Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad delivered the keynote address at the Sixth Annual Gala of the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington, DC on Oct. 19 (To view video of his speech click here). Fayyad praised the work of ATFP calling it "an invaluable bridge for us to Washington, especially at a time when relations are under a period of strain." He emphasized the achievements of the institution-building program, said the Palestinian Authority has more work to do to develop and reform state institutions, and that it is "only a matter of time" before a Palestinian state is established. He called on Israel to stop settlement activity and incursions into PA-controlled areas of the West Bank, and to curb settler violence. He also thanked the US government for financial aid for institution-building and said that the PA was working towards becoming independent of such foreign aid in the future. Fayyad said that reconstruction in Gaza, especially in the health and education sectors was overdue and should begin in earnest at once, especially given the huge improvements in these sectors in the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank.
Fayyad insisted, "All we Palestinians are looking for is a viable, sovereign state on 22% of the land. That's what we want. All we want is freedom from Israel, not freedom to vote in Israel. That's what we really want. If it doesn't happen who can prevent it from becoming a struggle for equal voting rights?" Fayyad emphasized that in the final analysis, negotiations with Israel were the only path to a lasting peace, but said, “Let me be frank with you: My own assessment is that conditions are not ripe at this juncture for a meaningful resumption of talks."
In his introduction to the Prime Minister, ATFP President Ziad J. Asali said, "The pursuit of peace, independence and reform is not a project for cowards. We are honored to welcome a man of courage, principle and conviction." He told PM Fayyad, "You and your work exemplify the understanding that Palestinians need to empower themselves and build a state that reflects not only their right to independence and statehood, but also one which reflects and nurtures their values and the best elements of their culture." Dr. Asali also emphasized that "We will never tire of supporting Palestine till it reaches independence and we will continue to support the state once it is established."
The Gala entitled, "Honoring Heritage, Embracing Originality," was attended by over 650 people, including numerous dignitaries, 17 foreign ambassadors, senior Administration officials, and key members of the diplomatic corps, Washington foreign policy community, think-tank and academic figures, and noted journalists.
Amb. David Hale, United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, presented a letter to ATFP from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sec. Clinton wrote, "Tonight, I commend everyone at ATFP, and those of you who support its mission, for your tireless commitment to our shared goal – two states, the State of Palestine and the State of Israel, living side-by-side in peace and security." She concluded, "Palestinians deserve an independent state, Israelis deserve security, and Palestinian and Israeli children deserve the opportunity to pursue their dreams and fulfill their God-given potential with dignity and peace. I remain grateful for your unwavering commitment to these goals, and on behalf of the American people, I thank you, as proud Palestinian-Americans, for everything you do each and every day to enrich our beloved country." To read the full letter, click here.
The Gala, MCed by noted Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, also featured a concert by internationally renowned oud and violin virtuouso and composer Simon Shaheen and his ensemble, Qantara.
At the event ATFP honored four outstanding Palestinian Americans:
• Mrs. Maha Freij for Distinguished Service in Philanthropy
• Mrs. Hanan Karaman Munayyer for Excellence in Arts Scholarship
• Mr. Nawaf Soliman for Excellence in the Fine Arts
• Ms. Maysoon Zayid for Excellence in Performing Arts
For media coverage of the Gala see: