Sep 15 2011

When an American Palestinian think tank loses its raison d’être

Published by at 8:41 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

The longevity of the Palestinian conflict and the large diaspora population that has emerged over the years has been both a blessing and a curse for the Palestinian cause.

Palestinians living throughout the world, speaking local languages and beginning to understand local culture, are the perfect ambassadors for the Palestinian cause in their host countries. However, while such presence could do much in the cultural and humanistic field, politically its effects have always been questionable.

Organised Palestinian political activities in the diaspora have taken on different forms. Some individual and grassroots groups take a hard line position, supporting some of the more radical stands and factions within the Palestinian body politic.

On the other hand more moderate forces have at time become a hostage to local politics. As one political expert once said Palestinian representatives abroad tend to represent their countries to the Palestinian leadership rather than representing Palestine to their host country. Funding for offices and staff is often paid for by local governments and semi-governmental agencies, thus eroding the independence of these organisations or diplomatic missions, who thus tend to become advocates for their host countries.

While this has been the norm in most Arab and, to a lesser degree, European countries, the feeling was that the situation in the United States was different. But alas, naturalized Palestinians are becoming more loyal to their new countries has now become common in the US as well.

Nowhere is this case clearer than within Washington DC where the virus Palestinian and Arab politics and factionalisation has become an epidemic.

For a while, one organisation appeared to put the Palestinian interests before the interests of the host country. When the last two American presidents, representing both Republicans and Democrats, said that the creation of an independent Palestinian state was in the national interest of the United States, American Palestinians were able to show loyalty to America while also fighting hard for the Palestinian national cause.

When it was first established The American Task Force for Palestine was a breath of fresh air. Run by moderate and articulate Palestinian Americans and funded by similarly centrist nationals, ATFP seemed the perfect organization to reflect the Palestinian aspirations within the American political scene. Perhaps the harshness of the Bush Administration allowed ATFP to shine as a strong advocate of Palestinian causes. Its president Ziad Assali was granted access to the White House and corridors of congress and his organisation’s attempts to accurately reflect the moderate Palestinian narrative won him friends in Washington and Ramallah.


But the disagreement between President Abbas and the Obama Administration over the upcoming approach to the UN has caused a splinter within this promising organization. Confronted with taking sides, the president and some board members leaned towards Washington’s view that the UN move is a provocation to Washington.


Attempts by the organization to stay neutral failed as board members insisted on the need for the American Task force for Palestine to be loyal to its own raison d’être. How could an organistion that tasked itself to fight for Palestine refuse to join the aspirations of the Palestinian people, the decision of the Palestinian leadership and the public support for statehood by nearly 140 countries.

By attempting to be neutral, ATFP was echoing a position closer to rightwing Israelis and AIPAC Americans than to that of most Americans and the vast majority of American Palestinians.

But such a direction, says one wing in the organization,  requires a minimum of a commitment to the core goals of supporting the desires and aspirations of the Palestinian people in their pursuit of an independent state. If this will weaken an organization’s relations with congress and the White House, so be it, they insist.


Compared to Jewish Americans, American Palestinians are small in numbers and have not shown to be an effective group that can use political contributions for political purpose. Any attempts to lobby for Palestine must find common denominators with other groups and lobbying efforts.


The task of supporting the state of Palestine is an honorable and worthy cause. No organization can and should be forced or choose to go against its own raison d’être.




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