security” reasons, Peri claimed. To which Professor Maksoud responded, “What right does Israel have allowing settlements, even if for security reasons, over land it recognized as belonging to the Palestinians?”

Professor Maksoud also stated that it is important to recognize a “constituency of conscience within Israeli society, which has demonstrated that it could act as a corrective tool to injustices and repeated distortions inflicted on the Palestinians.” Professors Schwartz, Maksoud, and Abu Nimr agreed that Israelis have to rethink their dehumanization of Palestinian Arabs. Schwartz concluded by saying, “Perhaps what happened will make Israel realize that it cannot have a group of its population treated as third-class citizens.”

Asma Yousef

MEI’s Millennium Conference

The Middle East Institute’s 54th Annual Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Oct. 20 and 21 provided participants with information-rich presentations, ranging from political and economic challenges to media and information technology changes in the region.

In the keynote address Friday, historian Bernard Lewis provided an historical treatment of the Middle East, describing how people’s perceptions of the area changed from “mighty civilization” to “basket-case.” He cited a variety of hypotheses about how the shift occurred, but preferred to describe historical attempts to “fix” Middle East conflicts rather than declare one explanation tantamount. The audience seemed to appreciate a review of the past at the beginning of the conference, which then shifted to contemporary issues.

The first panel discussion brought James Zogby of the Arab American Institute and Dov Zakheim of System Planning Corp., International to argue the merits of Arab-Americans voting for the Democratic versus the Republican presidential candidate. Hisham Melhem of As-Safir critiqued both sides, and USA Today’s Barbara Slavin moderated the discussion,

In the afternoon, visiting MEI Fellow Abdeslam Maghraoui, Prof. Tarik Yousef of Georgetown University and MEI Scholar-in-Residence Prof. Mehrzad Boroujerdi of Syracuse University discussed globalization’s effects in the Middle East from economic, political, and social perspectives.

Friday night’s banquet included a presentation to University of Connecticut professor emeritus Howard Reed of the 2000 Middle East Institute Award. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Edward Walker, former ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, gave the banquet address.

Saturday’s presenters included the Middle East Journal’s Michael Dunn, Jon Alterman of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Robert Pelletreau of the law firm Afridi, Angell, and Pelletreau in a discussion of the role of the media in society. They addressed how censorship, government-controlled media, and democratization are being redefined as a result of modern media technology, which has made such devices as satellite TV, the Internet, and faxes widely available in the Middle East.

Technology also played an important role in the panel on “The Middle East and Global Energy Needs,” which concluded the conference. Panelists David Goldwyn, assistant secretary for the Department of Energy, James Placke of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and Terence Thorn, senior vice president for ENRON gas company, predicted that the Middle East was “turning the investment corner.” The combination of a huge market and resources would develop the region’s energy potential, they explained, despite some governments’ discouragement of foreign investment. Goldwyn iterated the importance of diplomacy as a tool in the energy sector, noting that stabilization has always been a shared goal of producers and governments.

Elizabeth Neal

Palestinian Activism in Action

On Sept. 15, the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine hosted a symposium entitled, “The Will to Empowerment: New Faces of Palestinian Activism.” The event was held the day before the nationwide Right of Return rally in Washington, DC. Among the speakers was Zahi Damuni, founding member of the steering committee of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, who spoke on the history and structure of the Right of Return movement. Rania Masri explained actions and effects of the Right of Return movement, and Ali Abunimah analyzed media coverage of Palestine. Joseph Zogby discussed pro-Palestinian activism in the U.S., and Sam Husseini discussed activating institutions and instituting activism. Marwan Bishara explained the role and constraints facing Palestinian NGOs since Oslo.

Asma Yousef

Israel’s “Apartheid Policy” Toward Palestinian Citizens”

Arab Israelis are the “”˜forgotten piece’ of the Palestinian people,” said Basel Ghattas at an Oct. 5 briefing at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine in Washington, DC. Ghattas, general director of the Galilee Society and an Arab Israeli, referred to the tensions Arabs in Israel face because of the dual identity inherent in being Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and the discrimination they encounter because they are not Jewish.

As Palestinians, they are viewed as “a major security concern” rather than as regular citizens, and they do not receive the same benefits as Jewish Israelis. They face a higher unemployment rate, lower socioeconomic status, and lower levels of education than their Jewish counterparts. Yet, when their vote is needed, they are seen as Israeli citizens.

Arab Israelis gave Prime Minister Ehud Barak 95 percent of their votes, which, considering how little Barak has given them, was “unbelievable,” according to Ghattas. Moreover, the Labor Party has needed the Arab vote to support them in the Oslo process, even though the negotiations do not always favor Arab Israelis, and in fact may make their situation worse. For example, there have been proposals to swap land in Israel for land in the occupied territories as part of a peace deal. Although this essentially would involve transferring Arab Israelis—and their land—to the Palestinian Authority (PA), they have not been consulted. Is there any other country that negotiates its citizens away? Ghattas asked. In addition, if Israel returns the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a peace deal, the 17,000 Israeli settlers from the Golan will have to be reintegrated into Israel. Likely, said Ghattas, they would be resettled on Arab land. Therefore, if Arabs vote in favor of an Israel-Syria peace deal, they may see even more land confiscation. As it is, their nearly 20 percent of the population holds only 3 percent of the land in Israel.

This discrimination and mistreatment was part of the reason that Arab Israelis joined the Palestinian uprising that began Sept. 29 in the occupied territories. In fact, said Ghattas, the Jewish communities that Arab Israelis attacked during these clashes “were built on their confiscated land.” In addition, the sense of identity confusion Arab Israelis experience—a sense of integration combined with separation—created increasing “frustration and hopelessness,” until they reached a level of “explosion.” The harsh crackdown by the Israeli military—using undercover troops, helicopter gunships, and live ammunition against Arab demonstrators with Israeli citizenship—served to further “erase” the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank.

Because of these protests and Israel’s subsequent crackdown, the international community has paid more attention to the situation of Arab Israelis, as well as life inside the occupied territories, Ghattas said, “but it’s amazing how much you have to pay with your blood” to get media attention. Ghattas believes that Israel will continue to respond to the protests with more arrests, and this will in turn increase resistance. Even if the clashes ended immediately, however, there would be a “long-term effect” on Israel’s relationship to its Palestinian citizens and the nature of Israel’s democracy.

Wendy Lehman

What Went Wrong With the Peace Process?

Dr. Mohammed Hallaj, former dean of Berzeit University, addressed students at Georgetown University on Oct. 25. Hosted by the newly formed Young Arab Leadership Alliance (YALA), the event drew a crowd of curious students seeking to know more about recent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters.

The lecture centered on exploring reasons for the failure of the peace process. Dr. Hallaj clarified that one must understand that the recent violent clashes, which by the end of October claimed the lives of more than 150 Palestinians, did not cause the failure of the peace process. Rather, it was a deteriorating unjust peace that caused this cycle of violence.

Dr. Hallaj, who was a member of the Palestinian negotiating team for two years, asserted that the peace process was true to itself. In essence, he asserted, “the peace process was destined to fail from its initial days.” It gave a false illusion that it was designed to be fair when, in fact, that was not the case.

Various circumstantial factors impeded the conclusion of a just peace process, he explained. First, there was the obvious imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine, which became reflected in the process and outcome of negotiations. The tremendous financial, military, and diplomatic support the U.S. has vigorously provided to Israel made the Jewish state a “new Roman empire” in the Middle East. This superior edge, Dr. Hallaj argued, precluded any chances of a fair deal for the Palestinians. While the Palestinian side helplessly declared that international law should be the bedrock of negotiations, it became apparent that the might of the stronger party, Israel, dictated favorable terms to Israel.

Dr. Hallaj argued that a second circumstantial factor that critically influenced the outcome of the peace process was the utter lack of commitment on the part of Israeli political leadership and public opinion to a fair settlement of the conflict. And thus, he argued, “Israel consistently sought a one-sided peace.” He stated that “Israel wants Arabs to give it peace, but it does not want to give Arabs peace.” He reminded the audience that the formula of “land for peace,” the basis of the Oslo accords, entailed ending the state of war against Israel in exchange for land occupied in 1967 by Israel, which included the West Bank, Gaza, and Arab East Jerusalem. Dr. Hallaj explained that whereas Israel stretched the meaning of “peace” to encompass regional normalization and elaborate trade and diplomatic exchanges, it delayed, stalled, and at times terminated land return mandated under the Oslo accords. He paraphrased a statement by Yitzhak Shamir, who headed the Israeli delegation in Madrid. After the loss of his Lakud Party in 1992, Shamir stated that he had been prepared to negotiate with the Palestinians for 10 years while building facts on the ground until there was no more Arab land over which to negotiate!

Dr. Hallaj said that the most egregious of the peace process’ design defects was that, as a precondition for inclusion in the peace process, the Palestinians were made to pay the price for peace up front. Palestinian recognition of the existence of Israel and promise to cease armed struggle gave Israel the international and regional legitimacy it had sought for decades. On the other hand, Israeli compliance was spaced out over various phases, relegating discussion and resolution of critical issues such as Jerusalem to final status agreements. Dr. Hallaj stated that, since it received “peace” up front, Israel lost interest in seriously seeking reconciliation, especially if it demanded serious commitment and concessions. Furthermore, by allowing limited Palestinian autonomy over some areas, Israel got rid of an unwanted problem: governing a frustrated Palestinian population. However, Dr. Hallaj added, “while getting rid of the people, Israel still kept most of the land.” In fact, while under the guise of continuing peace efforts, Israel not only doubled its building of settlements on Palestinian lands under negotiation, but it also continued to view some core issues such as refugees and Jerusalem as non-negotiable. As Dr. Hallaj put it, “Israelis came to the negotiation table with mental reservations.”

In discussing the failure of the recent Camp David negotiations, Dr. Hallaj asserted that, despite claims by Clinton and the U.S. media that the Palestinian side proved stubborn, “being intransigent on the side of justice is justified.” He explained that after deciding to concede to Israel 78 percent of historical Palestine, Palestinians can make no further concessions, which is what they were asked to do at Camp David. Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat 90 percent of the West Bank. However, under Oslo and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, Israel was obligated to return all of that land.

A final problem plaguing the peace process is the absolute monopoly maintained by the U.S. over the negotiations. Dr. Hallaj indicated that the U.S. has consistently maintained that it is the only world power trusted by the two parties, and therefore it rejected any parallel efforts made by any other country to mediate the negotiations. The problem with this monopoly, Dr. Hallaj explained, was that even if the U.S. played lip service to its role as an “honest broker,” its historical commitment and close alliance with Israel prevented the U.S. from fulfilling the role of an impartial mediator. As a matter of fact, Dr. Hallaj stated, the U.S. often has acted as a salesperson of various Israeli alternatives to real commitments. Using its clout, the U.S. has consistently placed tremendous pressure on the Palestinians to accept terms dictated by the Israelis. Palestinian negotiators had every right to believe that the peace negotiations and their outcome were the product of Israeli internal politics and American eagerness to conclude a peace treaty. Dr. Hallaj concluded by saying that if America is unable to stay neutral or bring a just peace to the Middle East, it should step aside.

Asma Yousef

AAI Hosts Northern Virginia Campaign Forum

The Arab American Institute held its Campaign 2000 Candidates Night on Oct. 1 in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The forum was one of several AAI-sponsored election events taking place around the country. Event co-chairs Jamil Shami (Republican) and Saba Shami (Democrat) were collectively introduced as people who work to involve Arab Americans in the political process, regardless of party affiliation. “We are a one-issue community,” Jamil stated: “Our issue is America and all that is good for America, and what America stands for, and should stand for. Tonight we are celebrating democracy at its best, and we are celebrating diversity; that is the strength of America.”

Arab Americans can confidently say that this year candidates paid attention to the Arab-American vote. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala spoke on behalf of Vice President Al Gore’s campaign, and Congressman Tom Davis was the spokesman for Gov. George W. Bush. Senior level surrogates also spoke for the Reform and Green parties. U.S. Senate candidate George Allen, former governor of Virginia, sent vice mayor of Alexandria Bill Cleveland to discuss domestic successes in Virginia. Senator Charles Robb emphasized the time he has spent with Middle East leaders, and cited the work of the reconciliation group Seeds of Peace as a positive sign for the peace process. He read a letter from a 15-year-old in the audience who voiced her concern over the recent surge of violence in Jerusalem, which was met with a standing ovation. Earlier, AAI chair George Salem requested a moment of silence for the victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which had intensified during the weekend of the forum.

In the question-and-answer period, Tom Davis (R-VA) received strong applause for his stand against racial profiling and secret evidence, a subject first brought up by Bush in the second presidential debate and later in the Gore campaign. Audience members also wanted to hear candidates’ positions on Iraqi sanctions, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and Israeli bias in the government, but the presidential surrogates met questions with limited responses. Bush’s spokesman was “skeptical” about sanctions on Iraq, and Gore’s surrogate claimed that access to food and medicine was available despite the U.N. sanctions. Both major party platforms have considered moving the embassy to Jerusalem, but only at the conclusion of the peace process.

The audience clapped politely for all speakers, but especially applauded those who addressed concerns specific to Arab-American interests.

Elizabeth Neal

 

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