Washington Report On Middle East Affairs
December 28, 2007 - 2:26pm

THE AMERICAN TASK Force on Palestine (ATFP) held its second annual gala Oct. 17 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, DC. The theme was a hopeful one: “Choosing Peace, Embracing Hope: Honoring the Contributions of Palestinian Americans.”

ATFP president Dr. Ziad Asali welcomed  attendees and read a letter from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offering his congratulations to ATFP and also to the three Palestinian-American awardees. Rafi Dajani, ATFP’s executive director of the fledgling organization, announced: “The good news is we have enough money to survive another year. The bad news is it’s still in your pockets.”

The Palestinian Authority’s Ambassador Afif Safieh gave a short address regarding Palestinian hopes for an Annapolis peace conference.

The ATFP Award for Excellence in Government Service was presented to former U.S. Ambassador to UAE and Syria Theodore Kattouf, the president and CEO of AMIDEAST. Ambassador Wyche Fowler, chairman of the board of the Middle East Institute, presented the award to a man who, he said, treated everyone of every rank the same—with respect.

Ambassador Kattouf said his extended family typifies what the United States stands for. Arab immigrants, especially Palestinians, revere education, and while for some in the first generation education was far beyond their reach, they made sure their children and grandchildren attended good schools. “They were allowed to become well-educated contributing members of this country,” Kattouf said, adding that he is proud that AMIDEAST is working to improve education in 13 countries in the Middle East.

In that same vein, when Dr. Jamil Shami presented ATFP’s Award for Excellence in Commerce and Industry to his brother, Farouk Shami, he said, “Early on Palestinians realized that education is a commodity that no one can steal and occupy.” In order to send a member of the family to college, he explained, everyone pooled their  resources, with some traveling to the Gulf to work. As a result, Dr. Shami said, Palestinians had the highest percentage of college graduates in the world before they had a single Palestinian university, and despite closures and occupation. This belief in education prompted his brother Farouk, the Houston-based founder and chairman of Farouk Systems, Inc., to do his utmost to improve education for Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

Farah Munayyer, co-founder of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation and ATFP board member, presented the ATFP Award for Excellence in Medicine to Jerusalem-born Dr. Theodore Baramki, an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Dr. Baramki is the first Palestinian-American to endow a chair at Johns Hopkins.

In his remarks, Dr. Baramki noted that in 1917 Arthur James Balfour promised land to the Jewish people that was not his to give. “As a result of the Balfour Declaration, Palestinians have suffered immensely,” Dr. Baramki stated. “I’m glad that President Bush is finally on track. Maybe there will be a Bush Declaration in Annapolis, MD that will correct the injustice done to the Palestinian people. We all dream of a having an independent Palestine and living side by side in harmony and peace,” he concluded.

In his well-received speech, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns presented his credentials:  “I want you to know how much respect I have for the Palestinian-American community in America. My sister-in-law, Nayla Baha, is a Palestinian-American. Her story and that of her family is very representative of what all of your families have experienced. Her mother and father fled Jaffa in May, 1948, thinking they would return in a few days or weeks. But, instead, the cruel fate of history determined that they would be refugees for more than 40 years—first in Libya, then in Beirut, then in Athens, and finally in America, where they have found a home and where they are citizens.

“From my ties to Nayla’s family,” Burns continued, “I have learned that Palestinians, like all people, yearn for security and stability and freedom. I have learned that they have an extraordinary devotion to their families, and education, and most especially, to peace.”

Noting that he lived in East Jerusalem 20 years ago, working as a young foreign service officer, Burns said he got to know the people and the West Bank olive groves, vineyards and historic cities.

Turning to the present, he told the banquet guests that “President Bush and Secretary Rice have outlined a clear goal—a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. It’s reaching that goal that will take a lot of work.

“On July 16,” Burns continued, “President Bush...reiterated his commitment to the Palestinian people and vision of a two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state. We view the creation of a Palestinian state to be not only in the interest of Palestinians, Israelis, and their neighbors, but also as a key American interest.”

The international meeting the U.S. plans to host in Annapolis, MD aims to rally international support for peace, Burns said. “President Bush has made this one of the highest priorities of his administration. In a recent interview with Al Arabiya, President Bush said that this meeting will be serious and substantive; that the aim of this meeting is to advance the cause of the establishment of a Palestinian state...

“The framework for discussions at the Annapolis meeting will be consistent with the road map, and based on the principle of land for peace, United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 1397, and the Arab League Peace Initiative. Key participants will be the Israelis and Palestinians, of course, but we also view the Quartet and the Arab League Follow-Up Committee as natural participants, as regional support is key to success and essential for a comprehensive Middle East peace....

“Finally,” Burns said, “we continue to encourage both Israel and the Palestinians to meet their obligations under the road map. There is no alternative to progress on the ground. Israel should halt settlement expansion, remove unauthorized outposts, and reduce its footprint in the West Bank. I know the Israelis are serious about peace, but it is important that the Palestinian people know and see that as well.”

According to the undersecretary of state, “The Palestinians have to seriously undertake reforms to show that they can govern themselves and to set up the necessary institutions of their future state, They have to work harder to combat terror and extremism in their communities to prove that a Palestinian state can thrive peacefully alongside its neighbors...

Burns concluded by echoing Secretary of State Rice’s statement earlier that week: “the time for a Palestinian state is now.”

After an inspiring but sobering evening, comedienne Maysoon Zayid gave an hilarious stand-up performance. Dressed in a glamorous gold gown, she described going to Palestine to find a husband and instead finding disabled children, and more Palestinian mothers than anyone can handle. She also announced her upcoming Hollywood debut in a film starring Adam Sandler called, “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” about a Mossad agent who fakes his death so he can re-surface in New York City as a hair stylist.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017