Palestinian Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat: For a more constructive Congress on Palestine

The past few weeks have seen interesting statements by several former and current Israeli officials criticizing the policies of their government. They particularly focused on Israel’s failure to engage in talks with the Palestinians to end the conflict.

The Palestinian leadership has been making this point for years now and so have various international actors. Yet, a few U.S. lawmakers and pro-Israel lobbyists here insist on continuing to engage the Middle East in the same old biased way that has gotten us to this current impasse. It is time they joined the rest of us and engaged constructively.

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Former Israeli foreign minister and opposition leader Tzipi Livni said on May 1st that Israel is in "mortal danger" if it does not find an accommodation with the Palestinians. Yuval Diskin, former chief of the Israeli security agency, also criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's deliberate disregard of the political process with the Palestinians.

“This government has no interest in talking with the Palestinians, period,” Diskin said.

Another former chief of Israel’s security agency, Ami Ayalon, along with a prominent Israeli negotiator, Gilad Sher, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state in a recent op-ed in the New York Times. They argued that negotiating with a sovereign state rather than a non-state entity would facilitate and enhance the chances of reaching a credible resolution to the conflict.

Finally, the Israeli president Shimon Peres asserted that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is a genuine partner for peace.

Despite the fact that it is becoming more and more obvious that Israel is stalling the political process, some groups on Capitol Hill choose to ignore that fact and continue to pursue the same misguided policy of unequivocal support for any position taken by Israel, without taking stock of the consequences of their actions. It is as if they are functioning in a mechanical or reflexive manner without deliberation or thoughtfulness.

Some U.S. lawmakers have gone to the extent of fervently seeking to cut aid to my people, aid that was funding road construction, student scholarships, and even the Palestinian version of Sesame Street. One cannot but be perplexed at a lawmaker whose idea of addressing Mideast conflict is to get Palestinian Elmo fired.

Fortunately, reason prevailed and the U.S. administration decided to go through with the aid to the Palestinian people, knowing well that it serves the interests of the U.S. The pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. should realize that advocating unconditional support for the current Israeli government will embolden it to dig its heels deeper in policies that only serve to prolong the conflict. It is time for these few to revisit the approach they are taking, and instead encourage the Israeli government to pursue a political resolution that will bring peace, security, and freedom to the peoples of the region.

The U.S. administration realizes very well that Palestinians have been forthcoming and engaged in the past three years. We offered proposals, and made suggestions and ideas only to be met with a lack of substantive counterproposals from the Israelis. Instead of a meaningful and sincere engagement by the Israeli government, its answer was to accelerate settlement activities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in a manner that clearly indicates their desire to destroy, once and for all, the two-state solution. As long as Israel is not held accountable for its actions, it will have no incentive to see an end to its military occupation of the Palestinian people which, incidentally, will be marking its 45th anniversary in a month's time.

Nevertheless, the Palestinian leadership has repeatedly indicated its willingness to engage the Israeli side, provided that Israel honors its obligations and commitments under previous agreements and totally ceases settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. By insisting that Israel honors its obligations under previous agreements, we are definitely not making preconditions. Making peace is a two-way street: Israel must adhere to its commitments the same way the Palestinians are asked to adhere to theirs. It is illogical to expect the Palestinians to remain passive and indifferent while watching Israel swallow more of their land and jeopardize their dream of freedom and independence.

I have been in this post for three years now. Everywhere I went and spoke – and I have been to quite a number of functions so far – I found great understanding by the American people of the nature of our conflict with Israel. People I encountered at different levels expressed the desire to see the U.S. taking a more balanced approach to the conflict. Unfortunately, their views, it seems, are not yet well taken by their representatives. This more balanced role would require a new approach, an approach compatible with preserving U.S. national interest in the Middle East. It would also require policies compatible with the principles upon which this country was founded – liberty, freedom, and justice for all.


Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat is the Chief Representative of the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States.