Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
April 27, 2010 - 12:00am

ATFP Senior Hussein Ibish addressed a group of student activists at American University on April 24, 2010, telling them that the US-Israel standoff on settlements in Jerusalem open important, but limited, new opportunities to promote peace and an end to the occupation. Ibish said that it appeared that the US and Israel had, after several weeks of standoff, finally reached an accommodation in the 24 hours before his lecture, apparently involving Israeli agreement to include all permanent status issues in proximity talks, ease both the occupation and the blockade of Gaza, and have a de facto but unannounced settlement freeze in occupied East Jerusalem, especially in Arab neighborhoods. Ibish said "the details of this 'don't ask, don't tell' arrangement are very murky and may not have even been fully clarified between the two governments, and that how it operates in practice remains to be seen."

According to Ibish, the key in moving the Israelis on these issues was Prime Minister Netanyahu's inability to play Congress off against the White House and the administration's success in holding support among well-placed Democrats, including prominent Jewish members, against serious pressure from the pro-Israel lobby. Ibish said the administration was able to do this because "these Democratic lawmakers are genuinely loyal Americans loathe to side with another government over their own and also because they are loyal Democrats whose political future is strongly tied with the strength of the administration and, especially, the President." He said that, "confronted with a united US government, the Israelis had no choice but to try to accommodate American concerns." He predicted the opening of proximity talks in the foreseeable future, but said that the Palestinian side still needed to shore up its political base and would probably return to the Arab League for a resolution endorsing the negotiations. He predicted that, if asked, Arab foreign ministers would probably agree with the idea, since they have already done so on less favorable terms.

Ibish warned that a major breakthrough at the diplomatic level in the next year or so is extremely unlikely because of politically weak and compromised leadership on both sides and, more significantly, the "huge gaps in expectations between the parties on what constitutes a viable final status." He said "the Obama administration is determined to get the parties back into talks, whether proximity or direct, but that they do not appear to have a strategy, beyond issuing American bridging proposals, for dealing with any stalemate in those negotiations." Ibish told the students that the Palestinian side was aware of the great difficulties facing progress, and did not have any confidence in major achievements from these negotiations in the near future. However, he said that the PLO and PA leadership was categorically opposed to a return to violence, whether through armed struggle or intifada, and was therefore looking for alternative measures that complement diplomacy and continue to move forward towards Palestinian independence and an end to the occupation even as diplomacy moves slowly, if at all.

He said that Palestinians were therefore "developing a series of nonviolent, peaceful tactics designed to confront the occupation and bring forward its end as soon as possible." Ibish said the first and most important of these is state and institution building by the PA in order to create the framework of an independent Palestinian state. He said that in addition, the PA was increasingly involved in nonviolent, popular protests against the occupation, the West Bank separation barrier, and settlements. Ibish told the students that the third plank is economic measures aimed at the occupation and settlements, but not aimed at Israel, such as boycotts of settlement goods and preventing Palestinians from working in Israeli settlements. He said "the purpose of these economic measures was to draw a clear distinction between Israel itself on the one hand and the occupation and the settlements on the other," and to underline the different interests at work and emphasize that the Palestinian cause is about confronting and ending the occupation but not Israel.

During the question-and-answer session, Ibish was repeatedly asked about the work of ATFP, its role in Washington and the degree to which its message is being received in the foreign policy establishment of our country. He explained ATFP's approach and steady accumulation of credibility and influence in the policy conversation, but cautioned that "real power continues to lie elsewhere and that pro-Palestinian activists have a great deal of work facing them before they can fully realize their potential." He stressed "the need for clear, achievable goals that inform a coherent strategy that in turn produces effective tactics, as opposed to vague or completely unachievable goals that give rise to incoherent strategies and, as a consequence, wild, ineffective tactics." He said that "unclear goals and incoherent strategies lead to random tactics that are more likely to reduce counterproductive results than any desirable outcomes." He urged the students to learn as much as possible about the new Palestinian strategies for liberation and to support them in any way they can.


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