He was denied a visa to the U.S.A. where he was supposed to deliver a paper titled “The innocence of God” in which he pays tribute to the official churches in the U.S.A. for their principled support for the end of Israeli military occupation and Palestinian aspiration for sovereignty and statehood and criticizes heavily the delirious theology and political stand of the Christian evangelicals.

Afif Emile Safieh, Palestinian General Delegate to the UK and to the Holy See, was not given a visa to the U.S.A where he was supposed to be a speaker in an International Conference on the “Christians of the Holy Land” to be held on Friday and Saturday 18 and 19 October in the National Presbyterian Church-4101 Nebraska Avenue NW-Washington D.C. 20016.

He was supposed to deliver a paper titled “The innocence of God” in which he pays tribute to the official churches in the U.S.A. for their principled support for the end of Israeli military occupation and Palestinian aspiration for sovereignty and statehood and criticizes heavily the delirious theology and political stand of the Christian evangelicals.

The Christian teaching Mr Safieh received at home and at school, as a descendant of the first Christians, implied that “Christ has never left us” and that his life and message should inspire our beliefs and behavior.

For him, there is no need to support and pursue colonial and criminal Israeli policies and practices “to accelerate” his return to earth.  His opinion is that the discourse of the Christian evangelicals has nothing to do with the Christian faith and that they are a source of embarrassment and shame for the Christians of the Holy Land.

Mr. Safieh, like French Jewish Orientalist Maxime Rodinson, believes that the Palestinian people have probably more Hebrew blood running in their veins than most Israeli Jews who oppress them today. One of the many paradoxes in this endless conflict demonstrating the stupidity of genetical, racial and racist approaches.  Mr. Safieh was to conclude that today’s antisemitism is the persecution of Palestinian society by the Israeli State and its democratically elected government.

Afif Safieh has lived for two years in the U.S.A. (1985-1987) as visiting scholar in Harvard University and has already visited the United States more that 30 times.  Friends wonder how Washington welcomes warmly a person like Ariel Sharon who was considered by an Israeli inquiry commission as “unfit for public office” for reasons which need not be recapitulated and denies access to Afif Emile Safieh for a conference for a conference with Christians in America about the Christians in the Holy Land.  Mr. Safieh who naively believed that the universal principles and “values”of the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the freedom of movement were also adhered to by the actual American administration was stunned that there are Israeli check points not only between Ram and Ramallah but also between London and Washington D.C.

Follows is  a recent article by Afif Safieh on American-Israeli relations published in Newsbrief/ RUSI August 2002.

Rome and its Belligerent Sparta Newsbrief 
The Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies
ISSN 1471 – 3330    August 2002  Vol 22 No 8

As a peace enthusiast I was heavily involved, at the end of the 80’s-early 90’s, in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue when every university, think-tank and political party around the world was organizing a seminar of its own to contribute to a rapprochement they saw as desirable and inevitable. In all those encounters every possible scenario in peace-making, and its opposite, was explored ad nauseum. This led many to believe, naively, that when a peace process would finally be triggered, it would be of short duration since much of the preliminary homework was already done in these fora which, though unofficial, were high-powered. 

Posted in London, a very accaparating and time-consuming assignment if any, I was mercifully not engaged in the negotiating process started in Madrid in October 1991. But in 1998 I attended three meetings here in London between Yasser Arafat and the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

After one of those encounters, retiring to our hotel depressed because of the absence of any tangible progress, I told Yasser Arafat: ” Abu Ammar, we the Christian Palestinians are 2% of society in Palestine and we were two (Nabil Abu Rudeinah and  myself) out of 8 in the Palestinian delegation: that is 25%. The Jewish community in the U.S.A. are also 2% of society, yet they constituted 8 out of 8 of the American delegation: that is 100%. We are either under-represented or they are over-represented.”

Before objections start flooding in, I wish to remind readers that when in any analysis of the French and British domestic scenes it is said that
the Corsicans and the Scots play a disproportionate role, there is no avalanche of expressions of indignation and outrage. Yet their role and status is modest in comparison.

The loss of an ally and the loss of an enemy
Between 1985-1987 I spent two years as visiting scholar at Harvard University. Two memories stick out:

1-It was obvious then, in academic and political circles, that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a matter of years away. Within the Third World and in some leftist Western circles there was a certain disquiet about the possible global and regional repercussions of such a major alteration in the international system. To my surprise, within pro-Israeli circles in America, a worry of a different nature was manifesting itself. Contrary to those who were assessing the possible impact of the loss of “an ally”, their worry was about the loss ofb?& “an enemy”, what it might signify for the raison-d’etre and the strategic function and utility of Israel in American foreign policy as a bastion and strategic asset to contain Soviet expansionism. It was precisely during this period that the ideological construction of an alternative global threat, the peril of Islam, took shape. This self-fulfilling theory/prophesy/ideology gained a momentum of its own, rendered more plausible by the shallowness, irrationality and extremism of some Oriental responses to Occidental challenges.

2-In magazines like Commentary and The New Republic there was an acute awareness that one day a peace process would have to get started and a number of serious articles explored the avenues that might suit Israeli interests best. The architecture and the choreography of negotiations, it was said, had to reflect the “non-centrality” of the Palestinian problem in the Middle East and there was a need to de-couple the different negotiating tracks to make it difficult to link and to synchronize progress. The American role had to be limited to convene the parties to the negotiating table, but not to be decisive towards achieving a certain finality. The outcome would be “as agreed upon by the local negotiating sides” as though the U.S.A. had no international commitments in the United Nations, no international responsibilities necessitating leadership and guidance, no regional interests and friendships that such a complacent attitude towards the Israeli territorial appetite might jeopardise.

When after the Gulf War of 1991 the American administration felt the need to invite for a Peace conference ( out of fidelity to the Arab members of the coalition, to confer retroactive respectability to the war in the Gulf by showing sensitivity also to the endless ordeal of the Palestinians etc), that was the model of negotiations suggested. It was considered to be an offer Israel could not refuse precisely because it corresponded to its preferred negotiating strategy. It was called “the only game in town’, ‘the only deal around’. Negotiations started in Madrid end of October 1991 and then predictably stagnated in Washington until August 1993 when a parallel and secret track witnessed a breakthrough the Americans were not involved in.

The decline of the Arabists
Henry Kissinger has had an enduring impact on American foreign policy beyond his years of service. He was, as National Security Advisor, the one who undermined in 1970 the Rogers plan, by repeating to whoever cared to listen that it was precisely only that: a Rogers plan. Once dear Henry succeeded in supplanting Rogers at the State Department, he proceeded to purge the Arabists because, for him, they were infected by ‘localititis’ and gradually replaced them by staff who had acquired their political experience working in the many organs of the pro-Israeli lobby. Their influence varied depending on the personality of the Secretary of State. It was immense during the time of George Schultz, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, who were after all employees of the President not belonging to the inner circle but contained with James Baker who was a close friend and behaved as a partner to George Bush Sr. 

A messenger without a message.
Dennis Ross emerged as the most influential of the pro-Israelis among the senior civil servants, no thanks to his powerful intellect, but because of his survival capabilities and hence his durability. For 12 years he was a frequent visitor to the area. He incarnated the self-inflicted impotence of the only remaining superpower. He was the most distinguished representative of the strategy outlined in Commentary Magazine.

He advocated this approach tirelessly. He practiced it unwaveringly.. I called him on BBC-World ‘a messenger without a message’ since he never came with any original idea or any American proposal not cleared in advance with the Israeli government, but always conveyed and explained the Israeli position. The U.S.A., the only global superpower, thus neutralised, had abdicated its role and status in favour of its regional protege Israel. History will record that if Dennis Ross had nothing to do with the diplomatic breakthrough of 1993, he was heavily guilty of the breakdown in 2000. His name will always be associated with bias, partiality and the absence of American even-handedness in the quest for peace in the Middle East. The way Dennis Ross conducted him self, the Palestinians were reduced to negotiate at the mercy of a very asymmetrical balance of power.  He allowed the Israeli side to indulge in the illusion that the diplomatic outcome will reflect Israeli power and American alignment on the Israeli preference. Israeli “generosity” will decide the territorial contours of the agreement.

Rome and its belligerent Sparta
The study of American-Israeli relations has fascinated, intrigued, occupied and preoccupied two generations of scholars. Two competing schools of thought addressed the ‘who wags whom’ debate. The first school spoke of “an American Israel” with the United States dictating to the local ally what should be its regional policy in accordance with the American global vision. Noam Chomsky had written, two decades ago, that Washington was the contemporary Rome and Israel its regional belligerent Sparta.

The second school projects the image of “an Israeli America,” a complex relationship where the global superpower simply adopts the regional policy of its client state and integrates it in its global strategy. This is seen as a result of the powerful pro-Israeli lobby that succeeded in turning ‘Capitol Hill into another Israeli occupied territory’. I have always believed that both schools of thought were correct but at different moments in history, depending on a variety of considerations like the strength -electoral and intellectual- of the American president, on how comfortable he is in the country and in Congress and how comfortable the United States is in the world.??

After the horror of 9/11, when the predictable retaliation was being discussed, the pro-Israeli lobby immediately emerged as the ‘maximalist  school’, which wanted to elastically expand the theatre of operations beyond Afghanistan to engulf more countries. America now prepares itself to wage an attack against Iraq that nothing justifies except Israel’s regional hegemonic inclinations. The lobby has really grown accustomed to use one muscle too many and to go one pressure too far. The satisfaction among the right wing Israeli establishment is immense now that the U.S.A. appears to be Israel’s regional belligerent Sparta.

The Two Americas
In today’s administration the pro-Israeli lobby, in alliance with the Christian fundamentalists and their delirious theology, has totally dominated and confiscated the debate around American foreign policy in the Middle East. During a recent quick visit to America on the third and fourth of July, I was dazzled to watch on all TV channels the artificially imported Israeli discourse on insecurity and terrorism, giving the impression that the U.S.A. was under massive attack on Independence Day.  Colin Powell and the State Department  still represent a pocket of resistance, aided occasionally by the distant voices of Jimmy Carter, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinsky.

When Ariel Sharon waged his reinvasion of the occupied territories, I believe that President Bush expected the withdrawal to take place “now”, “immediately” and “without delay” but had to retract because of massive pressures in Washington. Bush was defeated even before Powell departed for his slow motion trip to the area. Again, it turned out that the lobby does not suffer from “dual loyalty”.  When, on the rare occasion,  the President happens to differ with an Israeli Prime Minister, the lobby sidesb?&not with the President.

Both Bushes, the father and the son, experienced that in less than a decade. When Vice-President Cheney passed through London in March on his way to the region, I published in The Guardian an open letter in which I wrote: “The Arab world has no ideological dispute with the U.S.A. Our belief is that there are two Americas, two political cultures, two historical memories. 

There is the America of the early settlers who, on discovering the New World, clashed with the indigenous population and almost totally  terminated them. The America that established slavery and had an elastic conception of its frontiers expanding shamelessly at the expense of Mexico.  This is the America that Ariel Sharon always seeks an alliance with.  When “the shared values” are invoked, it is in this national experience that the common traditions are deeply rooted. 

But there is another America.  The America of the War of Independence against the colonial power.  The America which took the painful decision to undergo a Civil War to abolish slavery. The America of Woodrow Wilson which came to the Versailles conference upholding the principle of Self Determination.  The America of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King’s dream.  It is this America that we Palestinians appeal to and seek an alliance with.

These two Americas do not coincide with Democratic America and Republican America. The two historical memories cross this political divide”. I could have added the America of Dwight Eisenhower who in 1956-57, just after the Suez War, obtained through ‘friendly persuasion’ Israel’s withdrawal out of the occupied Sinai in 24 hours.  Israel, then was governed by Ben Gurion and, unlike President Bush, Eisenhower obtained Israeli acquiescence without having the “reward” of the Saudi initiative, which enjoys Palestinian blessings and now has been endorsed by the Arab Summit of Beirut.

Decision-makers in Washington had always a choice between a foreign policy that will make America loved and respected around the world or a policy that will make it feared and hated.  They now have to decide what is the unfinished business on the international agenda:
disciplining Israel diplomatically or crushing Iraq Militarily.  In the meantime, Dennis Ross, after a 12 years stint in the State Department, is back home in the pro-Israeli lobby as Director of the Washington Institute for Near East policy. In the new administration, the center of gravity of the pro-Israeli lobby moved from the State Department to the Department of Defence. He frequently appears on all TV channels on both sides of the Atlantic as the peacemaker par excellence pontificating in the most irritating fashion as though he was an equidistant third party.  He indulges the character assassination of Yasser Arafat, trying to politically demolish what the military campaigns of Ariel Sharon did not succeed in achieving.

In a very gloomy situation, the birth of the new structure of the Quartet US-UN-EU and Russia is the only source of optimism in the immediate future. It has the double advantage of reintroducing important players who were deliberatily excluded or marginalised because, as Kissinger had written, their presence might “raise Arab expectations” and of strengthening the more reasonable and decent school of thought within the American administration. 

With the vision of the two-State solution, we now have the light.  The Quartet could be the missing tunnel. I have always believed that the Arab-Israeli conflict was a test between moral courage and political cowardice.  Having encountered cowardice so frequently, I still hope that we may soon  have a rendez- vous with History.

Afif Safieh
Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom and to the Holy See
5 Galena Road
Hammersmith, W6 0LT
Phone: 020 8563 0008
Fax: 020 8563 0058
e-mail: palestinianuk@aol.com