Shmuel Rosner
Haaretz (Interview)
April 28, 2008 - 6:03pm

Ziad J. Asali, M.D., is the president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Asali is a long-time activist on Middle East issues. He has been a member of the Chairman's Council of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) since 1982, and has served as ADC?s president from 2001-2003. He served as president of the Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG) from 1993-1995, and was Chairman of the American Committee on Jerusalem (ACJ), which he co-founded, from 1995-2003.

Dr. Asali was born in Jerusalem, where he completed his elementary and secondary education. He received an M.D. from the American University of Beirut (AUB) Medical School in 1967. He completed his residency in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then practiced medicine in Jerusalem before returning to the US in 1973. (More bio here).

We will discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Readers may submit questions to

Dear Ziad,

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was in Washington last week for a series of meetings, including one with U.S. President Bush. At this stage of the peace process, what, in your opinion, does Abbas need from president Bush, and what will be the top priorities?



Five months after Annapolis, with no tangible progress made at the official Palestinian Israeli negotiations, president Abbas arrived in Washington last week with one remaining card to play. A genuinely engaged U.S. Administration that is looking for a legacy with only a few months left, represented to him the last hope to achieve a Palestinian state before his own term expires in less than a year. With low expectations, but with a sense that what he proposes is decidedly in the national interest of the United States, Abbas came to Washington to provide his clear vision of the future state of Palestine and its relation to Israel. He wanted to elicit support from President Bush and Secretary Rice in the context of their own stated goal of reaching an agreement about a Palestinian state in 2008.

He asked for two things: First, an American endorsement of his request for an immediate end to settlement expansion, a matter that, more than any other, profoundly undermines Palestinian faith in the Annapolis process. Second, he aimed to get a commitment to a shared vision of the contours of the state on the three permanent status issues: borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.

All issues- and that in itself is a sign of hope- were discussed in Washington. The Administration?s traditional hands-off position was set aside as discussions of final status issues took place, and in some detail. However, a significant difference in positions remained, and President Abbas left Washington less than satisfied with what he heard. The expressions of goodwill and benign intentions, although well received and appreciated, were not matched by the conflict-ending positions he felt he could live with, or that would be accepted by the Palestinian public in a referendum.

At the Hill, he argued that a viable Palestinian state, negotiated on the basis of 1967 borders, is the best answer to the forces of extremism, violence and conflict. He explained the significant role he and the Palestinian moderates play in rolling back the radicals and painted a dark picture of the future of the Middle East should his policies and Administration fail. His message was that he did not believe that the U.S. had a real sense of the urgent need to bolster Palestinian moderates in the fight against the radicals in the region and beyond.

Aware of the complexity of political decision-making in Israel at the present time, he steered away from discussing Israeli politics. He knows that the U.S. understands its strategic ally well enough and should be able to hold a full conversation with Israel without inserting the Palestinian leadership?s input.

He did not get side tracked by the much-discussed issue of talking to Hamas. While his position is unchanged- namely that Hamas can only be engaged once they fulfill certain preconditions- he remains authorized by all parties to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian public who will vote on any future agreement in a referendum.

A steadily deteriorating situation on the ground, the toll of a divided Palestinian polity, and the relentless building of settlements have eroded both his position and the hope of achieving a viable state by the end of his term. However, the dire consequences of the failure of moderate Palestinians to cut a deal with Israel, sustains his quest for reaching a framework agreement. What he heard in Washington left him less than encouraged but not quite resigned to abandon hope.


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