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Thank you. It's an honored to be here tonight among friends. It's an honor to accept this special recognition.

It's hard to believe that 20 years have passed since those days in Tunis when we began the PLO-US official dialogue. After then-Chairman Yasser Arafat, may he rest in peace, made his declaration in Geneva, I received instructions overnight to make myself available for a meeting. I telephoned the PLO political office, and when the secretary answered the phone I said "marhaba, hay as-safir al-amreeki ambiehki," and I could hear her running down the hall saying, "as-safir al-amreeki, as-safir al-amreeki."

Shortly after, Abu Jafer came on the phone and we began to discuss arrangements. Two days later we met at the Tunisian official guest house and engaged at the beginning in a bit of theatrics, allowing the Tunisian chief of protocol to bring Yasser Abed Rabbo and me into the room and introduce us so we could shake hands in front of the press and then cross-introduce each delegation. We met for four hours, interrupted only by a misplaced Tunisian invitation to a sumptuous banquet, which we respectfully declined in favor of some sandwiches and soft drinks, a working lunch at the table, which the Tunisians found too hard. The last thing we did at the end of the meeting was discuss how we would describe this first meeting to the press and to the world. I suggested we describe it as "businesslike" and the Palestinians got together and disagreed over what the interpretation of "businesslike" would be. So we finally settled on "practical."

Over the ensuing weeks, when we got through the inevitable phase of expressing our own grievances, making sure the other side had understood our grievances, we got down to serious discussions. And at that point the PLO appointed Abu Mazen to be my counterpart. And over the discussions we had, I came to have a great respect for Abu Mazen, a man of great integrity, a committed Palestinian nationalist, and a committed man of peace. I think you could draw a more or less direct line from the opening of that dialogue in Tunis, through the Madrid peace conference, through the Oslo Accords and to a number of Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Of course the dialogue did not just occur in a vacuum. It took farsighted policy-makers in Washington, at least one of whom is here tonight, Amb. Dick Murphy, who had the will and the courage to overcome the onerous commitment we had made at Sinai II about dealing with the PLO, a posture that cost us over a decade of unproductive peace diplomacy.

Today, we have a new opportunity. After eight years of passivity and neglect, the United States is organizing itself for serious peace diplomacy. We know that it will not be easy. We know there are voices out there that are opposed, in Israel and Palestine, and here in the United States, and will do what they can to derail this train and we must not allow that to happen. All of us who are supporters of peace -- all of us in this room -- must be actively engaged in speaking out, as the Task Force is speaking out, and continue to speak out and never give up, and never give up, and never give up!

Thank you very much. As-Salam Aleikum.

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