Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Annual Palestine Center Conference Examines Post-Election U.S., Mideast

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Annual Palestine Center Conference Examines Post-Election U.S., Mideast

Article excerpt

The Palestine Center's annual conference on Nov. 9 looked at "Where are we headed? The U.S. and Middle East after Elections." Panelists discussed the impact of the recent election on U.S. policy in the region. Hrair Balian, director of the conflict resolution program at the Carter Center, recalled the promises made by President Barack Obama in his seminal Cairo speech in 2009, promising a new beginning in relations between the U.S. and the Islamic world. While he failed to live up to his promise not to turn his back on Palestinians, Balian argued, Obama's administration has remained cautiously involved in the Arab Awakening countries.

According to Mark Perry, who served as unofficial adviser to the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, what was important about the recent elections is that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) committed political suicide. AIPAC promised Israel that Jewish Americans would only support candidates who wouldn't impose peace, he explained. AIPAC was wrong, Perry chortled, and it is now obvious that J Street-style Jewish voters are more interested in domestic issues like the economy, the deficit, health care and education than they are in sending $3.5 billion a year to Israel.

British-American writer Helena Cobban, who recently launched Just World Publishing, called for Obama to come to the assistance of 500,000 stateless Palestinians, Christians and Muslims alike, caught in the "meatgrinder" in Syria. "Now is the time to be bold," she said, not at the end of Obama's second term. The Israel/Palestine issue is just as important as the fiscal cliff, Cobban argued, because it feeds an anti-American sentiment which requires a spiralling U.S. defense budget.

The second panel, "Taking Stock in the Arab Uprisings: Where are We Headed?" featured George Washington University professor Dr. Nathan Brown, Adel Iskandar, from Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, and American University's Dr. Kristin Smith Diwan.

The third panel, "Public Discourse on Palestine: Reasons for Optimism?" opened with Jerusalem Fund executive director Yousef Munayyer, who focused on the proliferation of social media and new technology that is upending mainstream media. He described the recent success of Palestinian campaigns that actually crossed into mainstream media, including a "Love Under Apartheid" campaign on Feb. 14 which showed YouTube videos of partners separated by Israel's occupation. Other campaigns by hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners held under administrative detention, and Palestinians remembering the Nakba, as well as the Sabra and Shatila massacres, forced mainstream media to pay attention. When cellphones record outrages like Israel's attack on the Gaza flotilla, or Israeli settler violence, it becomes impossible for violators to spin their story, Munayyer concluded.

Dr. Will Youmans, a media expert at George Washington University, noted that Palestinians don't have museums or memorials to capture their history. Instead, he said, "we have a country living inside us," and suggested capturing the history Israel is trying to erase, including family stories, photos and land deeds, in some kind of virtual "WikiPalestine."

Samer Badawi with the Institute for Middle East Understanding brought the house down as he pulled out a tiny black-and-white photo his mother had leftin a box after visiting the United States. The photo captured his grandmother as a young lady, standing tall and proudly resisting, beside his mother when she was a little girl. …

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