National Council Representatives Assemble in Washington, DC

By Harris, Jay | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February 28, 2000 | Go to article overview

National Council Representatives Assemble in Washington, DC


Harris, Jay, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


NATIONAL COUNCIL REPRESENTATIVES ASSEMBLE IN WASHINGTON, DC

The Middle East peace process is going nowhere fast, and most Americans don't know much about the process, the region, or the people involved. These were assessments shared by Arabs and Americans alike during November briefings in Washington, DC for state and regional representatives of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR).

NCUSAR, founded and directed by Dr. John Duke Anthony, arranged meetings for participants with the representative of the League of Arab States in the U.S. and diplomats at the embassies of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. Meetings were also held with the representatives of U.S. corporations and non-governmental organizations with interests in the Middle East.

The primary message was that, regardless of the hoopla in the media and otherwise, a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians is simply not on the horizon. Those who deal with the issues surrounding the peace process on a day-to-day basis are willing to voice no more than guarded optimism for the future, and some find even that difficult. The Israelis refuse to withdraw from all of the Palestinian land they occupied in 1967, and refuse to comply with U.N. resolutions mandating repatriation or restitution of Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967 and their descendants. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to serve as their capital, but the Israelis will not agree.

Less complicated would be a peace settlement between Israel and Syria, a major player in the region. Negotiations over the Golan Heights, Syrian land occupied by Israel in 1967, commenced as this article was being written and will be extremely difficult. Complicating matters further are the Israeli settlements in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, all deemed illegal by the United Nations. Speakers termed it ironic that Israel's occasional withdrawals of a few people from small areas in dispute are hailed by the media as gestures of goodwill. Even more ironic to our hosts is that such moves result in expectations of Palestinian counter-moves, a "one good turn deserves another" mentality.

The delegation also learned that, in line with the majority of Israelis, more members of the Israeli Knesset support an independent Palestine than do members of the U.S. Congress. Yet, when former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin softened the Israeli stance, he was assassinated -- at a peace rally -- by one of his own compatriots.

A former high-ranking U.S. official who served for many years in the Middle East described misconceptions held by Americans as another impediment to peace between Arabs and Israelis. It is his belief that a strong U.S. media presence in the region might be a partial solution, but that presence doesn't exist currently and isn't likely to develop soon.

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