.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A moderate Palestinian voice gets denounced

This happened in February:

WASHINGTON — America's largest Jewish policymaking body will host an unlikely guest at its annual gathering this weekend in Washington: the head of America's most prominent pro-Palestinian advocacy group.

Ziad Asali, founder and president of the American Task Force on Palestine, will participate in a special discussion on March 1 at the annual policy plenum of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, a policy coordinating body that brings together 13 national organizations and 123 local Jewish communities. It will be the first time in more than a decade that the JCPA gathering has included such a discussion on whether American Jews and Arabs can work together for Middle East peace.

Since he established the Task Force, more than two years ago, the 63-year-old retired physician has been calling for Arabs — both in the Middle East and in America — to reach out to American Jews and work together for peace. The American Jewish community's support of a two-state solution is "essential" for any viable peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians, he said in a recent interview with the Forward.

"If we do not reassure [American] Jews that what we are striving for is a Palestinian state that will live in peace, security and respect alongside an Israeli Jewish state, then we simply cannot proceed" toward realizing that goal, he said. That process, Asali said, should be based on building both personal and organizational rapport between the two communities, and on charting the political common ground.

Asali's moderate voice and solid contacts with the Bush administration and Congress have turned this mild-mannered Jerusalem-born physician into the most visible spokesman for the Palestinians in Washington in recent months. Together with Washington lawyer and Republican activist George Salem, who is on the board of the relatively new pro-Palestinian organization, Asali was chosen by the White House to represent America on the official three-person U.S. delegation to Yasser Arafat's funeral. He and Salem, along with two senators, Republican John Sununu of New Hampshire and Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware, were part of the official American delegation sent to the region last month to monitor the Palestinian Authority presidential elections. And earlier this month, he was invited to testify before a congressional committee on the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, joining former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former U.S. Mideast envoy Dennis Ross.

At the hearing, he voiced some unorthodox views: One was that Palestinians "absolutely should fulfill all their obligations," as stipulated in the road map peace plan "without delay." Another was that the question of Israeli security is "not negotiable."

It was another statement, however, that got the Palestinian activist invited to speak at the JCPA's annual plenum.

At a press briefing following his trip to monitor the Palestinian elections, Asali said that Palestinians should come to terms with the fact that they would not be able to realize their "right of return" to their old homes in Israel.

Asali, who was six when his family fled Jerusalem in the spring of 1948, says he knows full well how unpopular this position is among Palestinians. His mother, he says, died with the key to their Jerusalem home under her pillow. "But we must now separate the right from the return," he said. The moral right of refugees to recover their properties, he said, should be addressed by a combination of compensation and an Israeli acknowledgement of the wrong that was done to hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians. "But in terms of an actual return, well, there is really nothing to return to. It's Israel now."

Asali believes that speaking his mind enhances his credibility. "I am fed-up with making points or scoring points in political debates," he said. "I understand the young [pro-Palestinian] students who scream on university campuses. I know what they are talking about. And I also know that they don't know what they are talking about." Palestinians and their friends in America, he said, should quit focusing on grievances of the past and instead do their best "to avoid the disasters of the future."

And this statement was made this week in response:

The Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition (and its constituent organizations in historic Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Europe and North America, including Al-Awda), and in conjunction with the Right of Return Congress and the listed signatory popular organizations and committees representing various Palestinian refugee communities, join the Arab-American community in declaring that various statements and false representations by the president of the Washington-based "American Task Force on Palestine" (ATFP) Dr. Ziad Asali nullifying the Palestinian right to return and demeaning the Palestinian and Arab people are reprehensible and entirely outside the consensus of our people.
The Right of Return is an inalienable right affirmed by the international community annually since 1948. No single person, group or government have the authority or mandate to forfeit this individual and national right.
In reality, voices such as Asali's are part of a larger concerted effort to introduce a false veneer of moderation as a replacement for the legitimate inalienable rights of the Palestinian and Arab people, represented by their right to return, sovereignty and self-determination. Through organizations like ATFP, Asali has gone even beyond the Geneva Accords, the Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement and other such attempts that violate fundamental, inalienable and natural rights that are enshrined in international law. From under the garb of hollow US democratization, Asali has in effect been diligently advancing the neo-Conservative plan for the "New Middle East", where nations and people are reconstituted against their will.

One can imagine peace, and even a two-state solution, when dealing with people like Asali. But the evidence that he truly represents anyone is lacking, and the reliance of the Bush administration on Asali and his group may be yet another manifestation of wishful thinking that pervades Washington and Jerusalem nowadays. The reflexive and utter denunciations of any Arab leader who softens his positions towards Israel even a slight amount speaks volumes more than the existence of such people to begin with.