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Contact Information: Ghaith al-Omari
January 22, 2007 - 1:00am

Washington, DC, January 23 -- The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) held today a briefing at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., ‘U.S. Policy Towards Israel-Palestine: 2006-2008, Expectations and Recommendations.’ The briefing featured 3 speakers giving the Palestinian, Israeli and American perspectives on the issue: Ghaith Al-Omari, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation; Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, Professor of International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University; and Dr. Aaron David Miller, Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Mr. Al-Omari led off the briefing with a statement that he was ‘positive but not hopeful’ regarding the Bush administration’s policy on Israel-Palestine in the next 2 years. He said he felt ‘positive’ because he discerned a change in the Bush administration’s approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a focus on ‘technical’ issues to a more ambitious and wide-ranging ‘diplomatic’ approach.

Omari then listed the reasons why he was not hopeful despite the positive change he noted. These reasons include the political weakness of both Abbas and Olmert, leaving a small margin for each’s ability to give concessions; and the challenge of dealing with Hamas whether through bringing them into international talks and integrating them into the PLO and domestic politics, or confronting them militarily with all the attendant political costs in doing so. Omari also urged engagement with Syria in terms of lining the country up with the rest of the Arabs in working towards a two-state solution.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir viewed the violence & outcome of the past 6 years as a result of the negligence of the Bush administration in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He saw no evidence that Hamas was moderating and as a result Israel was right not to work with Hamas on any level. Ben-Meir emphasized the importance of appointing a high-level U.S. envoy that had the full support of the President and that stayed in the Middle East. He noted that the high turnover rate of U.S. Mideast envoys during the Bush administration had resulted in inconsistent views and negotiating.

Ben-Meir urged the United States to use its influence with Israel to moderate Israeli policy, especially in the Occupied Territories. This should be done in conjunction with empowering Abbas through political, economic, and military support. On the diplomatic level, Ben-Meir called for a renewed multi-lateral approach to the conflict that included the E.U, Russia and the UN. He noted that the engagement of Saudi, Egypt, and Jordan had made it clear that the Arab world supports the two state solution.

Finally, Ben-Meir emphasized the emotional resonance of the Palestine issue to over 1 billion Arabs and Muslims who viewed the U.S. ‘through the prism of the Palestine issue.’ While he agreed that there was no direct linkage between the Palestine issue and other Mideast problems such as Iraq, Ben-Meir stressed that a positive U.S. role in Israel/Palestine would greatly enhance the U.S. image and consequently diplomacy in the region.

Dr. Aaron Miller noted how much the situation had changed in the Middle East since the last serious U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This included an Arab world with weak leaders who are indecisive and unable to successfully commit to agreements, and the emergence of non-state actors are wreaking havoc in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon with the U.S. unable as of yet to successfully deal with this emergence.

Miller did not agree with those who claimed that there was a clash of civilizations between the West and the Arab and Muslim worlds. While admitting that there was a large minority in the Arab and Muslim worlds that acted upon such a belief, the majority clashed with the U.S. over interests and not values. Miller also warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be promptly addressed as it was evolving from a political/religious conflict into a largely religious conflict.

Miller outlined a number of steps that could be taken in the next 2 years towards promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. These included the top prioritizing of the conflict on the presidential agenda; a two-year strategy dedicated not to permanent end-of-conflict issues, but to creating an positive environment through serious political negotiations; and a real empowered process based on diplomacy. Miller also noted that while engaging Syria may yield little benefit, it is still worthwhile for Israel and the U.S. to attempt engagement. Finally, Miller reiterated the indispensable role of the U.S. in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In conclusion, Miller pointed to the close relationship between Secretary of State Rice and President Bush as a positive factor in enabling Secretary Rice to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seriously and productively, thus ending the Bush administration with a historic Mideast legacy.


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