Barbara Ferguson
Arab News
October 21, 2010 - 12:00am

High ranking members of various administrations, including presidents, routinely address the powerful Israeli lobby, AIPAC (American Israeli Political Action Committee), but when it comes to addressing Palestinian-Americans, various US administrations have kept them at arm’s length…. sending lower-ranking dignitaries, but never a secretary of state.

So, when Clinton walked up the podium on Wednesday night to address the American Task Force on Palestine annual gala, it was hugely symbolic of the Obama administration’s position on the current Mideast peace talks.

“When it comes to the conflict in the Middle East, it is all too easy for positions to harden into dogma, for tempers to flare, for rhetoric to outpace reality. But you, (ATFP) have provided a welcome voice of reason and a steady advocacy on behalf of a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”

She told the mainly Palestinian-American audience that the only path to statehood is through direct talks with Israel.

“As much as the United States and other nations around the world want to see a resolution to this conflict, only the parties themselves can take the difficult steps that will lead to peace,” Clinton said.

She said that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remained committed to a two-state solution despite a standoff that threatens to torpedo the US-brokered peace talks less than two months after they were launched.

Clinton’s remarks to the ATFP comes as the PA reportedly is seeking international recognition in case it decides to unilaterally declare statehood.

Direct US-brokered peace negotiations began on Sept. 2, but the Palestinians suspended the talks after a 10-month Israeli moratorium on housing in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank expired on Sept. 26.

Clinton said George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s special Mideast envoy, would return to the region soon.

Repeating messages she has given to Israel, the chief US diplomat called a two-state solution “essential” to the future of the Palestinian people. Clinton also urged the Palestinians to focus on what could be gained through negotiation, not what might be sacrificed.

The Palestinian Authority needs a larger, steadier, and more predictable source of financial support, Clinton said, adding to applause: “The United States is proud to be the Palestinian Authority’s largest donor.”

Clinton also spoke about US efforts to ease situation in the Gaza strip, under Israeli blockade since 2007.

Clinton referred to the issue of settlement building in the West Bank, and said that US position on settlements “is well known and has not changed.”

Clinton obviously put a lot of thought into her speech, and used a talented speechwriter to craft it for her. She personalized her speech by mentioning several of her personal experiences in the West Bank and Gaza last month, and announced that Israelis are finally allowing some cement building materials into Gaza and the West Bank, which the Israelis have blocked since 2007.

It was an impressive speech, but a tough crowd — that chose not to applaud at times this correspondent thought Clinton’s words would bring the house down.

Following Hillary’s speech, the ATFP honored four Palestinian Americans — a soldier, a poet, a playwright and a builder — retired US Army Col. Peter Mansoor for Distinguished National Service; Naomi Shihab Nye for Excellence in the Arts; Betty Shamieh for Excellence in the Performing Arts; and Ghassan Salameh for Excellence in Business.

“Palestinian Americans are contributing to the richness of our culture, the strength of our economy, and the liveliness of our democracy,” noted Ziad Asali, president of the ATFP.


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