Posted on December 11, 2000 in Washington Watch
This week 40 Arab Americans from 14 states representing 10 national organizations and a number of local organizations will convene a leadership summit in Washington, DC. After developing a consensus agenda on issues, the group will meet with White House and State Department officials and then present their recommendations to representatives of the transition teams from the next Administration.
The meetings occur against the backdrop of the continuing Palestinian intifada and growing anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab world. The Arab American leaders hope to use the meetings to challenge the foreign policy makers to change course in the U.S.’s approach to critical Middle East issues.
The matters to be raised fall into three categories: immediate issues that must be clarified and acted upon; what still can be done by the Clinton Administration in its final weeks; and proposals that are to be addressed to the next Administration.
I. In two previous meetings with State Department officials, Arab Americans raised the matter of Israel’s use of U.S. supplied weapons in its assaults on Palestinian civilians and offices. At an October 6, 2000 meeting we stated that we believed that Israel’s behavior was in violation of the terms of the Arms Export Control Act. We, therefore, asked the State Department for a ruling on this matter. At that time we were told that they had already requested a ruling from the Department’s legal advisor on this question.
In the past two months, Israel has accelerated its use of advanced U.S. supplied helicopter gunships and tanks against both Palestinians and Lebanese and yet we still have not received an answer to our request from the State Department.
Also at the October 6, 2000 meeting we insisted that the United States support the Palestinian request for an international commission of inquiry into the root causes of the outbreak of violence that by now has taken more than 300 lives. While the United States finally appeared to agree to this request and established a committee headed by former Senator George Mitchell, we are concerned that there are efforts underway to so constrict the work of the committee so that it will be unable to make any determination of blame or any meaningful contribution to improve the situation of the Palestinian people.
In particular we were disturbed both by recent comments attributed to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a conference call she had with American Jewish leaders and with press reports about the call and the proposed work of the “Mitchell committee”.
Continued U.S. comments, such as those attributed in the press to Secretary Albright, blaming the Palestinians for “fomenting the violence” coupled with reports of U.S. efforts to disallow the “Mitchell committee” from objectively determining the root cause of the violence are, at best, troubling.
II. While it is too late for the Clinton Administration to undertake any major push to achieve Middle East peace, the President can still use his final weeks in office to publicly make clear the terms of the peace process. If he cares to leave any Middle East legacy whatsoever, he can at least restate, in unambiguous language, the requirements of a just peace, and project a vision of a final settlement that would provide for Israelis, Palestinians and his successor a set of benchmarks and goals that will be helpful in future peace efforts.
Included in such an effort should be:
A clarification and an elaboration of the U.S. understanding of UN Security Council resolution 242;
A clear statement of U.S. opposition to all Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian lands;
A renewed rejection of congressional efforts to force a move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The President should reaffirm, for his successor, the position he took after Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act in 1996; and
A clear U.S. statement of support for the creation of an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state as the necessary outcome of the peace process.
Arab Americans will raise at least two other issues that should be addressed before the end of this Administration. We have repeatedly asked for a clarification of U.S. policy on the rights of Arab Americans who travel to Israel and Israeli controlled areas of Palestine. Both the White House and State Department have assured us that they have raised these issues with Israeli officials and they point to some changes to which the Israelis have agreed. We will ask that the State Department issue a written policy affirming Arab American rights in Israel and that they outline for us the efforts they have undertaken and the success they have achieved to date on this issue.
Finally, Arab Americans were deeply disturbed that the Administration bowed to pressure from pro-Israel groups and members of Congress and did not even propose to give Lebanon a supplemental foreign aid package to assist in reconstruction efforts. It was even more troubling that Israel was given $450 million to assist in its withdrawal from the south.
III. The next Administration inherits not only an inflamed Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also a deeply troubled U.S.-Arab relationship.
Our early advice to both teams aspiring to the still undecided presidency will be that they make an effort to cultivate a dramatically altered view of Middle East realities. The problem with U.S. policy for many years now has been that formulations of that policy have usually developed a view of the region beginning from Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict and then looking outward. In fact, we believe that it is important to see the Arab world on its own terms and to see the Israeli-Arab conflict from the vantage point of the Arab world and the U.S.-Arab relationship and then looking inward.
In this context we will propose that the next Administration convene a “Middle East Policy Summit.” Bringing together policy experts, foreign leaders and scholars, the summit would review U.S. relations with individual Arab countries and blocs of countries and recommend ways of enhancing those relations.
It would also be useful to convene similar meetings in the Middle East that would allow for a dialogue between U.S. officials and the political, business and academic leaders in the Arab world. The input generated by both sets of discussions would be helpful in the formulation of U.S. policy for the next decade.
We also believe that it would be important for the next Administration to bring more Arab Americans into policy roles in the White House and State Department. In the case of key Middle East foreign policy posts we might suggest that the next Administration only appoint senior foreign policy professionals so that the next Administration can begin its tenure with support from all sides in the Middle East.
Arab Americans will develop more detailed proposals for the transition teams in the weeks to come and we, like others, will do postmortems on the outgoing Clinton Administration. But at this critical juncture in the conflict that is brewing and the crisis that is developing in U.S.-Arab relations, Arab Americans feel it is important to make an immediate effort to renew the challenge to policy makers to change course and to provide them with some proposals toward that end.
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