Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
July 22, 2010 - 12:00am

A brown bag lunch for interns on Capitol Hill, held on July 21 at the Rayburn House office building by Americans for Peace Now (APN) and the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), urged a standing-room only audience to engage in advocacy on behalf of a two-state peace agreement in the Middle East. Hussein Ibish, Senior Fellow at ATFP, and Ori Nir, spokesman for APN, strongly agreed that a negotiated, two state agreement is the only real hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Nir said there were many more reasons for optimism than is generally recognized and praised Palestinian state and institution building efforts in the West Bank. He also said that Prime Minister Netanyahu has much more leeway to make concessions than is usually understood and that he is not greatly restrained by his coalition partners but is amenable to accommodating American needs when they are strongly expressed.

Ibish emphasized that it is now a consensus in the American foreign policy and military establishments that Middle East peace is not optional for the United States but is a vital national security interest. He said that there were only two possible outcomes given the present array of practically existing forces: a two-state agreement or continued and deteriorating occupation and conflict. He said it was in the interests of all parties to find a way to make a two state agreement work in spite of the difficulties and called it “the historic mission of our generation.” Both Ibish and Nir cited the cooperation between ATFP and APN, including an ongoing joint summer internship program in which APN hosts a Palestinian student and ATFP an Israeli student, as an excellent example of how Jewish and Arab Americans can cooperate once they understand that both Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the United States, require an agreement to ensure their fundamental national interests.

In a lively question-and-answer session that followed brief opening comments, Nir said significant progress had been made both in the United States and in the region to advance the constituency for peace, and specifically cited the Arab Peace Initiative as potentially a historic breakthrough that had not been capitalized on by either the Israelis or the Arab League. Ibish said that Palestinian national reconciliation was impossible as long as the PLO and Hamas agree on absolutely nothing and are in an uncompromising competition for power among Palestinians. He said that until Hamas' policies adapt to become more rational and internationally acceptable it is not in the Palestinian national interest to have them engaged at the international diplomatic level. Both agreed that the upcoming midterm elections in the United States are more likely to have an effect on US policy than on Israeli or Palestinian strategies.

In response to a series of questions doubting whether a two-state agreement could survive violent actions by militants designed to sabotage the peaceful arrangement, both Ibish and Nir said they thought this concern was overstated. Ibish said it was premised on the notion that Palestine will be a failed state, and that there is no need to think it will be. Nir said there would always be actions by individuals or small groups but these cannot be allowed to derail an essential peace process. Ibish added that the threat of sabotage by extremists on both sides was more a problem for the negotiating stage than for implementation of a peace agreement between two viable, sovereign states. Both men agreed that the PLO is legally authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians and that there is no obstacle to Israel reaching an agreement with the PLO that includes Gaza as part of a Palestinian state. Ibish said it was possible to have an agreement that was implemented first in the West Bank and later on in Gaza, especially if the alternative is no agreement at all.

Nir urged the attendees to get involved in the political process and write letters and visit their congressman and other officials. Ibish said there were three main requests he would suggest: support for Palestinian state and institution building, support for humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Gaza, and support for Pres. Obama's efforts, especially in applying US pressure to all parties to reach a workable and reasonable peace agreement.


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