Posted on October 05, 1998 in Washington Watch

In recent discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other White House and State Department officials, Arab Americans have presented a consensus view on the current state of U.S.-Middle East policy.

Prompting our concerns have been a number of recent developments which have exposed the growing alienation of the United States in the Arab world and the increasing suspicion and hostility shown toward U.S. policy and actions in the region.

There is a profound gap that exists between U.S. understanding of and policy toward the region and the reality and needs of the Arab people.

Arabs strongly criticize U.S. policy as lacking evenhandedness and displaying a clear double standard–one standard for Israel and another for Arab and Muslim countries. The United States is further criticized for failing to display a consistent commitment to human rights and the rule of law and for failing to live up to its role as guarantor of the agreements it helped Palestinian and Israelis conclude in Washington, Paris, Cairo, Taba and Hebron.

This failure of the Administration to confront Israeli intransigence and obstructionism has been most damaging to the U.S. standing in the Middle East especially during the past year as Arabs have watched the Netanyahu government ignore one U.S. deadline after another during the past year only to learn that there were no deadlines after all.

The Israeli Prime Minister has sucked the life and hope out of the peace process offering the Palestinians only a compromise of a compromise of a compromise of a compromise. With the United States failing to provide any significant leadership–Palestinians have been left powerless and at risk without any leverage in an increasingly unfair and distorted process.

If this abdication of responsibility were not enough, recent revelations about U.S. UNSCOM Representative Scott Ritter’s involvement with Israel concerning Iraqi weapons inspections and the many serious questions that have been raised over the U.S. bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan have only served to further alienate Arab public opinion and isolate the United States diplomatically in the Middle East.

In an effort to correct this U.S. course, Arab Americans have offered a number of recommendations to the White House, Secretary of State and National Security Council officials.

With regard to the peace process itself, while expressing our continued concern with the direction of the so-called “10 + 3” negotiations, nevertheless we believe that the United States must insist on full Israeli compliance not only with this proposal but with the other interim provisions of the Hebron Accord. The Palestinian airport, seaport and industrial zone must be opened. The right of safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank must be implemented. The Paris economic accords must be implemented and the United States must take action to press Israel to end its policy of placing impediments in the way of independent Palestinian economic development. Israel must be pressured to move forward on a third redeployment. And the United States should publicly insist that Israel immediately cease and desist all unilateral actions specifically:

    · Settlement expansion, road construction, land confiscation and Palestinian home demolitions;
    · Harassment of Palestinians in Jerusalem including confiscation of IDs, home demolitions, and denial of permits for new home construction; and
    · Unilateral closures of the West Bank and Gaza which strangle Palestinian economic activity.

We also proposed that the Administration take action to improve the bilateral U.S.-Palestinian relationship including:

    · Activation of the announced, but dormant U.S.–Palestinian bilateral commission;
    · Certification that the PLO is not a terrorist organization, which would terminate the anti-Palestinian legislation of the 1980s and early 1990s and secure the position of the Palestinian office in Washington; and
    · Give formal recognition to the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.

Today, Palestinians are poorer, less secure, less free to more about in their own land and less hopeful then they were when the Oslo Accords were signed. If the United States is serious about wanting to advance peace, then it must act to end this despair and alienation.

Palestinians must feel that the United States is concerned about their live, their security and their aspirations. The Secretary of State can use her upcoming visit to the region to listen to Palestinians, and speak directly to them–to give them hope and restore their confidence in peace and U.S. recognition of their rights.

On another front, we also proposed a plan to work jointly with the Department of State to work to protect the rights of Arab Americans who travel to Israel and to Palestine. We are too frequently harassed by Israeli officials upon entering and departing and their rights as U.S. citizens (guaranteed by a 1952 U.S.-Israel treaty).

This systematic pattern of harassment and denial of rights is not only in violation of law and treaty obligations, but it has severely hampered the ability of Palestinian Americans who seek to play a constructive role in assisting in building the Palestinian economy and civil society.

On other matters, we proposed that the United States

    · Work with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s initiative to resolve conflict in Iraq; and
    · Support the call of former President Jimmy Carter to conduct an independent investigation of the bombed site in Sudan.

Finally we propose that the Administration implement a more regular and sustained dialogue with Arab American community leadership to provide greater and more diverse input into policy deliberations.

Arab Americans have a role to play in the U.S.-Middle East policy debate. As Americans we are deeply troubled by the extent to which our nation has pursued policies which are so inimical to our interests and our values and to our many allies in the Middle East.

We want the peace process to succeed and we want the United State to be a respected partner in the Middle East. But for these goals to be met, we know that our nation’s leaders must apply our values consistently and fairly.

America is at a crossroads in its relations with the Arab world–as Arab Americans we want to help our nation to take the right path–the path that leads to a comprehensive just and lasting peace.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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