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Ray Hanania


By Ray Hanania, posted Nov 10, 2011

My advice to Mr. Areikat is to drop the ATFP boycott and instead confront the fanatics who hold the Palestinian leadership hostage.

PLO representative Maen Areikat reportedly announced last week that he was “distancing” the PLO office from the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) because the latter group does not support the Palestinian push for statehood at the United Nations.That’s the buzz in the Palestinian world this week.

Palestinians rarely make news, but when they do, it is usually about some internal squabble that most of the people who can influence the future of Palestine disregard.

It’s typical of the problems Palestinians face and raises questions about issues that often are not openly discussed.

Some of the issues that are rarely discussed in public include: How significant should the Shatat, or the Palestinian diaspora, be in terms of how Palestinian officials react? Another is more complicated: Is the Shatat even worth acknowledging, especially since most of the loudest activists in the Palestinian expatriate community are extremists and fanatics who oppose everything the Palestinians do toward peace, excessively criticize Israeli actions, especially when those actions involve violence against Palestinians under occupation yet turn a blind eye to Palestinian violence by groups like Hamas and the Popular Front (which, by the way, is not so “popular” and more of a “front”)? Should a government that claims to be seeking democracy be “severing ties” with its own people in or out of the Shatat? The reality is that the American Task Force on Palestine is probably one of the most effective organizations representing Palestinian interests in the United States. There are several groups that self-proclaim that title, such as the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Arab American Institute (AAI) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

 As a former ADC board member, I can tell you up front that the organization lives and breathes under the constant heel of the fanatics in America.

Never mind that the ADC is supposed to focus on fighting discrimination but spends most of its time on international politicking at its conventions.

As a former AAI activist, I can tell you that despite the brilliance of its leader, Jim Zogby, the organization is pretty much a one-man dog-and-pony show. It has no real grassroots base and is very undemocratic.

As for CAIR, it is an Islamic group that focuses on Muslim issues. I’ve tried to get CAIR, one of the most effective lobbying groups out there representing Muslim and “Arab” issues, to expand its base to include Christian Arabs – but that contradicts its mandate, apparently.

So when it comes to getting something done, ATFP, headed by Ziad Assali, is about the only real Palestinian voice in America with any significance or common sense.

Not to mention that among its talents is the deeply knowledgeable Hussein Ibish, whom I have praised on my radio show as having the most brilliant mind in the Palestinian and pan- Arab community.

So why would the PLO ambassador in Washington, who is very smart, sever ties with the ATFP while leaving the door open to the rest? Arab World politics is not driven by what’s best for the public, but rather by what needs to be done to survive. My guess is that Areikat faces as big a challenge trying to survive in the backstabbing, cutthroat world of internal Palestinian and Arab politics as he does trying to convince Israeli settlers that they should return the lands they took to build their communities.

So it’s easier to face the ATFP than it is to respond to the real fanatics, people like Ali Abunimeh, who is equally brilliant but whose activism is driven by unreason and the one-state pipe dream – which is really more of a nightmare for Palestinians. Abunimeh’s website viciously assaulted Areikat in a recent posting, accusing him of “ethnic cleansing.”

That circle also includes the nut jobs like Ikhras and KabobFest,two havens of vicious anti-Arab and anti-Jewish sentiments who spend their time tearing down the community leadership. Ikhras calls Palestinians like me “House Arabs.” But they represent the real house representing the dictatorship cabal that controls Syrian President Bashar Assad. (I don’t believe Assad is really in charge of Syria. He’s just being bullied by the fanatics who have a stranglehold on his government.) The ATFP is the only organization that has the courage to give a platform to Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister. Many of the other groups would rather stay away and avoid the whole issue of whether Fayyad is the prime minister of Palestine or whether Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas is.

I can tell you that the bigger problem for Fayyad is that he is an avowed moderate driven by reason and common sense, virtues missing from most Arab leaders.

My advice to Mr. Areikat is to drop the ATFP boycott and instead confront the fanatics who hold the Palestinian leadership hostage.

Palestinians don’t know how to make things happen, but they sure know how to prevent things from happening.

While Israel’s mantra has always been “take whatever we can get,” the Palestinian mantra has been “it’s all or nothing.” And when Palestinians do not get “all,” they always end up with nothing.

Which is where the Palestinian leadership is today. Lording over a domain of virtually nothing.

The writer is an award-winning Palestinian columnist. He can be reached at
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