DEARBORN – The Arab American National Museum hosted Roving Ambassador for Special Missions for the PLO Afif Safieh for a discussion on Saturday, June 4, as part of a national tour for his new book "The Peace Process: From Breakthrough to Breakdown."
The event was presented by the ADC's Greater Detroit Chapter and the Palestine Cultural Office of Michigan and attended by about 60 guests.
Safieh's book includes a collection of lectures and
interviews from 1981 when he was a staff member in Yasser Arafat's Beirut
office until 2005 when he finished his mission in London, centering on
Palestine's struggle for freedom from occupation and shedding light on
Roving ambassador for special missions for the Palestine Liberation Organization Afif Safieh speaks with a guest. Photo courtesy of David King
He spoke about his ups and downs as a diplomat for more than 30 years.
"After decades of regime changing, history is on the move (in the Arab world), this beautiful mostly non-violent change is occurring but again history is undecided; we should be on the right side of it," he said.
Safieh, who is also the Fatah Deputy Commissioner for International Relations to the U.S., said that the Arab American community has a role to play.
"This is a wonderful location...I personally believe the Arab American community has a great role for accomplishing change. The ADC, museum, and many other endeavors have a hand to help us make our history and to make the right choices."
While Safieh is encouraged by the Arab Spring and its potential to help bring about the liberation of Palestine, he also spoke of difficult moments as a diplomat.
"The most painful was the 2007 partition of the West Bank and Gaza," he said.
He also took issue with settlement building and home demolitions.
"It is not terrorism but the territorial appetite of Israel that is the obstacle to peace, and international observers admit it," he said.
He said that U.S. President Barack Obama and Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell were "sabotaged" by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and diplomat Dennis Ross in their quest to stop settlements, which led to the latest in a long line of "breakdowns" of the peace process in keeping with the theme of the book.
In terms of helping to bring about change and supporting Palestinian freedom, Safieh said that he believed strongly in the non-violent resistance movement and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions initiatives.
He said that American churches and many American Jews are starting to become aware of the plight of the occupied Palestinians and that a movement can be created.
"I think the majority of American Jews don't believe AIPAC represents their interests anymore," he said.
"We need for Arab Americans and Muslims to have a voice, we have to ignite a moral crisis."
He noted that in 2006, a Washington Post poll showed that 2/3 of voters believed that Israel was "totally unjustified" in its bombings and attacks against Lebanon, but said that there were no state department representatives who sided with the people in that case.
But he thinks that strides can be made in politics if a majority of people begin to side with oppressed Arabs in the region. He said that activists should push for an "Eisenhower moment" like when he was able to get Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to withdraw from Egyptian territory.
"I believe Obama and the administration, people such as General (David) Petraeus, are becoming increasingly aware that Israel is more of a burden and liability than anything else," he said. "I still believe the battle for Washington is winnable."