Watan

Posted by Watan on April 22, 2010 in News Clips

US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice delivered rousing remarks at the Arab American Institute’s Kahlil Gibran Awards Gala in Washington, DC . Her address was both an emphatic restatement of US policy in the Middle East and a genuine human approach to a conflict-riddled corner of the world.

After congratulating the honorees and thanking AAI president James Zogby, Rice emphasized the American belief in equality.

“Today, we seek a world rooted in a truth that we hold to be self-evident: that all people are indeed created equal,” Rice said “—of equal worth, of equal consequence, and with equal rights. This is a belief deeply rooted in the American experience, but also one with universal power. To be sure, as we all know, America has struggled for centuries to make this promise real, but that has only made the promise matter still more.”

Rice focused her remarks on three areas of US-Middle East policy: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Lebanon, and Iraq. The ambassador was by no means dispassionate about US interest in a truly sovereign Lebanon and pulling troops out of Iraq, but her most striking comments were those about Palestine.

Jalazoun

She begins talking about the conflict by remembering the immeasurable capital of human potential, recounting a trip to a UNRWA girls’ school in Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah:

I walked through their classrooms, speaking with first to twelfth graders and their proud teachers. I don’t think I will ever forget those girls’ stories and seeing the way their faces lit up as they discussed their dreams. They told of their desire to contribute, to build their nation, and to serve. Those girls, like my daughter and like children everywhere, should have the freedom to dream without limits and should only be limited by their abilities. So together with our partners, we seek a world of greater education and deeper opportunity—a world that rejects violent extremism and embraces human dignity—a world of development, of democracy, and prosperity—a world where a child can grow up in Gaza, in Baghdad, in Bamako, in Tel Aviv, or in Kabul, free of fear, free of want, and with the opportunity to live their dreams.

Mr. Zogby commented to Palestine Note that in the Ambassador’s remarks, her “emphatic restatement of policy” and firmness on issues like Jerusalem and Palestinian statehood as a national interest were very important. But for Zogby, what struck him most was Rice’s “personal reflection” about the human face of the conflict as she commented on the “the looks on the faces of young girls in Jalazoun who talked about the hopes of their nation.”

A national interest

Amb. Rice made it clear “a comprehensive peace in the Middle East” is a top priority for everyone in the Obama administration. Central to that comprehensive peace is the two-state solution.

“President Obama has defined this goal as a vital U.S. interest,” the ambassador said.

Rice did not stray from the Obama-Fayyad statehood rhetoric, saying “we believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree to an outcome that ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements.”

The “status quo” has to go, Rice said, echoing President Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For both Israelis and Palestinians, the ambassador said:

The status quo has neither produced long-term security nor served their interests.

Rice called on “all parties” to do their part in resolving the conflict, requesting that they accept “their share of the responsibility for reaching a comprehensive peace that will benefit the entire region and the world.” This peace will only come from efforts “above and below,” she said, explaining Obama’s two-pronged approach to peace: “resuming negotiations between the parties, and helping develop the institutions of a future Palestinian state.”

“We strongly endorse the Palestinian Authority’s two-year state-building plan and are doing all we can to support it,” she said.

But this was no gentle reminder. Rice took both sides of the conflict to task, calling on both parties to “fulfill their Roadmap obligations” and warning against “unilateral actions” by either side. She decried the settlements as illegitimate and said “Israel should also halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.” To the Palestinians, she said they must take every measure “to ensure security, to reform… institutions of governance, and to take strong, consistent action to end all forms of incitement.”

The other Arab states weren’t off the hook either:

And the Arab states must also do their share. All too often, those who worry about the destabilizing impact of extremists are not doing enough to bolster the Palestinian Authority’s legitimate efforts. It is in the Arab states’ interests to advance the Arab Peace Initiative with concrete actions that make it easier for the Palestinians to pursue negotiations and to achieve an agreement. And it is all of our responsibility to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to progress—so that, for ordinary people on both sides, tomorrow need not look like yesterday.

Rice reiterated US support for a truly independent Lebanon and said the administration considers ending the Iraq war a step toward strengthening security, but the heft of her remarks were the importance of a Palestinian state to regional stability and future peace. She emphasized that we should be looking toward tomorrow instead of feeling doomed to repeat today. She ends:

Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to do.”

Today two West Bank residents were deported to Gaza for having IDs naming the coastal enclave as their place of birth and nothing more. But green energy brought to West Bank villagers by Israelis tired of undemocratic settlement activity is helping Palestinians hold on to their land and participate in the economy. The Occupation is Palestine’s reality today but not necessarily its tomorrow, for to understand the heart and mind of Palestine isn’t to see its past and transgressions but recognize its aspirations and potential.

 

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