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A Palestinian Response to David Suissa

by Ameen Estaiteyeh

November 11, 2009 | 5:51 pm

Read David Suissa’s column here.

David Suissa thinks that what is needed now “more than anything today is not a J Street but an A Street,” “an Arab organization that would…rally peace-seeking Arab moderates to the cause of peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state” (November 5, 2009, We Need ‘A Street,’ Not J Street).

Perhaps he should take a look at the work of the American Task Force on Palestine. (ATFP). It is precisely the “pro-Arab, pro-peace” group he imagines does not exist, and performs exactly the work he should learn is, in fact, being done.

From its founding in 2003, ATFP has been committed to a negotiated end of conflict agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that results in two states—Israel and Palestine—living side-by-side in peace and security. ATFP advocates an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state that is democratic, pluralistic, non-militarized and neutral in armed conflicts.

The Task Force has built strong working relationships with both the executive and key congressional leaders in Washington and with the Palestinian leadership, and working relations with the government of Israel. It has also built bridges to think tanks and advocacy organizations across the political spectrum, including a wide range of Jewish American organizations, held scores of events in Washington and elsewhere, and brought its pro-Palestinian, pro-peace message to the media around the world.

Suissa asks his readers to “imagine the impact on the peace process if 1,500 Palestinian peace activists gathered in Washington, D.C.” ATFP has held four annual galas in Washington celebrating the achievements of Palestinian Americans and promoting peace with Israel, welcoming 500 guests at its first gala in 2006 at which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the keynote speak, in 2008 over 600 gathered to listen to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and on October 15 over 650 guests were addressed by National Security Advisor James Jones.

All of these galas have been attended by current and former senior administration officials; ambassadors and cabinet ministers from various countries; members of Congress and staff; key journalists; and a veritable who’s who of Middle East policy professionals, increasingly including senior leaders of major Jewish pro-Israel, as well as Arab-American, organizations.

ATFP’s Board of Directors is composed of a large group of prominent Palestinian-American business, academic, scientific and medical leaders, all dedicated to the causes of Palestinian statehood in the occupied territories and peace with Israel.

Its President, Ziad Asali, has testified before Congress, represented the United States in official delegations to the funeral of the late Pres. Arafat and to observe the two subsequent Palestinian elections, and been involved in numerous pro-peace organizations. Senior Fellow Ghaith Al-Omari was an advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team throughout the permanent status negotiations and the lead Palestinian drafter of the Geneva Initiative. Another ATFP Senior Fellow, Hussein Ibish, has been a prominent Arab-American activist and voice for peace based on two-states for many years.

In addition to countless articles, issue papers and policy documents, ATFP has published three books explaining its pro-Palestine, pro-peace point of view, most recently “What’s Wrong with the One-State Agenda?” by Ibish, as well as two collections entitled “Principles and Pragmatism,” and “Palestine and the Quest for Peace.” ATFP’s website is ranked in the top 200,000 sites in the United States, with traffic far exceeding almost all other Middle East-related American organizations.

Mr. Suissa may be based in Los Angeles, but if he follows the discourse on Middle East issues in the United States, he should by now have been aware of ATFP given the reach and impact of it’s Washington-based pro-Palestine, pro-peace activities.

At its Oct. 15 Gala, ATFP received a letter from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA), who wrote: ” Your integrity, your knowledge of the issues, and your unswervingly principled stand on behalf of peace and fairness—as well as your deep commitment both to the land of your birth, Palestine, and your adopted homeland, America—have all had a powerfully positive impact on discourse in Washington about the Middle East. You and your colleagues have also been an important influence on my own thinking about Middle East peacemaking and that of many of my colleagues in the Congress.”

This unprecedented letter to a Palestinian-American organization coming from one of the most powerful members of Congress on foreign affairs and a stalwart Jewish-American supporter of Israel demonstrates how far ATFP has helped transform the thinking about peace and the need for a Palestinian state, creating heretofore unimaginable alliances and opportunities for cooperation and progress.

I would therefore modestly suggest to Mr. Suissa and everyone else wondering where the pro-Palestine, pro-peace Arab-American organization is to look carefully at the work and track record of the American Task Force on Palestine. It is exactly what he says he is looking for.

Ameen Estaiteyeh serves on the Board of Directors of the American Task Force on Palestine.

David Suissa Responds:

Mr. Estaiteyeh completely ignored my point. My idea was not an Arab organization that would trumpet its desire for peace to the Western world—that’s easy. I had something a lot more difficult in mind: An Arab organization—A Street—that would pressure its own Palestinian leadership and institutions to stop the teaching of Jew-hatred to their people. That is internal pressure, the kind you always see in Israel and among Jews. Until the Arab side learns to do the same, peace doesn’t have a chance.

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