Ziad Asali
RItz Cartlon, Washington DCAT
ATFP Third Annual Gala: The Courage to Persist, The Will to Build
October 12, 2008 - 12:00am

Oct. 12, 2008

I want to begin by talking about dignity, which is at the core of what we do at the American Task Force on Palestine:  Defending the dignity of the Palestinian people in their land, and dignity of Palestinian- and Arab-Americans in their land too.

The only difference between Palestinians and all other peoples is that they have no state of their own.  They need a place where they can be at home as first-class citizens.  It will not be possible for them to fully reclaim their dignity until they gain independence.

A two-state solution is not a device to finesse the resolution of the conflict.  It is the only solution that will allow the Palestinians to achieve a normal state and the only vehicle for Israel to become a normal state.

The policy of the international community now is a two-state solution. This policy is frustrated by politics, and it is our collective task to bring politics into alignment with policy.

Palestinian-Americans—indeed all Arab-Americans—are like all other Americans.  Like others before us, we have had to deal with prejudice, subtle and occasionally naked forms of prejudice, and racism.  Our quest for dignity can end only when we are treated like others, no better and no worse.

The underlying impulse for establishing the American Task force on Palestine is to chip away at the one-dimensional, negative stereotypes that we and our children and grandchildren deal with.  The objective for all three of our annual galas has been the same: to recognize and honor outstanding Palestinian Americans who are national leaders, public servants, inventors, leading physicians, attorneys, academics, musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, and fashion designers.  These are the Palestinians we want the rest of America to meet, acknowledge, and respect, and to say after the encounter:  We have met the Palestinians, and they are us.

The American leaders who addressed our Gala dinners in the past, and the ones who are doing so this evening, the audience that is here tonight, and the many friends who support us everywhere are giving but one statement:  The Palestinians are OK, they are entitled to equal rights in America, and they have earned the right to a state.

The theme for this year’s Gala, “The Courage to Persist, the Will to Build,” is more than just a statement:  It is a mindset, a program, and a strategy.

As you will hear later tonight from our distinguished guest, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, that this is precisely the program that he and President Mahmoud Abbas are implementing in Palestine.  It is their way of creating facts on the grounds. They are not sitting and waiting for the occupation to end, they are establishing the structures the state will require as soon as the occupation comes to an end.

People ask, with justified cynicism: When will the occupation end?  And I have but one answer:  When the forces inside Israel, Palestine and the United States that support an honorable and lasting two-state solution win over those opposed to it in all three places. That is when the occupation will end.

But in the meantime, we must not lose heart. The Palestinians, with our help, must build their economy, their legal and social institutions, and above all a security system that, through good governance, restores the authority of government and rule of law.

The Israelis cannot go on building and expanding settlements and expect a resolution to this conflict.  We welcome statements from leading policy makers in Israel that call for ending the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian State through negotiations based on the 1967 borders.  We appreciate their words, and understand that the issues are difficult and there are no quick fixes.

On November 4, the American people will choose a new leader.  We welcome him in advance and ask him to make this issue a top priority.  It will take courage and political willpower on the part of a truly engaged statesman to resolve this conflict.  We wish him, and all of us, good luck.

Thank you again for being with us tonight.


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