Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
June 26, 2008 - 12:00am

On Friday, June 27, the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) and the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) hosted a discussion the National Press Club in Washington of “The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation” (Yale University Press, 2008) with its author, Dr. Marwan Muasher. Dr. Muasher is a former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign and Information Minister of Jordan, as well as Jordan’s first Ambassador to Israel.

Dr. Muasher opened the discussion by emphasizing the importance of moderates in the Arab world today, while noting that Arab moderation has been typically conceived in the West as only having relevance to the peace process so far. However, there is a direct relationship between progress in peace negotiations and the fortunes of moderates in the Arab center. This is why, in his opinion, moderates are on the defensive and decline today.

Although most Western thinking has focused on extremists, he pointed out, Arab moderation has been very proactive in producing initiatives for peace, such as the Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002. Unfortunately, he stated, Israel, the United States and others have not taken these initiatives as seriously as they should have. Muasher pointed out that the Arab Peace Initiative would have guaranteed Israel’s security by all 22 countries of the Arab League. So, he said, if there is no peace, it is not because there was no effort by the Arab center.

Muasher went on to explain that most active Arab moderates do not document their experiences in English and he was departing from this trend with his book. He said he tried to “make the Arab center human” and to explain the dilemmas and challenges it faces to Western audiences. Among other points, the book explains why the “Arab center” is on the defensive today. Muasher noted that the Arab center in government has, for the most part, only been moderate on peace thus far. When it comes to reform, however, it is hard to find a center. He said many “people are selectively moderate”, and without the necessaryreforms to society, publics are increasing drawn in by religious extremists.

Muasher contrastedtwo schools of thought: the traditional and the reform perspectives. In the traditional viewpoint, if one opens the government to reform, then “religious forces come in”. Muasher strongly argued that history does not support this perspective, as Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups continue to gain strength with or without domestic reforms. Reformers, on the other hand, assert that “religious forces come in” when one does not open the system.Muasher pointed out that the closed system has allowed religious groups to claim the mantle of good governance and to pose as reformers themselves. He also pointed out that opponents to the reform often accuse reformers of being “US agents.” Still, he urged Arab reformers to persist in their efforts, despite the slander, because Arab reform is for the Arab society not for the interests of the United States.

Muasher stated that the main conclusion of his book is that diversity strengthens society. He also said he no longer believes in a gradual approach to peace, because opponents from both sides will utilize the time to interrupt the process. According to him, the framework for the agreement is in place, not in thanks to the United States, but because both sides have continued the talks. He then offered advice to the incoming US president: take on the Arab-Israel issue within your first term in office. He asserted that dealing with this issue during a second term in the Oval Office has never resulted in success. However, he doubted that any president would take on this issue right away.

Muasher warned that the Arab world, Israel and the West wouldbe dealing with radicalism for a long time unless all parties can agree on the two state solution. “We are all guilty of not supporting Abu Mazen,” he explained. He concluded by stressingIsrael’s need to accept a two state solution, as the Palestinian population will continue to grow and will overwhelm the Israeli population in the area of historical Palestine in the near future. Moreover, Muasher noted, if the current decline in diplomacy continues, there may not be an Arab center remaining with which Israel can negotiate.


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