SPEAKER: This is a production of Cornell University.
HATICE BILICI: Ladies and gentleman, Ambassador Safieh, Mrs. Safieh, President Skorton, and other distinguished guests, on behalf of Dialogue, I would like to welcome you all to our event tonight entitled "Middle Eastern Politics, A Palestinian Perspective."
I'm Hatice Bilici, a junior in applied economics and management and president of Dialogue. Tonight, we will be engaging in a conversation with the head of PLO Mission to the United States, Ambassador Afif Safieh. Our organization strives to provide a platform for dialogue for the Cornell community on political, economical, and social issues affecting conflict-stricken regions of the world.
In particular, we aim to host events where speakers of international stature present their perspective on issues affecting lives of global citizens. Dialogue's mission is to bring together the diverse student and faculty body we have here at Cornell to engage in intellectual discourse.
Tonight's event plays an important role in providing our audience with a unique insight into the Palestinian perspective on what has become a travesty in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. This is particularly conducive as we find ourselves in a time where we're constantly being overwhelmed with inadequate, inaccurate, and imbalanced media coverage of the events unfolding in present day Israel and Palestine.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become synonymous with religious conflict in certain circles of the world. Are the roots of this conflict in religion, or more simply, are the losses of innocent civilian lives just symptoms of our sheer ignorance to recognize a massive human tragedy unfolding before our eyes?
Is the religion cloak a veil to disguise the true discourse that needs to take place, which is the worth of human life? The similarity or difference between Islam, Christianity and Judaism is perhaps the wrong question to reflect upon. Rather, implementing practical measures to eliminate the atrocities being committed in the region should be the priority. In a time when diplomacy and discourse seem to have taken a backseat to conflict and hostility, we hope that tonight, above all else, reason will take precedence.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our co-sponsors, especially Near Eastern Studies Department Chair Professor Kim Haines-Eitzen, and Vice President for University Communication, Tommy Bruce, Vice Provost for Undergraduate , Education, Michele Moody, Vice President for Student and Academic Services, Susan Murphy, Bartels family, and Professor Nic van de Walle, Director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.
Most of all, I would like to thank [INAUDIBLE], our Treasurer and [INAUDIBLE], our Vice President, for all their extra efforts. We're delighted and honored to have us tonight President David Skorton, who will now officially inaugurate this event. President David Skorton is also a Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in Biomedical College and Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. He's also Vice Chair of the Business Higher Education Forum, an independent, nonprofit organization of Fortune 500 CEOs, leaders of colleges and universities and foundation executives.
A seasoned administrator, board-certified cardiologist, biomedical researcher, musician and advocate for the arts and humanities, President Skorton aims to make Cornell a model combination of academic distinction and public service. He has vowed, among other goals, to continue and accelerate the transformation of the undergraduate experience in order to make Cornell the finest research university and provider of undergraduate education in the world, to Integrate the activities of the Weill Cornell Medical College campuses in New York City and Doha, Qatar with the activities of the universities Ithaca and Geneva campuses in order to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration to support appropriately the arts, humanities, and social sciences, as well as scientific, technical, and professional disciplines, and to use the university's vast and varied resources and talents to positively impact the world.
In support of these goals, he launched in October 2006 the most ambitious fundraising campaign in Cornell history, a $4 billion, five-year effort. He also serves as a House Fellow at the Carl Becker House, one of the West Campus residential houses for continuing students.
He also writes a monthly column for the Cornell Daily Sun, and a bimonthly column for the Cornell Online Magazine, and hosts a periodic radio program, Higher Education in the Round on a local public radio station. He has published over 200 articles, reviews, book chapters, and two major texts in the areas of cardiac imaging and image processing.
President Skorton has been the recipient of over 30 grants for research. A national leader in research ethics, President Skorton was Charter President of the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs, incorporated, the first entity organized specifically to accredit human research protection programs.
He has served on the boards and committees of many other national organizations, including the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the American Institute of Ultrasound and Medicine, the American Society of Echocardiography, and the Association of American Universities, the Council on Competitiveness, and the Korea America Friendship Society.
He has traveled widely in Europe and Asia on behalf of both economic and community projects, and he engages in service to the community, and particularly, in regional and state economic development as a member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Development Association of Syracuse and Central New York, Incorporated.
President Skorton earned his bachelor's degree in psychology in 1970 and an M.D. In 1974, both from Northwestern University. He completed his medical residency and held a fellowship in cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. I would now like to invite President Skorton to the stage.
DAVID SKORTON: Thank you, Hatice. Very generous and too long introduction, but thank you. Welcome everyone. It's a measure of the importance of the topic and the interest throughout the world in this topic that we had so many and such varied sponsors that Hatice has listed.
Mr. Safieh's visit here seems particularly timely this week, and especially in the last four or five days, as we consider recent events in the Middle East. As today's New York Times reported, and I quote, "Fighting escalated last week after Israel mounted an onslaught in Northern Gaza to retaliate for Palestinian rocket fire that reached closer to Israel's heartland than ever before. Israel pulled out its ground forces Monday, but has continued air assaults against persistent Palestinian attacks." End of quote.
This ongoing violence, even as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in the region today to try to rescue peace talks reminds us again of the need, the urgent need, for more effective diplomacy. Afif Safieh has long been known as one of the most eloquent spokespersons for the Palestinian people. As PLO representative in the United States, Mr. Safieh has condemned terrorism and sought common ground with various Jewish organizations. He has urged the United States to focus on solving the plight of Palestinians, and in the process, improving the reputation of the United States in the international venue.
He has traveled across the US to address a variety of audiences from a group of Jewish peace activists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the World Affairs Council of Northern California, to the widespread viewers of The Charlie Rose Show on PBS.
Born and raised in a Roman Catholic family in Jerusalem, educated in Belgium and France, Afif Safieh studied political science and international relations. As a student in the early 1970s, he was active in the general union of Palestinian students. By 1976, he had become Deputy Director of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Observer Mission to the United Nations.
After two years in that post, he served in President Yasser Arafat's Beirut office, where he was in charge of European affairs and UN institutions. This experience in international relations and in the PLO leadership, together with a period of research and scholarship which followed, prepared him for the next phase of his career.
He re-entered the political arena in 1987 when he began three years as PLO representative to the Netherlands. He was involved in the 1988 Stockholm negotiations that led to direct American-Palestinian dialogue. In 1990, he began 15 years of service as Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom. During this period, he was also named General Delegate to the Vatican. In 2005, he took up his present position as head of the PLO mission to the United States.
In all of these posts, Mr. Safieh has been a frank and engaging advocate of Palestinian points of view. We very much appreciate his willingness not only to address us tonight, but to enter into a discussion with us during a prolonged question and answer period that will follow his talk. His topic today is "Middle Eastern Politics, A Palestinian Perspective." Please join me in welcoming Afif Safieh.
AFIF SAFIEH: President Skorton, ladies and gentlemen, it's a great privilege for my wife and I to be with you this evening. Before we left London, there was a joke which was extremely fashionable. And the joke was, what's the difference between an ambassador and a camel? And the answer was that a camel could work for 10 days without drinking, while an ambassador apparently could drink for 10 days without working.
Well, I want to tell you and to assure you that I am closer to a camel. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to pay tribute and to thank all the individuals and the institutions that co-sponsored this event, and I would like to pay particular tribute to the security officer and to the two students who accompanied my wife and I around the university campus. We were deeply moved to see with what pride they spoke of their university, the faculty members, the student community, the inventions that originated from here at Cornell. And they even tempted us to have an ice cream under zero temperature.
For me, that was not surprising. I often drink my coffee morning in a mug with a quotation from Oscar Wilde that says, "I can resist anything except temptation." Ladies and gentlemen, in the time allocated to me, I would like telegraphically to go through with you through the last three and a half years and give you my own personal reading of the events that were unfolding during those three and a half years, so that we have a more intimate knowledge of history unfolding in the Middle East.
You remember, three and a half years ago the Israeli government and the American administration considered Yasser Arafat as an obstacle to peace. Obviously, I never shared that opinion, and then I was known to have said, what we might need maybe is an Israeli such obstacle so that we could advance on the peace process.
Arafat died in November 2004. We had our presidential elections in January 2005. They were competitive elections. Seven candidates, internationally monitored, impeccable, immaculate. And Mahmoud Abbas was elected the president with 63% of the electorate. I believe that this score, President Skorton, would make a Western leader blush of envy.
He ran and won on a very unequivocal political platform, which spoke of negotiations, a two-state solution, , and the demilitarization of the intifada. Theoretically, he surely was no obstacle to peace. And my question to you today will be, why don't we yet and still have peace?
Immediately, after his election, there was a meeting, a summit meeting, organized in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt between Prime Minister Sharon and President Mahmoud Abbas. And they achieved what was then called the Sharm El Sheikh Understandings, which was revolving around two ideas that were supposed to be confidence-building measures.
The two ideas were the Israeli withdrawal out of the urban centers of the West Bank and two massive Palestinian prisoner release . Unfortunately , ladies and gentlemen, we had unnecessarily protracted negotiations for months, concerning the issue of withdrawal out of the urban centers. And after long endless months, the Israelis announced that they would be withdrawing out of Jericho, a city they had not reoccupied in 2002. So no confidence-building measure there.
On the issue of political prisoners, we had also unnecessarily protracted negotiations. And again, in two installments, the Israelis released 250 and 500 prisoners, most of whom were delinquent prisoners, not political prisoners, and the political prisoners were all at the end of their term of service in jail. So again, no reservoir of goodwill was generated by this gesture.
We arrived then at around the middle of 2005, and Sharon announced his policy that was called Unilateral Withdrawal Out of Gaza. And today, this withdrawal is being assessed, examined, reexamined, and rethought. It was a unilateral policy, so it was not negotiated with us. And we, the Palestinians, believe that Sharon undertook that policy, one, because he was under pressure internationally and domestically to initiate an initiative of some sort. And number two, because he looks at the Palestinians as a demographic threat, had no interest in keeping the headache of Gaza, and in one shot wanted to get rid of 1.4 million Palestinians because of the perception that Palestinians were the demographic threat.
The fact that he did it unilaterally, meaning not in coordination and negotiation with us, deprived the pragmatic school to which I belong to be capable of saying to our public opinion that the Israeli withdrawal out of Gaza is one of the diffidence of the peace process. And the way it was done unilaterally, without coordination with us, allowed Hamas to misread the political map and to announce that the Israeli withdrawal was the result of their heroic military resistance, an idea and an analysis that I personally do not share and believe was misleading. But it was misleading because of the Israeli manner of their withdrawal out of Gaza.
And let me tell you, ladies and gentleman, yes, Sharon withdrew 8,000 illegal settlers out of Gaza, but in the meantime, up to today, 50,000 additional illegal settlers were established in the West Bank. This brings us now to the legislative elections that we had in our society January 2006, a year after the election of President Mahmoud Abbas. You all know the results of this election. It wasn't a landslide victory for Hamas. It was an obvious victory for Hamas. They got 44% of the electorate.
And I, for one then, defended the idea that as a Democrat, we need to recognize that result, which was an obvious victory. And I used to say that in a democracy, winners and losers have to behave gracefully, and that the democracy for me was made of four ingredients-- it's constitutional pluralism, the rule of the majority, the respect for the minority, and that the last election should not be the last election.
My position then, ladies and gentleman, in Washington wants to say to the American administration, I'm not very happy about the victory of Hamas. I have no ideological affinity with Hamas. As President Skorton said, I come and I am a proud sociological Christian. Theologically, I sometimes have doubts, but also doubts about my doubts. But I'm a proud sociological Christian, which shows that I have no ideological affinity with Hamas, but my discourse towards the administration was to say Hamas should not be demonized. Hamas is not a monolithic movement. It has within its ranks a pragmatic modernist wing that should be encouraged, cultivated, and tested.
And I used to say that in the study of international relations, there is a school of thought to which I don't fully belong that says that hawks are the best peacemakers. Only a Nixon could go to China. Only a Begin could make peace with Sadat. Only a Sharon could withdraw out of Gaza. And I was wondering why the proponents of this school of thought did not continue by saying that maybe by testing Hamas, we have a solid partner for peace-making in the Middle East. Why automatically they were demonized, and quarantined, and all the rest?
My analysis of those elections, and I would like to share with you this analysis, I believe that Fateh, the movement to which I belong, went into those elections carrying three burdens and three handicaps that we knew about. The three handicaps were the following. One, longevity in power from 1968 until 2006 without any significant change in political personnel, hence the phenomenon and the feeling of boredom and the desire for change. Number two, the reality and the perception of corruption. The reality was acute, serious, and grave, and the reputation was even more devastating. This has an electoral price, and it results in the erosion of one's popularity.
But the third factor, which here in this country was under emphasized, was that Fateh, during the last two decades, was identified with the peace process negotiations, the two-state solution. And to tell you very frankly, the last five, six years, there was hardly a peace process. And the years that preceded, the peace process was totally unconvincing. And let me tell you that through Palestinian eyes, the years of theoretical peacemaking, what we saw and witnessed, was not Israeli withdrawal, but the expansion of Israeli occupation through the expansion of the illegal settlements in the occupied territory.
So whoever was identified with peace negotiations, two-state solution, also paid a price and was discredited. We knew about those three handicaps and those three burdens, and the analysis then was to say that Fateh would lose some seats in parliament, but might remain the first party. It might not be majoritarian. Might need some coalition partners who are there in the political arena.
Here enters the other factor, which I call Fateh succeeding in defeating herself, or defeating itself. Fateh had not yet learned to live without a Yasser Arafat. Fateh did not manage well what I consider to be the forces of immobilization and the forces of impatience, another way of addressing the generational issue. Number three, Fateh was not accustomed to having a serious competitor in the arena. In the past, the second biggest movement was by far smaller, the Popular Front. But this time, there was Hamas, and Fateh was not known to reconcile internal democracy with external discipline.
So what we witnessed, Mr. President, was Fateh producing two competing lists at the beginning, attempts to merge the two lists, and then bypassing the legal time, they went to court to have an extension, negotiated the merger of the two lists with great precipitation, nominating the least appetizing politicians, which encouraged many hopeful candidates to run as independents against the official list, dispersing the votes.
All this, we knew about and we have witnessed. Now ladies and gentlemen, we lived a whole year, which was very traumatic. And for me, an ambassador who had to represent a bipolar entity, where the presidency was in one camp and the government was in another camp, it was more acrobacy than diplomacy.
Then we had what we call the Mecca Agreement through Saudi mediation. And I, for one, ladies and gentlemen-- and I promise you to be glasnostically transparent all throughout the evening-- I, with great conviction, defended the Mecca Agreement. The pro-Israeli lobby in Washington said, oh, Mahmoud Abbas is now in bed with the terrorists. He was the loser of that agreement.
I, on the contrary, believe that Mahmoud Abbas was the one who gained most of that agreement, and that the Palestinian people was the ones who gained most of that agreement. And I thought that even the Israeli people interested in peace were winners if they dealt with the opportunity with sagacity and wisdom. Why did I support the Mecca Agreement?
One, I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that Hamas accepted to recognize that the PLO negotiates on behalf of the Palestinian people, and the president of the PLO is Mahmoud Abbas. Number two, they accepted that, for the Palestinian Authority as a political system, the conduct of foreign affairs is the prerogative of the president-- again, the same Mahmoud Abbas who, in my opinion, came out reinforced. Number three, we agreed on an independent for a foreign minister, who has the confidence of Hamas, but is a political friend of Mahmoud Abbas, which was a proof and a guarantee that the presidency and the government will work in harmony and not on a collision course.
Number four, Hamas accepted to honor all previous agreements signed, which was a great plus. Number five, Hamas accepted to endorse all Arab summit meeting resolutions, which meant including the Arab Peace Initiative. And number six, Fateh and Hamas agreed to offer the Israelis a bilateral comprehensive ceasefire that we hoped will be reciprocated. And when I say Fateh and Hamas agree to offer a ceasefire, I'm sure that in Palestinian society, when they both agree, they can ensure and enforce the disciplined adherence of everybody else.
Number seven, my friends-- and I told you, I come from a Christian secular background-- I believe political Islam is a phenomenon here to stay with us for decades. And political Islam has two big temptations and everything in between, the Al-Qaeda temptation or the Turkish model. And I believe we all have a possibility and the responsibility of having an impact on the future orientation of political Islam. And I believe we all have an enlightened interest that it will orient itself towards the Turkish model, which is an acceptance of constitutional pluralism, election, democracy, et cetera.
So I believe that the success of Mecca would have that type of influence not only locally, but globally, because of the centrality and the importance of Palestine. Now I believe, and I had one grievance concerning the Mecca Agreement-- I thought that we should have a coalition government the way we had as a result, but presided over by an independent prime minister. And I believe that had Hamas not insisted and succeeded in saying no, the prime minister should reflect our parliamentary majority.
I believe had we, in Mecca, had a National Coalition government that then represented Mr. President, 96% of Palestinian society, which is good for Palestinians, good for Israelis, good for the peace process, had we then agreed on an independent prime minister for that coalition government, I believe, sir, we would have succeeded in marketing that government in America, and as a result, in Israel too.
What happened, ladies and gentlemen, is that we promised Hamas that if we agree on those six points I mentioned and have a National Coalition government, we can bring out of isolation the Palestinian society and the state in the making, which we're quarantined and were being starved out of funds, et cetera. What happened is that we could not bring the Palestinian society and the Palestinian economy out of isolation and out of the situation of quarantinization.
And what happened is that within Hamas, the radical wing went to Hamas and said, we were 100% of the government, and we were put in isolation. You promised us if we sacrificed 50% of that government, you will bring us out of isolation. So you sacrificed us out of the government, but you did not bring us out of isolation. We want to go back to 100% of the government. And this is what explains the military showdown that took place in June of last year in Gaza, which we call the coup d'etat.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, there was Annapolis in November. And as the Palestinian diplomat in Washington, I played what I think is a constructive role to make an Annapolis possible. And I played my role, unfortunately, in raising expectations. Annapolis, for me, history, Mr. President, is still undecided, whether it was a major breakthrough rehabilitating the diplomatic avenue, or it was the sort of spectacular non-event.
But I will not concede from you. We, the Palestinians, were devastated that even before he left America, Olmert announced that he was not bound by the year 2008, when the major achievement of Annapolis was to set a deadline for achieving an acceptable peace agreement between the two sides. He announced that he was not bound by 2008, even before his plane took off from Washington.
Arriving back there immediately, announcements were made that the illegal settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem would be accelerated, which was in violation of the gentlemanly agreement that preceded Annapolis at the demand of the Arabs, that the Israelis should freeze settlement building. Immediately after the end of the Annapolis conference, the settlement building was accelerated, which was seen as a provocation and as a torpedoing of this exercise.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Israeli government today tells you it's the Hamas violence that has torpedoed the chances of peace. Let me tell you, unfortunately, it's Israeli behavior on the ground that has already torpedoed the Annapolis dividends that have surfaced. I'm not happy about Hamas' behavior, and I, for one, have been on record in Palestinian media to say I'm in favor of a government of independence in Palestinian society for an interim period before we go back to constitutional politics, hoping that both Fateh, to which I belong, and Hamas will use this time to put order in their houses.
I believe that Fateh to put order in its house, maybe in organizational matters, and their organization is in poor shape and there is much to be desired. And they are today preparing for their national conference sometime around June of this year. This will be the first conference after 19 years of no conferences. I believe Fateh is in poor shape and needs badly this successful conference.
Hamas, my friends, I believe should do some homework. And it should be pressured and persuaded to do some strategic thinking, mainly around two issues. The first issue is around resistance and the culture of resistance. I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that Hamas is misled when it believes that we are a society that has a choice between resistance and non-resistance. I believe that we are condemned to resistance because the status quo is so unacceptable.
But we have a choice. And the choice is about the modality of expression of our resistance. And I, for one, Mr. President, am known to be in favor of popular, nonviolent resistance. And I say that for ethical considerations that are extremely important, even though I believe around the world, there are very few people who are entitled to give us moral lessons, because we have been victims of history and of humanity for too long.
But we have to convert our popular nonviolence for ethical consideration, but also for pragmatic considerations. I remember a political friend of mine, Faisal Husseini, who used to say in the '80s, that if I wanted to fight Tyson, I better not invite him to the boxing ring. I believe that the best way of neutralizing 99% of the Israeli military arsenal is to adopt popular nonviolence.
I believe nonviolence has many merits. One of them is that in the military approach that Hamas has adopted, only 0.05% of the society is involved. All the others are spectators. But in popular nonviolence, 100% of one's society is involved, and those who are considered supposedly to be the weaker components, meaning women and children, are even more powerful in their expression of rejection of the status quo.
So I'm in favor of nonviolence as a Palestinian national interest and not as an issue dictated upon us by others. The other issue that Hamas needs to think strategically about is that they say and pretend that they are in favor of the one state solution. We are in favor of the two state solution. But Hamas pretending to want a one state solution has ended up having the three state solution. Today, we have Israel, we have the West Bank, and we have Gaza.
And the Israelis are not unhappy that we have two geographic entities that are of different political orientations, and I believe that this split political geographic is detrimental to the Palestinian interests. And those who say we are in favor of one state are ending with a three state solution, even though this is not in their pipeline. So I believe Hamas should be persuaded and pressured into rethinking.
Now, let me say a few words about the Israeli dimension. I often hear the theory from the Israeli side that they don't have a Palestinian partner. One day, they say because the Palestinian partner. Is too radical. The other day they say because the Palestinian partner is insufficiently representative. I, for one, have for many years, believed that we, unfortunately, don't have an Israeli partner. And I, for one, I have been in dialogue with Israeli circles since the '70s with great intensity. And I am still fully committed, and I am known as a peace enthusiast.
I still believe, ladies and gentlemen, that the Israeli strategy is still, until today, how to acquire as much of our geography as possible with as little of our demography as possible. And on the ground, the situation is horrible. In Gaza-- I'll come back to Gaza. In the West Bank, which is a small, teeny weeny geographic entity of the size of Delaware, we have over 600 military checkpoints that are there to plunge our society into economic decline.
And let me tell you, a Jewish American economist, a scholar in Harvard, Sara Roy, has fabricated the concept, which I fully adhere to, of the dedevelopment of Palestine. And there is a policy, a systematic policy, of dedeveloping Palestine, pushing it, plunging it into decline. And let me tell you, ladies and gentleman, I once made a calculation, our society loses on a daily basis. And I'm speaking in clinical terms. Our society loses, every day, 8 million working hours delayed at those checkpoints.
In a world that is interdependent, a planetary global village, where every society is measured by its productivity, competitivity, we lose 8 million working hours at checkpoints every day. We used to be the most educated society in the Middle East. Our number of university graduates, in absolute terms and in percentage terms, was one of the highest in the world. And today, if we compare it to the Palestinian environment, the neighboring countries, we compare unfavorably because Palestine has been on the decline after 60 years of despotization and 40 years of military occupation.
Now ladies and gentlemen, I, for one, often dialogue with Israeli circles. And dialogue can be sometimes painful because you say some truths that are unpleasant. And I always tell my interlocutors if what I say is unpleasant, please don't consider me to be irresponsible about it. It's the reality which is guilty.
And what do I say to Israeli interlocutors? I tell them the verdict of the international community, in answer to the dilemma, is there one people too many, we, the Palestinians, or is there a state, which is missing? The verdict of the international community has been that there is a state missing, not a people too many. But the verdict of history is still undecided, and I'm privileged today to be speaking in Cornell University, where some of the brightest and the best students and scholars work. Because you can, tomorrow when you assume responsibilities in your respective societies and communities, you can help history make the right choice.
I tell Israelis that a Palestinian state is our right. But I tell them a Palestinian state is also the moral obligation and ethical duty of Jewish communities and of the Israeli Jews, because they more than anybody else know the human price that we, the Palestinians, individually and collectively, have paid for the birth of the Israeli state.
You note, without knowing, ladies and gentlemen, Israel was supposed to be an answer to the Jewish question. And as a result, Mr. President, today, we are the question, the question of Palestine, awaiting a convenient and equitable answer. So today, ladies and gentleman, and I say not as a rhetorical sentence, we have become the Jews of the Israelis. And I believe that the two-state solution is the way out.
What do I also tell Israelis? I tell them, ladies and gentleman, I tell them that the perpetuation of the conflict today is not the result of an Arab rejection of Israeli existence, but is the result of Israeli rejection of Arab acceptance. I would like you to know, ladies and gentlemen, the Arab world for many, many years already has adopted a peace initiative that revolves around the following idea. If Israel withdraws out of its '67 expansion, we the Arabs from Morocco and the Atlantic, to Muscat in Oman on the Indian Ocean, we are ready to recognize it in its pre-'67 existence. And the perpetuation of the conflict today is the result not of Arab rejection of Israeli existence, but the result of Israeli rejection of Arab acceptance.
And I tell them also that my intimate conviction is that the obstacle to peace is not terrorism that I have consistently condemned, but territory, the territorial appetite that was shown by successive Israeli governments. Here we come, ladies and gentlemen, to the last point I wanted to. Raise I do not believe that if the local parties are left to themselves, they can achieve an acceptable peace.
I believe in the indispensable role of third parties. But let me tell you-- and I was advised before I crossed the Atlantic to America never to speak of my pro-French sympathies, or my admiration to their goal. But today since I'm in front of a very enlightened segment of American society and American academia, I can tell you that I'm a fanatic-- fanatic? I'm a strong admirer of-- I don't like the word fanatic in any context.
I am a strong admirer of de Gaulle. And de Gaulle is a statesman like they make them no more. And de Gaulle was very familiar with the pathology of conflict and the psychology of belligerence. And de Gaulle, after the '67 conflict, had an idea and the suggestion of his own, which was called then [FRENCH], the coordination of the major four powers. China was not yet in the Security Council.
This idea, unfortunately, never took off the floor. They met two, three times in New York, the ambassadors to the UN of the major four powers. And the idea never really took the floor because America in '67 was not unhappy with the military victory of Israel. It compensated the humiliations of Vietnam. The Soviets, short-sighted like they frequently could be, didn't see why they should give equal status to lesser countries like England and France. The English were unenthusiastic, simply because the suggestion was French to begin with. And ladies and gentlemen, instead of having permanent peace, we are having a durable peace process, which is the symptom of its failure.
Let me tell you, de Gaulle's approach was in a way that those major powers would meet, agree on the content and the contours of the desired world peace, and signal to the local parties what the world expects from them. It was then spoken about as though it would be an elegantly imposed solution.
With your permission, Mr. President, I've added a dimension to that formula. I was in favor for the last 30 years for an elegantly imposed solution which would be mutually unacceptable. I believe taking into consideration the pathology, psychology of conflicts and belligerence, that the concept of mutual unacceptability carries more potential than mutual acceptability. When I know that the other side does not like the solution also, it makes it less unattractive to me.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I believe the major flaw of the last 17 years of attempts at peacemaking was mainly the fact that too much was left to the local actors to sort it out. I believe in the role of third parties. And I believe that the USA, through the Quartet, which represents as a diplomatic construction the USA, the EU, Russia, and the UN to represent everybody else, I believe that this is the right vehicle, the right venue, the right locomotive to bring solutions to the region.
I believe in the decisive nature of American diplomacy. And by the way, I, for one, might disagree with many aspects of foreign policy in America, but I am fascinated by American society. I've always said that America is a fascinating society. It's a nation of nations. It's the world en miniature. Every possible country, culture, continent, civilization is represented within your ranks. This gives you added responsibility.
I always have said, ladies and gentlemen, that it's here in America that we will win or lose our battle for Palestinian statehood. And I believe personally that our cry for freedom out of captivity, out of bondage will be heard in America. And having been with my wife on the lecturing circuit, I think there is a reservoir of goodwill, a reservoir of idealism that, by the way, we sometimes see during this presidential campaign, which is immense and tremendous. And there are people here who would like to reconcile America with itself and with the world.
As I've often said to American interlocutors, that we the Palestinians are the key not only for America's credibility, but maybe, Mr. President, for America's lovability around the world. Because I, for one, believe that, yes, we understood the message America is committed for Israel's existence. But is America committed to Israel's expansion? I doubt it. In Israel, there is a vibrant debate about the wisdom and the sagacity of keeping the hilltops of the West Bank. But what is America's interest in Israel keeping the hilltops of the West Bank? None.
And I believe that in America, there is a growing debate, and the success of the book of President Carter last year on apartheid or peace, the book by the two academics from Harvard and Chicago Universities on the pro-Israeli lobby that might have distracted and diverted and hijacked American foreign policy in the Middle East, the success of those two books show that we are enlarging the space for permissible discourse and debate around those issues.
And I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that there is a growing body in public opinion, but also among decision-makers, that maybe the fact that the Palestinian question remains unresolved, this is what maybe has put on a collision course America and parts of the Arabo-Islamic world. And maybe the perception of the American constant alignment on the Israeli preference maybe has also complicated American dealings with the world.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to end on this one. In my interaction with the American administration, I have often told them, we are in favor of an enhanced and more assertive American role in the peace process. It is indispensable. And I kept telling them, I believe American diplomacy in the Middle East suffers of what I call self-inflicted impotence in dealing with Arab-Israeli conflict.
And I keep telling them, and believe me, sir, with no intention of being antagonistic, that America in its dealings with us in the Arab world behaves as the only remaining superpower. But in its dealings with Israel, it seems to us as though it has the political weight of Lichtenstein or Luxembourg. I believe that's where the problem resides. I believe that there is immense responsibility in Washington vis-a-vis peace-making in Palestine Israel.
Mr. President, you wanted to leave as much time for the interaction. Allow me to end by saying, ladies and gentlemen, talking to Israelis, I often tell them, it's a question of political will. If there were a political will, a territory that was occupied in '67 in six days can also be evacuated in six days so that the Israelis can rest on the seventh, and we can engage on the fascinating journey of peace, of nation-building, and economic recovery. And you were reminded that I'm of a Christian origin. I, even in the bleakest of moments, always remained confident that Palestine will resurrect. And Mr. President, as you know, we in Jerusalem, we have had some previous experience in Resurrection.
DAVID SKORTON: So thank you very much, Mr. Safieh. And thank you for leaving so much time for interaction. I'm going to ask one quick question myself while people are gathering their thoughts. There are microphones on both sides. We're going to go back and forth between the microphones. I'm going to ask if it's possible for the questioners to limit the questions to no more than about three minutes at maximum, so that we have a chance for as many as possible. And we have about almost 30 minutes for questions, about 25 minutes.
Just to clarify one quick thing to make sure I understood correctly, toward the end of your thesis, you talked about a mutual unacceptability. And did I hear right that the term you used was imposition? So you're not talking about moral suasion but a military imposition of a mutually unacceptable solution? I just wanted to clarify.
AFIF SAFIEH: Sir, I was not speaking. I don't have my microphone. I try to speak loudly.
DAVID SKORTON: I don't have a clip. Can you hold it?
AFIF SAFIEH: Is it working? Yeah. So I wasn't thinking of military imposition. I was speaking in political diplomatic terms. And you know, I'm also a great admirer of one of the Zionist leaders, but an enlightened leader, Nahum Goldmann. And we in the Arab world, we have a wonderful saying that says an enlightened enemy is much better than a silly friend. Unfortunately, enlightened enemies are becoming extremely rare and silly friends are very numerous.
Nahum Goldmann, a leader of the Zionist movement for 40 years, knew that Israel needed American friendly persuasion. And he summarized it in the '70s as a discussion between him and Moshe Dayan. And he said to Moshe Dayan, Moshe, the Americans give you much aid and some advice. Up to now, you take all the aid and you leave the advice aside. What will happen if America one day told you, you can have the aid only if you also took the advice?
And Moshe, with resignation said, we will then have to take the advice. I am in favor, sir, of very simply linking American aid to American advice, which is extremely normal in an interpersonal relationship, but also in inter-governmental relationships. Capricious behaviors by smaller client states can be problematic and troublesome for even the bigger protector.
I believe there is an American self-interest in being more demanding vis-a-vis regional allies. So I'm thinking, sir, of a political solution, a diplomatic solution. And it was tested, sir. Do you know that after the Suez War, when France, England, and Israel waged an unnecessary war against Egypt because of the Swiss canal, and Israel occupied the entire Sinai, President Eisenhower with a phone call made Ben-Gurion withdraw in one day. And believe you me, Sharon-Olmert looked like a lamb compared to Ben-Gurion.
So we are waiting for that phone, call sir. In '91, President Bush, [AUDIO OUT] Russian Jews and Russian non-Jews were flocking into the country. And President Bush James Baker told the Israelis, you can have the [INAUDIBLE] if you freeze settlement building. And they froze settlement building. And Shamir reluctantly had to come, be dragged, reluctantly, to Madrid.
So we made some decisive [INAUDIBLE] for diplomacy. And not only [INAUDIBLE]. I meant it when I said. And it's deemed with the Arabs-- America looks like the only superpower. And when speaking with Israelis, it looks as though it was Lichtenstein or Luxembourg. And this is what I was asking for, sir. And believe you me, it would be everybody's interest if we had that international involvement in peace-making.
DAVID SKORTON: Here, switch to this one.
AFIF SAFIEH: I'm sorry.
DAVID SKORTON: Oh, no. It's not you, it's us.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for your presentation and for advocating especially nonviolent response to the present situation. But I would like you to comment on the following. Under the Geneva Convention, collective punishment is a war crime. And as you know, Israeli forces for many, many years and repeatedly have committed collective punishment in the West Bank and Gaza, and is still continuing.
I would like you to comment on that. How you feel about this as Fateh representative, and whether you are willing to consider the Israeli leaders currently, most of them, as war criminals?
AFIF SAFIEH: Thank you for your intervention, sir. I don't need to be a Fateh representative. As a Palestinian, I fully share your opinion that Israeli leaders have frequently committed war crimes. And I, for one, have always said that, unfortunately, the Nakba, the catastrophe is not something that belongs to a frozen moment that has happened once in 1948. Unfortunately, the Nakba is still up to today an ongoing process.
I said that repeatedly. So you're not pushing me or cornering me into saying to you what I have never said before. And I believe that collective punishment is a war crime. Nevertheless, sir, I'm in favor of a peaceful resolution. I'm in favor of the two state solution. And having out of experience come to the conclusion about the incapacity of the local actors achieving it by themselves, I'm calling for international intervention not to commit a crime, but to wage peace on us. And believe me, sir, we will be your consenting victims if America, after two wars that are of a controversial nature, decided to wage peace on us, we will be your consenting victims. So war crimes, yes, but peace also a necessity, historical necessity that I approve of and endorse. And it has been said that, not by me only, that peace is not made between friends. Peace are made between enemies.
And many times, it was said that both sides have dreams, and our challenge is to create a situation where the dreams of one side are no more the nightmare of the other side. And I am in favor of guaranteed peace. A guarantee peace as a stabilizer and a-- so thank you for your question, sir.
DAVID SKORTON: On this side, please.
AUDIENCE: I just want to thank you again, Mr. Ambassador, for your remarks. And I'd like to give you my remarks also with a joke. Which is they say, how many Palestinians does it take to change a light bulb? And the expression is, they don't change a light bulb. They just blame Israel and sit in the dark.
If I may just say, you began your remarks by saying that three and half years-- starting by tracing the conflict starting from three and a half years ago. In the almost, I guess, the immortal words of Dana Carvey, how convenient. In a sense, let's start the story back from when the conflict started, after the Palestinians walked out of Camp David, and after repeated acts of terror again and again blowing up children in restaurants.
The question I have, in a sense, if you want to talk about Yasser Arafat's isolation, it happened after Passover after a whole spade of suicide bombings, which left hundreds of Israelis dead. And my question is, in a sense, how can Israelis trust you? How can they trust you after you've killed their civilians, after Palestinians commit repeated acts of suicide bombing, heartless acts of suicide bombing? Your own people don't trust you. I mean, they've thrown you out of the Gaza Strip. We could speculate that if elections were held in the West Bank tomorrow, Hamas would also win.
They view you as corrupt. They talk about Suha Arafat's multimillion dollar spending sprees in France. There's millions of dollars in international aid that have disappeared. Why should anybody trust you? That's the question that I have.
AFIF SAFIEH: First all, they tell me-- you know, I started my recapitulation three and a half years ago, I could have started 3,000 years ago if you so desired. But it wouldn't have changed anything. But I have one remark to say about casualties, because you mentioned casualties.
I always tried to be a universalist. But I want you to do some soul searching, and some of you and your friends are often Judeo-centered and Israel-centered. You mentioned casualties of Hamas. I have condemned every single suicide bombing that has occurred. In the last four days, sir, we have had in Gaza-- and I didn't take time to speak about atrocities, et cetera, because I don't like to work on comparative martyrology. We have had 117 killed, and on the Israeli side, three killed.
I, for one, say that all of those victims were unnecessary victims and are to be regretted. You are thinking only of the three, and you probably believe that the 117 died deservedly so. And let me tell you, sir--
So I invite you, especially if you are still a student, because I remember when we were adorable students, ethically motivated, and universalistic in our approach, not to be tribalistic. Any victim is a victim too many. And. Don't think only of those victims who count for you.
And let me tell you, I have often told Israelis, whoever on the Israeli side has not condemned indiscriminate bombardment of residential areas-- and Gaza is a continuous residential area, because it's the most overcrowded area-- anybody who does not condemn Israeli indiscriminate bombardment is not ethically, morally, equipped to have an opinion on suicide bombing.
I personally believe that--
No, no no. We are not going to enter into the clapping match, and I think the president will agree with me. We'd lose some precious time of 25 minutes allocated to discussion. So my friend, I offer you this thought as food for thought. Be universalistic and not tribalistic. Any victim is a victim too many, and anybody-- I'm talking to you now-- who does not condemn Israeli indiscriminate bombing is not morally equipped to have an opinion on Hamas suicide bombing.
Yes, ma'am? Please, yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, Ambassador, for being here. You mentioned in your speech about Hamas' conviction to a one state solution, and how that has contributed to the fracturing of the Palestinian community. And I was wondering if you have any idea of what can be done, either by the US, the Palestinian Authority, the international community, or Israel that can effectively engage Hamas and take the necessary steps forward and actually get some tangible results?
AFIF SAFIEH: There are two proposals that were submitted by Mahmoud Abbas in the recent weeks that I fully support. And I believe that if they are successful, can totally change, Mr. President, the political environment in which we operate. The first idea was a few weeks ago, that since Gaza is subjected to a suffocating siege, and today, the population 1.4 million is lacking the basic necessities from food to medicine, but also to cement et cetera, and all types of the ingredients which made all their industry-- and they had a very vibrant industry, it's today closed-- Mahmoud Abbas suggested that the Palestinian Authority can take charge again of the entrances to Gaza, be it on Rafah with the Egyptian border, or Eretz, towards Israel and the West Bank.
I believe this idea, which got the support of the Quartet in December in Paris, is a worthwhile idea to pursue, because we need to remove the blockage, of word, the embargo, the boycott and the siege of Gaza.
The second idea emerged two days ago when there was this heavy bombardment from both sides. It was very symmetrical around Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas said that, we, the Palestinian Authority might be the best equipped to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. This, if it takes place, has several advantages. One, it would allow Fateh and the authority to have its own dialogue with Hamas. And number two, it will achieve a cease fire because Hamas was willing for a cease fire with the Israelis.
It's up to now, the Israelis were reluctant to do that. And I believe it will renew the Palestinian coalition government, which, if I were an Israeli, I would see as an advantage. If I were an Israeli, I would prefer maybe to negotiate with a government that represents 96% of Palestinian public opinion. That's an Israeli advantage, besides being a Palestinian advantage. So these are two ideas that I wish success for in the coming days.
AUDIENCE: Welcome, Ambassador, and in the spirit of dialogue, I'd like to thank you for your remarks. You mentioned earlier that the Israeli perspective, in your view, was how to get as much Palestinian territory as possible, how to get as much of the geography as possible. I was just wondering what the basis was for your argument, since we can see, starting in '47 and perhaps culminating in Camp David, that the Israelis have continually offered up most of the territory demanded by the Palestinians, and the Palestinians have continually rejected it. So I'm just wondering what the basis of your argument was.
AFIF SAFIEH: Since we are an academic institution, and a prestigious one, Cornell, I want to offer you one book to read, and this is the one book that my wife and I offer as recommended reading when somebody asks us, what is the only one book you would advise us to read? Avi Shlaim, a professor in Oxford, another not unimportant academic institution, who is, by the way, Jewish and Israeli and British, wrote a book about the Iron Wall.
And his book, its merit, is that it revisits regional history and regional diplomatic history, and he totally de-stabilizes that approach of saying that the Israelis always offer peace, and it's the Arabs who rejected it.
Do you know that in 1948, Syria, that is often presented as the radical Arab country, offered peace with Israel if Israel withdrew back to the partition lines and took 100,000 refugees. And Abba Eban is on record to have written then to Ben-Gurion by saying, we can afford to decline this offer. So all this theory about Arab rejection of Israeli existence, in my opinion, ma'am, needs to be revisited.
But in your sentence, there was another problem when you said that Israel offered to give back most of the territory. Do you that the territory we are speaking of is the '67 occupied territory, meaning West Bank and Gaza, which are only 22% of Palestine. So we have been already unreasonably reasonable by accepting a partition of Palestine on the basis of 78% for Israel and only 22% of what we consider to have been legitimately ours.
Israel, ma'am never after '67 offered to give back the occupied territories of '67. Olmert-Sharon, as you know, started building the wall, which I call the Wall of Shame, that even President Bush, a great supporter of Israel, disapproved of and said it is snaking deep into Palestinian territory.
Do you know, ma'am, that the wall that is being constructed swallows 12% of the West Bank on its Western flank? Not only does it take 12% of the land, but it also takes and swallows all the water aquifer of the West Bank. And do you know that Sharon and Olmert, in all their peace proposals, never wanted and never want up to today to give us back control on the Jordan Valley and the shore of the Dead Sea.
And I don't know if you are aware that the Jordan Valley and the shore of the Dead Sea is almost 30% of the West Bank. So the Israeli offers to us, concretely, clinically, forget the blah, blah, blah and the ambiguous sentences-- and Mr. President, I don't believe in constructive ambiguity in diplomacy. I'm in favor of glasnostic transparency. If you consider that the wall swallows 12% on the Western flank of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea shore is 30%, so what Olmert and Sharon are offering, were offering us, is only 58% of the West Bank. So it's around 10% of Mandatory Palestine.
I told you what I would do if I were a Jew. If you were Palestinian, would you accept such a historical compromise? I doubt it. And let me tell you. A British friend of mine, a member of Parliament from the Labor Party, a Jewish distinguished individual, Sir Gerald Kaufman once said, "Knowing the injustice that was inflicted on the Palestinians up to today, it's not Palestinian excesses that surprise me, it's Palestinian restraint that surprised me." Another item that I give you as food for thought. Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE: Mr. Ambassador, you speak a lot about your dreams of a wide-scale, nonviolence resistance within the Palestinian movement. But for many years, the PA-sponsored education system has produced textbooks on an education system that demonizes Israel and glorifies terrorism and martyrdom. And do you think that such a large-scale nonviolence resistance movement can come in a society that has so long educated its children to hate?
AFIF SAFIEH: Sir, sir, I believe-- I believe that there is a myth that is often [INAUDIBLE] in debates around the Middle East, which is called the curriculum in Palestinian textbooks. Believe you me, sir, the European Union has been a major donor for Palestinian Authority to produce those textbooks. They were pushed and pressured into sending many fact-finding committees to Pakistan to study our textbooks.
They even spent on those fact-finding commissions more than they spent on helping us print our textbooks. And they came out with the result that our textbooks are OK. And I would refer you to another-- no, no I would refer you to an Israeli writer in Haaretz newspaper, Akiva Eldar, one of the most distinguished Israeli journalists, who did his own research, and found that our textbooks in schools, compared to Israeli textbooks, are impeccable, immaculate, and highly commendable.
I would refer you to an American Jewish academic, Nathan Brown, who works, I think, in the Carnegie institution in Washington, who did also his own research on our curriculum textbooks and discovered that they were not containing neither racist, nor incitement, nor anything. Sir, my answer to you is the following.
One, I know that the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington and in Europe has been instigating against our textbooks, but nobody proved and gave any example of significance. What I wanted to tell you, sir, is the following. The reality in the West Bank and Gaza is so horrible that you don't need textbooks to incite anybody to resist the status quo.
No textbook and no author of a textbook can be sufficiently eloquent to bypass that daily reality which is revolting, sir. Think of it. And let me tell you, just as Jews during the Second World War did not believe Europeans who told them we never knew, when I talk with Israelis and with Jews, I always tell them, I don't believe you when you say you don't know what is being inflicted on us Palestinians.
Those who don't know, it's because they don't want to know. We are two overlapping societies. We became the Jews of the Israelis. We have paid an enormous human price for Israel to be created. And we paid a price with Israel's elastic expansion. And I believe enough is enough. And today, you have a window of opportunity for mutual recognition, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but thanks to us, because we are the key for the regional acceptance of Israel. There is a window of opportunity for Israel to be accepted and acceptable to the Arab world.
But the Israelis have to understand one thing. They either can be in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem as occupiers, or they can be in the Middle East. They cannot be in East Jerusalem as occupiers and a legitimate party in the Middle East regional system. You cannot have it both ways.
In French, there is a proverb that says "To choose is to sacrifice." And if I were an Israeli, if I were a Jew-- and I could've been a Jew. Being a Christian and a descendant of the early Christians-- who are early Christians if not Jews converted. I could have been a Jew.
If I were a Jew, I would have accepted the historic opportunity there is, and I would have said for every possible reasons, one, because I would have blush of shame every morning when I am shaving for what my society, in my name, has inflicted. Number two, out of selfish, enlightened self-interest, because I would like me and my children to live in peace and in an environment of peace. And I believe that this territorial expansion is totally unnecessary.
Let me tell you, sir, in contemporary international relations, there is nothing that is called strategic depth. Security and peace do not come from territorial aggrandizement. They come from regional acceptance. And believe you me, we are the key for the regional acceptance of Israel.
And let me tell you, in discussing Middle Eastern politics, there are two schools of thought. There are those who do not want peace, who are not unhappy with the status quo. And each time we discuss peace and war in the Middle East, they bring up every possible argument to say why the status quo is OK and peace is impossible. And there are others who are tormented, who seek every window of opportunity.
To tell you frankly, I'm not very comfortable with those who are there cynical, skeptical, happy with the status quo, and try to shoot at and torpedo every glimmer of hope, by either saying all Palestinian textbooks horrible, how can we pave peace with them. Palestinians are inherently violent. How can we trust them? Et cetera, et cetera.
Give peace a chance. We all need to do some soul searching. By the way, in my initial expose, I believe I was self-critical also, Mr. President, when I tried to analyze telegraphically with the times, I located the reasons for the popular verdict in the elections we had. I think I was doing a sort of introspective exercise into my society, so I did not use my time in order to flagellate and demonize. I tried to be as clinical, analytical, and emotional as possible, and I hope I was successful.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for your insightful talk, and let me ask the following question. The Palestinian-Israeli was at first a conflict about territory, and it was a secular conflict, but it started to acquire religious dimension, I guess, with the appearance of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the late 1980s. How would you comment on the influence of the religious factor on the peace process so far, and what will happen afterwards?
AFIF SAFIEH: Thank you for your question, sir. Sir, I always say those who are interested in the intrusion of religion into politics, I always invite them not to single out Islamic fundamentalism. It has to be approved in a triangular fashion. And let me tell you, sir, the area was devastated by three waves of fundamentalism. The first was Jewish fundamentalism, which after '67, was constantly a part of the Israeli ruling coalition Jewish fundamentalism.
Then there was in Lebanon in the middle of the '70s an attempt at Christian fundamentalism, which was the weakest for sociological and numerical medical reasons. And the last wave was Islamic fundamentalism, with the Khomeini revolution of '79 in Iran.
So sir, please revise your approach by saying Islamic fundamentalism, Hamas, et cetera. No, you have to have this triangular approach. And by the way, the three fundamentalisms, they feed one another. Today, there is no more Christian fundamentalism in the region, but there is Christian fundamentalism here which is very intrusive in Middle Eastern politics.
And I, for one, by the way, when Sharon suffered his stroke a year and a half ago and Pat Robertson said, this is divine punishment against Sharon because he has dared withdraw out of the Promised Land, I was being interviewed, sir, on C-Span, and I remember saying, I am a Palestinian. I belong to the society which is the victim of Sharon policies. Yet, to the human being, I wish a speedy recovery, and each time I hear Pat Robertson, I feel the need to defend the innocence of God.
Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentleman, yes, fundamentalism, if that's the right word to use for that extremist interpretation of religion, is a very irritating, exasperating phenomenon. But please look at it as a triangular phenomenon. And remember what I told you. The first wave of fundamentalism was Jewish fundamentalism that was a constant coalition partner in successive Israeli governments.
And let me tell you, sir, the colonization of the West Bank has been done in the name of God. And often, they will come and expropriate Palestinian farmers off their land, presenting the Bible as their title of ownership. God has promised us, et cetera. And I used to say, sir, that I was brought up at school and at home to believe that God created men and women after his own image, but that with the settlers, we are facing individuals who have created a god after their own image, which is absolutely frightening.
DAVID SKORTON: We have one last question, please.
AUDIENCE: I would like to thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for coming. And if I may, I'd like to address this question to both of you, if that's possible. As I'm sure you both know, there's a growing debate on boycott divestment sanctions worldwide. Not only have various Palestinian academic and human rights groups been calling for it as a means to put pressure on Israel, but also prominent Israelis have begun calling for it as well, including historian Ilan Pappé, economist Shir Hever.
And so my question to you, Mr. Ambassador, would be, what is your opinion on the value and effectiveness of boycott divestment sanctions in resolving the conflict? And to President Skorton, the question would be, how bad does the occupation have to get before Cornell starts thinking about divestment?
DAVID SKORTON: I can go first, if you like, and give your voice a rest.
AFIF SAFIEH: Please, go ahead, sir.
DAVID SKORTON: I've struggled and thought for a long time about the whole issue of-- and when you're talking about boycotts, I'm assuming you're talking about disinvestment, that kind of boycott. And twice in the 30 years that I've been in academia and been in a position to have a conversation like this, I've felt that the pernicious and unilateralism of the effect was reasonable to do it. Once was in South Africa, and the second when I first came to Cornell was in Darfur.
Like everyone in this room, I am very upset and at times despondent about the situation in the Middle East. I believe it's a complicated bilateral situation and doesn't fit the same pernicious mold. Perhaps a difference between us. Mr. Safieh?
AFIF SAFIEH: Thank you for the question. There is an increasing school of thought around the world and mainly around NGOs, non-governmental organizations, as you know, often non-governmental organizations, they play the role of the conscience of the society and the state, and often the bad conscience of the state.
I, for one, regret international self-inflicted impotence in dealing with Israel-Palestine. For example, the international community considers that the Fourth Geneva Conventions apply on the Palestinian occupied territory. And the signatories of the Fourth Geneva Conventions have a duty in case of occupied territories not being dealt with the way they ought to be dealt with.
And as you know, the Fourth Geneva Convention, for example, stipulates that an occupying power should not change neither the demographic composition of an occupied territory nor its physical aspect. And the Israelis have changed the demographic composition of the occupied territories by helping people move out and by establishing their own demography on that occupied geography.
So there is a responsibility by the signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention that, up to now, they have abdicated in playing a role. Hence, there is now a growing school of thought that is calling for divestment and boycotts. To tell you frankly, I personally would like to follow that debate rather than influence that debate. But I'm not unhappy that there is this debate, and that there is a growing community in favor of the necessity of sanctions vis-a-vis a misbehaving regional actor, which Israel obviously is.
The boycott of academics has been a controversial issue, especially that some of the best critics in Israeli society of the occupation came from academic circles. So some have said maybe the boycott should not be extended to academic circles because some of the best and brightest critics of the occupation emanate from that society.
But let me tell you, I'm proud that there is a growing sector of public opinion in churches and in non-governmental organizations that says that we need to signal our displeasure with Israeli misbehavior, and that there should be an Israeli price paid. And here, it can go from the individual customer boycotting Israeli products, those coming from settlements, and other products, so that the Israelis feel that there is discontent and displeasure around the world.
But I believe there is a need for governmental interference, politically and diplomatically. And not militarily. And without that, we will continue with a conflict that is unresolved. And let me end with great pain by telling you the following. I, for one, believe that we, the Palestinian mainstream national movement, we are trying to play for a win-win equation.
The Israeli political establishment, with support of Israeli public opinion, because they are a democracy for the Jewish component of society-- and I always said Mr. President, the fact that Israel is a democracy for its Jewish component, this is not an extenuating factor to make Israel more adorable and lovable. It's, for me, on the moral level an aggravating factor because what it proves is that the injustice inflicted on us Palestinians is a democratic oppression that enjoys popular support.
And my argument was to say, Mr. President, is that the Israeli side to be encouraged to follow a different track in its dealings with the Palestinian society. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a pleasure being with you. I hope I haven't offended the feelings of anybody. That was not my intention.
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Sixty years after the creation of the State of Israel, Palestinians are now the "Jews of the Israelis," said Afif Safieh, the Palestine Liberation Organization representative to the United States since 2005. He was speaking to a crowded Statler Auditorium, March 4.
With peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians now suspended, he sees the future of the Palestinians as dependent on U.S. and other foreign intervention. "I believe that the two-state solution is the way out," he said.