Arab Americans Press the US not to Pressure Arafat for Concessions
By Munir K. Nasser
Arab American Organizations in Washington are pressing the Clinton Administration not to pressure Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to give concessions at the Camp David summit next week.
In an unprecedented move this week, the Clinton Administration invited a group of Arab American leaders to participate in two high level discussions with Administration officials concerning the Middle East peace process. On Thursday an Arab American delegation met for more than one and half-hour with Sam Berger, National Security Adviser at the White House, and discussed with him recent developments in the region.
On Wednesday, a group of Arab American leaders participated in a telephone conference call with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at her request to brief them on the preparation for the upcoming Camp David summit.
During the two meetings, Arab Americans leaders expressed concern that the US and Israel might apply pressure on the Palestinians to give concession during the summit. Khalil Jahshan, Vice President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told Albawaba.com that he was not optimistic that the summit could reach a solution considering the complexity of the issues and the limited time they have.
Jahshan, who attended the meetings, criticized the Clinton Administration for saying that nobody coming to the summit should expect to go home with 100 percent of what they want. “That sounds like they are applying a sense of fairness,” he said, “but we all know that this is not the case. When one party is willing to settle for 20 percent of what it is entitled to, and the other side is an occupying power that controls 80 percent of what it is entitled to, I expect the Palestinian side is going to have a difficult time.”
Jim Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, who also attended the meeting, urged the Clinton Administration to sell the agreement to the Israelis instead of pressuring the Palestinians. He told Albawaba.com that he reminded the Administration that any agreement must be something that both sides could sell to their people. “I said president Clinton needs to be selling this over there and helping the Israelis make the tough choices that they have to make,” he noted. According to Zogby, Berger said Clinton has already started doing that in his briefing, and he will continue with the process as the summit continues.
Khaled Turaani, Executive Director for American Muslims for Jerusalem, believes the US is already applying pressure on Arafat and the Palestinian delegation, while there has been no meaningful pressure on Israel. He told Albawaba.com that he was not optimistic that something satisfying to the Palestinians will come out of the summit. “I feel that Clinton did not call for this summit without assurances from certain parties that there will be certain level of concessions that are face-saving to the President and his administration,” he said.
Turaani said there is great deal of secrecy surrounding certain elements of the negotiations.
He believes there are certain things happening behind closed doors dealing with settling the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees. “There is some sort of a frame of an agreement whereby things have been decided and this summit is to bring the parties together to start the process of finalizing these issues,” he stressed. One example of this, he said, is that President Clinton has sent a personal representative to Lebanon to pressure the Lebanese government to give in on the issue of settling the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. He stated that he has confirmed information that the Lebanese President Emil Lahhoud did not yield to this pressure.
Turaani added that the US is trying to lobby some governments like Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Australia to accept Palestinian refugees. He noted that it seems that the US is accepting the Israeli positions on these issues
Turaani said that reports are floating in the last couple of weeks that the US has been lobbying Muslim countries to accept resolution of the Jerusalem issue. He remarked that these developments raise some concerns about the behind closed doors deals that seemed to be worked on.
Khalil Jahshan, however, said that both Berger and Albright emphasized in the meetings “there is no pre-cooked agreement for the summit.” He added that they believe there are still some wide and serious disagreements, and that the Administration does have some ideas to bridge gaps, and they will be introducing those idea, but they said they could not discuss them in the open.
Jahshan does not believe “this summit is going to be a one shot deal that will make or break the impasse.” He thinks they will leave certain issues to be negotiated later, and they might come back in two or three weeks.
Zogby said that Secretary of State assured Arab American leaders that the Palestinians would not be put under pressure. “We made the point to her that this was what we are concerned about, and she said ‘we have no intention of using these talks to do that. This is not a situation of pressuring, but a situation to come to an agreement,’” he said.
Zogby said that he made a point at the meeting that the problem lies with the Israeli public opinion that needs to be sold on doing this, because Barak himself is not ready to do it. “They keep talking about giving up land. But they are not giving up land, they are giving back land,” he stressed.
Turaani cautioned Arafat and the Palestinians not to compromise. He called on Arab and Muslim Americans to lobby the US government not to pressure the Palestinians to compromise on Jerusalem in particular. He said his concern is that Arafat will come to Camp David and declare that he could not get a better deal and succumb to pressure from the US and Israel to accept solutions that are less than acceptable to the Palestinian people.
For that reason, Turaani said his organization, Americans for Jerusalem, has “launched a campaign to ask all Arabs, Muslims, Christians and people of conscious to call upon the US Administration not to pressure the Palestinians to concede their rights in Jerusalem and instead pressure Israel to comply with the international community’s will and UN resolutions and the Geneva conventions,” he said.
Zogby said it is very important that the Clinton Administration is consulting with Arab Americans on issues vital to the Middle East. He said he discussed with Albright how Arab Americans might be involved after an agreement is reached. “We wanted to know the aid level they are going to be seeking and whether they are going to be dealing with the compensation question for the refugees, and also for Lebanon,” he pointed out. He added that Albright asked for the support of the Arab American leadership in the period when the aid request goes to Congress. Zogby’s response was that he is willing to lobby for it “if the parties came to an agreement and the aid request was fair.”
Zogby noted that the meeting was an effort to be fully briefed on the upcoming summit and to ensure that Lebanon and Syria remain on the Administration's agenda and not be swept aside during the next few weeks. “We remain convinced that Lebanon and Syria are vital to a comprehensive
Peace,” he stressed. “We urged the Administration to find ways to reach out to the Lebanese and Syrian leadership during this time." – Albawaba.com
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