Speakers take aim at Israel

By Adam Kredo, Washington Jewish Week

WASHINGTON — “Balance is in the eye of the beholder,” John Duke Anthony, CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, told an audience of policymakers shortly after a panel discussion that faulted Israel for a range of offenses in the Middle East.

“We’re not in the hostage-taking business, of forcing people to come for the sake of balance,” Anthony said recently after a panel of Middle East experts and government representatives blamed Israel for everything from the stalled peace talks to the Gaza Strip’s anemic economy.

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Anat Cohen at The Sheldon

Nearly all seven experts invited by the NCUAR to discuss “The Palestinian Future” at its 19th annual policy confab — held Oct. 21 and 22 in Washington — took aim at the Jewish state.

They included the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s U.S. representative, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s New York office and a former CIA analyst.

“It is no secret today to anyone in this room that the party which is “sabotaging current peace negotiations is Israel,” declared Ma’en Areikat, the PLO’s representative to the U.S.

“Israel has refused to extend the so-called moratorium” on settlement construction, he said, and that has “led to the breakdown” in talks.

Areikat then criticized “Israeli intransigence and refusal to comply with existing agreements” before taking to task the American “pro-Israel lobby” for its role in the process.

“You don’t want to clash with the pro-Israel lobby in this country, so once again we are seeing those apologists and supporters of Israel trying to discourage the [Obama] administration from continuing their efforts” to broker peace, Areikat said.

He went on to note that as current negotiations crumble, the Palestinians might consider new courses of action to secure their statehood.

“We really need to contemplate other avenues, of course short of violence, to deal with this issue,” Areikat said, alluding to steps beyond direct negotiations with Israel.

Meanwhile, Andrew Whitley, outgoing director of UNRWA’s New York office, sought to “bring the refugee dimension into this discussion.”

Palestinians, Whitley said, should abandon the hope that they’ll be granted a “right of return,” or guaranteed residence in Israel for them and their descendants.

It would be wise to “start a discussion soon with the refugees, for them to consider what their own future might be, for them to start debating their own role in the societies where they are rather than being left in a state of limbo, where they are helpless, but preserve rather the cruel illusions that perhaps they will return one day to their homes,” Whitley said.

The senior UNRWA official also indicated that “all governments — whether they admit it or not — have had some contact with Hamas,” which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

The ex-CIA analyst on the panel, Kathleen Christison, blasted the Obama administration for legitimizing what she termed an empty and “hopeless” peace process.

“Each attempt is a little more hopeless and each time America is a little more blind about why it is hopeless,” said Christison, who has written extensively about the Palestinians.

“The U.S. arms one side in the negotiations,” she said, referring to U.S. military agreements with Israel. “The U.S., in fact, is an interested party in one side” — that being Israel — and cannot truly be an “honest broker.”

Observers, she added, “refuse to see that Israel … will never agree to genuine Palestinian independence or ending the occupation.” Current negotiations are merely “a road to disaster, meaning most likely disaster to the Palestinians.”

The Obama administration is “caught in an induced ignorance and blindness” when it comes to the situation in the Middle East, Christison said, and that “ignorance is the work of the Israel lobby.”