Yesterday Afif Safieh, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization Mission to the United States, gave a lecture at Princeton University on his perspective on the relationship between Palestine and Israel. There were approximately 300 people in the standing-room audience.
The title of the lecture was “Israel/Palestine: History Is Undecided” but Mr. Safieh essentially declaimed (almost word-by-word) his 2001 lecture (PDF file) Diplomacy in the Middle East: The art of delaying the inevitable, and parts of his 2004 lecture Which way is forward?, while repeatedly asserting, “I am a victim of the Israelis”, and that the reason the peace process has failed is “not the Arabs’ rejection of Israel, but Israel’s rejection of the Arab acceptance of Israel”.
Following Mr. Safeih’s declamation, there was a question and answer session:
Q. 1 Going by the premise that it’s morally wrong of both Israel and suicide bombers to kill, how does one get Arab leaders to appear on CNN and condemn suicide bombers?
and, following the Iranian Holocaust denial conference, how does one get Arab leaders to denounce it?
AS: “I have condemned every single suicide bombing, and am glad to point out that in 2006 there was only one suicide bombing.
“Whoever doesn’t condemn Israeli invasions and Israel’s untargeted and unqualified assassinations has no grounds for moral judgment.
“The Iranian conference was in extremely poor taste. As a person who has suffered, I have great sympathy for what they have suffered. Every national tragedy stands on its own: the Native Americans with the whites’ arrival, the blacks with slavery, the Armenians under the Ottomans, and yet there is a need for soul searching: A community who doesn’t understand the suffering it inflicts won’t understand why it’s causing it.”
Q. 2: Regarding the road map, does the Bush administration care?
AS: “The quartet (US, EU, UN, and Russia) diplomacy’s construction of a road map should have in mind the final destination of the road map: the return to the 1967 boundaries.” Safieh’s interested in the final destination: “we need acceleration”.
He went on to repeat that diplomacy in the Middle East is the art of delaying the inevitable for as long as possible, and quoted Nahum Goldman as saying that “we should agree on a final destination at the beginning, deal with it now, and move forward”.
Safieh believes in the importance of the American role, and “we should work on the nature of the Americans’ advice.”
Q. 3: What would be the final destination for the city of Jerusalem?
AS: “There are eight residential neighborhoods within Jerusalem and my family came from there… The international community and the Vatican also believe in two capitals in one, two national aspirations, and three religious rites of equal importance. I would like to see Jerusalem undivided”.
Q. 4: What is status of the Geneva plan? Is it a possible approach?
AS: Safieh was not involved but the Palestinian parties had the blessings of Yasser Arafat. On the Israeli side, the people involved were not key players, were mostly from the left wing of the Labor party, and didn’t have the blessings of the country’s leadership.
Q. 5: Does AS hold Yasser Arafat responsible for walking away from the Clinton administration’s peace negotiations?
AS: “People are rewriting what happened. First of all, if one goes by what the minister of Israel is saying, the Camp David of 2000, from what I have read was the most chaotic event in the history of humanity” (the audience chuckled). “Unfortunately we still suffer from the perception of what happened and Arafat is seen as having to carry the responsibility.” AS mentioned a Washington Post article where it said that Israel should have shown more independence, and had Clinton proposed in July what he proposed in December, they would have come to an agreement.
“Now we deal with mutilated reality… Barat is a very complex person, and he came without a coalition and wanted to humiliate his political adversaries, and went back saying we no longer have a Palestinian partner”.
Q. 6: Do you think that recent actions of the American administration are contributing?
AS: “The decisions are not wise” … AS regrets that the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report are not followed. “It is the unresolved nature of the Palestinian problem that has soured recent events”…
When it comes to American politics vis-a-vis Palestine, “the superpower has the choice of being loved and respected, or feared and hated.”
Q. 7: A student who went on a trip to Israel told of a soldier telling them to not go on a tour of the Christian quarters “because there are Arabs there”.
AS: What we need is peace guaranteed by the international community, deployment of foreign troops, and a symbollic presence by the Security Council of the UN, so the Palestinians will be welcome in Jerusalem”.
(note: He stressed the symbolic aspect).
Q. 8: “You mention the Israeli rejection of Arab acceptance, but the 2000 Camp David agreement specified that Israel would return 90% of the land” (the student asking the question went on to specifically detail all the provisions)… “How is it that you see Israel’s rejection of Arab acceptance?”
AS: AS complimented the student on his knowledge, “if you think 90% is acceptable. I believe in 100% peace, yet it was not even 90%, it was 85%. and was not offered Jerusalem… In Jerusalem, Israel wanted the Western Wall, which is 400 meters long, with 2/3 of the old city of Jerusalem”. He went on to blame the “Israeli refusal of Arab acceptance”, and said that “Within Hamas the majority school of thought is that of pragmatism: if Israel withdraws to the ’67 borders”.
The lecture concluded with a long round of applause by the audience.
Update, Friday, January 18 If you really are Afif Safieh