“The Palestinians should not sour U.S.–Israeli relations. That will not help anyone,” said Ghaith Al-Omari, advocacy director for the American Task Force on Palestine, a group now seen as the leading pro-Palestinian voice in Washington. He warned against Arab groups “gloating,” and expressed concern that one-sided pressure could lead to an “adversarial approach.” Al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, recently participated in White House discussions in preparation of the Cairo speech.
He stressed that it would be a mistake for the administration and Congress to be seen as anti-Israeli. “It’s one thing for Congress to support a settlement freeze, but it will be a whole different story if the administration will be portrayed as leaning too strong on Israel.”
Areikat agrees. “I don’t like the word ‘pressure,’” he said. “This won’t help with either side.” The senior Palestinian representative cautioned that balance is needed in the administration’s approach to the conflict. “It won’t work if one side gets all its demands at the expense of the other side,” Areikat said.
This view seems at odds with statements by Abbas, who, in a May 29 interview with The Washington Post, said he believes that the Palestinians now need to sit and wait while the Obama administration pressures Israel to freeze settlement activity. Privately, advocates for the P.A. voice aggravation with the interview’s fallout.
Concerns within the pro-Palestinian community over the possibility of counterproductive administration pressure on Israel may stem from a surprising source: a little-known rapprochement process taking place between pro-Palestinian groups and Jewish organizations.
Palestinian activists have made a concerted effort to reach out to American Jews and to seek cooperation in promoting a two-state solution. While most of their outreach has focused on dovish Jewish organizations, Palestinians also have been trying to work with mainstream Jewish groups and with the pro-Israel lobby.
Together with Ziad Asali, president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, Al-Omari attended the May 4 gala dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an event seen as the annual show of force for pro-Israel advocacy. ATFP also holds regular meetings with AIPAC staff members.
In December 2008, while he was serving on the PLO negotiating team, Areikat led a group of Palestinian officials who met with AIPAC board members in Washington. The AIPAC board members were later hosted by PLO officials in Ramallah.
Areikat believes that a new spirit in the Washington and Palestinian outreach efforts will help sway American public opinion toward more understanding of the Palestinian cause. “Americans are open-minded. They want to see the Palestinians treated justly while Israel remains protected,” he said.
I know of the ATFP -- they're a good outfit. And they're are showing why here. When you've been in conflict as long as the Israelis and Palestinians have, it is very tempting to use openings as a chance to entrench divisions and seek the temporary advantage. The ATFP, though, sees their newfound access as a chance to build bridges rather than burn them. The critique of "pressure" is on point here -- though I'm not adverse to "pressure" per se under the right circumstances, I understand the point that Mr. Areikat is making here: that the best way to proceed isn't through the expression of righteousness indignation and high profile diplomatic hijinks, but by building the sort of environment where the history, claims, and concerns of all sides are given weight, consideration, and respect.