Palestinians-Jews explore peace options beyond US elections

The continued deterioration in Palestinian-Israeli elections will not change unless the United States moves from the role of "empire to umpire," a panel of Palestinian and Jewish peace activists agreed during appearances in Chicago.

Mark Rosenblum, the founder and policy director of Americans for Peace Now, and Omar Dajani, former Senior Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Negotiating Team told a rare joint gathering of Palestinians and Jews in Chicago that peace is possible but only if both sides end the violence, and the United States can assume the role of an honest peace broker.

Rosenblum, a professor at Queens College and director of the Michael Harrington Center, explained what he said were five criteria that could help insure that the two sides return to the peace table and work toward a joint goal of a viable two-state solution.

He said that the next president, either George W. Bush or John F. Kerry must appoint a high level envoy with credibility and a strong mandate to move both sides towards peace, such as James Baker or former President William Clinton.

"President Bush has been a part of the problem more than a part of the solution," Rosenblum told about 50 people at the Palestinian American Congress hall in Burbank, Illinois during a meeting Saturday, Oct. 2.

"I also think the United States must assume the role of a fair adjudicator to monitor the situation. If we do that, we can go from an American perceived as an empire to an American perceived as an umpire."

Dajani agreed but added that Palestinians must reassess their tactics and embrace a "moral clarity" on issues such as suicide bombings and violence against Israeli civilians.

"We must operate on the basis of moral clarity. We have to be absolutely clear on our lines and we cannot embrace double standards on principles and morality," Dajani said. "Both Palestinian and Israeli civilian casualties must be condemned.

Dajani said that Palestinian must "must apply the same principles and the same laws" that are used to criticize Israeli actions to "how we resist and fight the occupation."

Rosenblum added that despite the tremendous "power differential" that exists between the two communities, Palestinians cannot avoid speaking out on moral issues."

Both speakers agreed Palestinian elections must be broadened from the municipal level to the national level. He said that Palestine National Authority President Yasser Arafat should not be prohibited from seeking re-election and the United States and Israel should be ready to accept those results if they occur.

"It is the height of hypocrisy that President Bush is advocating democracy in Baghdad but not in Palestine. And if Arafat wins, Bush needs to recognize it and accept it," Rosenblum said.

Rosenblum roundly criticized Arafat, Sharon and the Bush administration, but stressed that there must be reforms in the Palestinian Authority and leadership, adding there is a real need "to empower Palestinian pragmatists and reformers who succeeded in passing the March 2003 basic laws that require the transfer power, particularly in the field of security to the future prime minister of the Palestinian Authority."

But he stressed that the United States and Israel must be ready to accept whatever the results of free and Democratic elections, including the re-election of Arafat as the PNA President.

Rosenblum said he believes the United States must help the Israelis "disengage" from the current occupation beginning the first-step in a "de-occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He also said he believes that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza First plan is in fact the beginning of a "de-occupation" that will eventually include the West Bank.

"The choice facing Israelis and Zionists is that they must choose between geography or demography," Rosenblum explained. "The Gaza plan can show the way out of the occupation."

Dajani said that the United States and Israel must begin to apply the principle of the international Rule of Law. "The Palestinian Authority must be re-empowered and the United States and the peace process must clearly define the end goal. People must be able to see more clearly where this will lead."

Both also urged the United States and Israel to push for the full implementation of the Roadmap with simultaneous steps taken by both Israel and the Palestinians.

Dajani noted that the Wall is both a wall and a fence, but he said that "in those areas where it means the most to Palestinians, it is a wall of concrete." He said the poverty level among Palestinians has increased dramatically from 20 percent in 2000 to 60 percent today.

Rosenblum and Dajani made several more appearances on Sunday at two synagogues in the Chicago area, KAM Isaiah in Hyde Park and Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

Sponsoring organizations included the Jewish organizations such as Chicago Chapter of Friends of Peace Now, Brit Zedek V’Shalom, and Palestinian groups such as the PAC, Yalla Salam! (Palestinians for Peace Now), the National Arab American Journalists Association, and the Palestinian American Woman’s Society.

"One of the points that both speakers made was that at a time when barriers are being erected to keep Palestinians and Jews apart, we should be working hard to break down barriers and bring our two communities together," said Saffiya Shillo, President of the Chicago Chapter of the Palestinian American Congress.

She added that Palestinians and Jews must "increase the dialogue on a substantial level and bring the two communities together, not just a few leaders and activists."

Shillo said that the Chicago PAC would work with Yalla Salam! and other Palestinian organizations to host more joint meetings with Jewish American organizations in the coming year to help promote a end to violence and the occupation and a return to the peace table.

Doni Remba, president of Chicago Friends of Peace Now, said his group will continue to coordinate with local Palestinian organizations to host events. The proposal was endorsed by Ivan Handler, president of the Chicago Chapter of Brit Zedek V’Shalom. Americans for Peace Now and Brit Zedek are among the most active national Jewish American organizations advocating the two-state solution.