- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A leading U.S.-based Palestinian advocacy group is urging both sides in the Middle East conflict to work with the late Yasser Arafat’s successors to restart talks on a permanent peace.

“The moment is pregnant with possibility,” Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), told editors and reporters during a recent lunch at The Washington Times.

“At one point in time Israel has to trust somebody and the Palestinians have to trust somebody. You can’t do business any other way,” said Mr. Asali, who served on the three-member U.S. delegation that attended the Nov. 12 funeral of Mr. Arafat in Cairo.

Founded in June 2003, Mr. Asali’s organization has become a prominent voice in Washington advocating the establishment of a democratic state of Palestine.

“We are an American institution trying to work for peace and compromise and taking into account the serious core of the U.S. interests as it pushes for peace in the Middle East,” he said.

ATFP, a nonpartisan and nonprofit corporation, receives its funding from Palestinian-Americans throughout the United States.

“We do not receive ever any institutional or government support,” Mr. Asali said. “We support all peace initiatives and do not negotiate on behalf of anybody.”

During the past few months, ATFP’s activities have included testimony by Mr. Asali before Congress and briefings at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; American, George Washington and George Mason universities in Washington; Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

ATFP thinks peace in the Middle East can be achieved only by a historic compromise based upon the two-state solution.

“We are not doing this alone,” Mr. Asali said, pointing out that the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — as well as the Arab League and the majority of the Palestinian and Israeli publics favor this vision of peace.

The agenda is far from universally accepted, however, in a time of global terrorism waged through suicide bombings.

“It is not time to focus on the creation of a Palestinian state; it is time to stop suicide bombings. Creating another Arab state means creating another terrorist state, and this is what the world needs the least,” said Morton Klein, president of Zionist Organization of America.

“What has to be done now is to promote the end of hatred and murder; after that, it will be possible to consider the creation of a Palestinian state,” Mr. Klein said.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is a great source of anti-American sentiment, would greatly dissipate the hostility in the Arab and Muslim world against the United States, Mr. Asali said.

“The road map is not dead, but it is sick. With good competent medical help, it can recover,” said Mr. Asali, a retired physician, referring to a Quartet-sponsored peace proposal.

The United States, he added, should play the role of broker and boost the Palestinian economy quickly and pressure Israel to do its part.

“So many things have to go right, and so much could go wrong,” Mr. Asali said.

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