The World Affairs Council of Northern California is pleased to welcome Ambassador Safieh to the Bay Area to discuss the current situation in the Middle East and future possibilities for Israel, Palestine, and the region.
Afif Safieh (born 4 May 1950) is a Palestinian diplomat. He is currently Ambassador to the United States, after serving fifteen years as Palestine's Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
The World Affairs Council was founded in 1947 out of the interest generated by the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. With over 10,000 members, they are the largest international affairs organization on the west coast.
Amb. Afif Safieh
Afif Safieh is currently Ambassador to the United States, after serving fifteen years as Palestine's Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Head of PLO Mission to Washington, D.C.
From 1976 to 1978 he served as deputy director of the Palestine Liberation Organization Observer Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva. In 1978 he worked as a staff member in Yasser Arafat's office in Beirut, in charge of European Affairs and UN institutions. In 1981, he became a researcher at the Centre for European Studies in the Catholic University of Louvain, and from 1985 to 1987 was invited as visiting scholar at the Centre for International Affairs, Harvard University.
From 1987 until 1990, Safieh served as PLO representative to the Netherlands. During his service, he was involved in the 1988 Stockholm negotiations that led to the first official and direct American-Palestinian dialogue. In 1990, he became Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom.
Jane Wales is vice president of philanthropy and society at the Aspen Institute, president and CEO of the World Affairs Council, and founder of the Global Philanthropy Forum.
Previously, Wales was a special assistant to President Clinton, senior director of the National Security Council, and associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
She also chaired the international security programs at the Carnegie Corporation and the W. Alton Jones Foundation and directed the Project on World Security at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Wales is the former national executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
For the past half century the Middle East has been a prime concern for the United States.Crisis in the region have unfortunately been frequent. We are in the midst of one now, aconflict involving Israel and its neighbors as well as non-state actors, Hezbollah andHamas. We're pleased to welcome tonight the head of the Palestinian mission toWashington D.C., Ambassador Afif Emile Safieh, he will discuss these and other events.He was born in Jerusalem in 1950. He obtained degrees from Catholic University inLouvain, Belgium where he met his wife and also got a degree from the Paris Institute ofPolitical Studies. Early in his career he served as Deputy Director of the PLO's observermission to the United Nations in Geneva and in 1978 he worked as a staff member toYaser Arafat's office in Beiruit. Uh, he was in charge of European affairs and UnitedNations institutions. He later held academic positions at the Catholive University inLouvain and at Harvard University's Center for National Affairs.Following uh, that brief respite in academe, he returned to public life. He served as PLOrepresentative to the Netherlands, was involved in the 1988 Stockholm negotiations thatled to the first official U.S. PLO dialogue. And for the past fifteen years he has served asPalestine's ambassador to England and to the Holy Sea and he's assumed his current postin Washington D.C., in October of 2005. Please join me in welcoming Ambassador Safieh.Mrs. President, Ladies and Gentlemen for my wife and I it is a great privilege to be withyou this evening in the World Affairs Council of the San Francisco branch. You knowwhen we left London a joke was extremely fashionable in the academic circles and thiswas about the question: What's the difference between an ambassador and camel? Andapparently the answer was that a camel can drink for ten days, sorry, a camel can work forten days without drinking, while an ambassador can drink for ten days without working.Well, I want to set your heart at ease I'm closer to a camel. Number two ladies andgentlemen, whenever people know that I happen to be a Christian Palestinian, I'm oftenasked when did you convert to Christianity? And my answer is usually to say have weforgotten that Christ and the Christian message were born in my country and we tookthem and brought to Europe and beyond and they didn't come to us with the colonial era.And in a way being a descendant of the the early Christians, I mean by way of the historic if not a priest or a Christian.Ladies and gentlemen, I'm on a lecturing circuit in the Northern part of California and mymessage in a way to my different audiences has been constantly the same; I personallybelieve that history is undecided and the dilemma, the moral dilemma, the politicalchallenge in the Middle East is the following: We either have one people too many, thistime we the Palestinians, or we have a state which is missing. And I always tell myaudiences, I never belong to the optimistic school of thought that promises victory andsalvation to the oppressed. Unfortunately, Mrs. President, history is a symmetry ofoppressed people who remained oppressed until they vanished into the historic oblivion.So usually I invite my audiences telling them, history is undecided, please help historymake the right choice. My message to American, to American public opinion is thefollowing: I'm not inviting you to sacrifice the tradition, friend. I'm offering you anadditional friend, Palestine. And I believe many Americans and many Americans are notaware that the first country that were to recognize American independence was notFrance, who yes, deployed Lafayette and input was decisive on the contact of operationson the theater, but it was an (unidentified) country who was the first country in the worldto recognize American independence, Morocco.And very few Americans and very few Palestinians as a matter of fact, know that after thefirst World War when our people realized that if you want to have the independencepromised by foreign domination, we Palestinians then in 1919 would have preferred tohave an American mandate, rather than a British mandate and that was for three differentreasons and factors. One your anti-colonial experience, the founding fathers that defiedthe colonial rule, that was the first factor.The second factor was your late president, Woodrow Wilson, who went to the conferencein Versailles, upholding the principle of self-determination and the third factor was thefact that in 1919 Capitol Hill Congress, Capitol Hill sent a congressional fact findingmission to Palestine and came back saying to Capitol Hill that the Balfour Declarationcan only be implemented unless massive use of force is used against the indigenouspopulation, which made Capitol Hill then extremely lovable to our ears and to our eyes.So ladies and gentlemen, I believe that between us and the Arab world in Palestine andbetween you in America, we do not have any differences on neither values or principles.We share the same principles and I remember 20 years ago reading the autobiography ofDean Acheson, the late Secretary of State, titled Present at the Creation, where hedevotes enormous chapters to the creation of the UN where he said the UN charter is thecondensed version of American political philosophy and American ideology and that'swhy I'm sometimes surprised that here in America, some have made it a vocation, aprofession, a hobby, to attack the UN and the UN charter. Because the UN charter is thecondensed version of American political philosophy that I happen to share. And I believethat what we expect from America is to reconcile its power with its principles, it will bebetter off in the world and in Palestine.Now moving around this country, my wife and I, I will not concede from you and(unidentified) transpiring through the whole hour. We are fascinated by American society.I believe America is a nation of nations. I believe you are the world (unidentified). Andthat gives you added responsibilities in our contemporary world.What is our contemporary, national system? During my lifetime, we have moved from thebipolar system with the rivalry of two nuclear superpowers where we in the third worldwere both afraid of superpower collision and sometimes of superpower collusion thatwould have been a political expense. Today we live in a unipolar, one polar, internationalsystem after the collapse of the Soviet Union.And I personally believe, ladies and gentlemen, that in a unipolar, one polar, internationalsystem, non-alignment should be what characterizes American foreign policy and let metell you why. Because you are a nations of nations whenever America aligns itself on onebelligerent party in a regional conflict, not only does it antagonize, offend and agitate allthe other players of the regions in the conflict, but it also offends and antagonizes andagitates and ghettoizes a domestic component of your own national, social domestic fabric.Believe you me. I'm a foreigner in this country, but it must not have been easy to be aPalestinian-American, an Arab-American or a Muslim-American because often theperception was that your country of adoption is not sensitive to the aspirations, to thesufferings of your country of origin. Being a nation of nations, being the world of(unidentified) gives you Mrs. President, added responsibilities.Now I am known in my circles, among my friends and some of my foes as a peaceenthusiast. And let me share with you why I believe the peace process so far has not beenconclusive and fruitful and has failed for the last 12, 13 years. I believe the major flawwas that too much was left to the local, belligerent parties, the local negotiating partnersto sort it out. And since we are speaking of two asymmetrical players. Israel wasconstantly tempted to dictate conditions on the other side. And the other side wasconstantly reduced to negotiate at the mercy of a very unfavorable balance of power.So we could not progress.And I told the many interlocutors I have in the Israeli political establishment, I told themit seems to me that Israeli political establishment left, right and center, you expect adiplomatic outcome that reflects Israeli power and in transitions, the constant, distinctiveAmerican on the Israeli preference, Russian decline, European advocation, adeptimportance and what you hope to be Palestinian resignation. (unidentified), it doesn'twork that way. Such a diplomatic outcome can neither be equitable, just and fair, nor canit be permanent, lasting and durable. Let me tell you.I as a person from the third world, I'm a nostalgic loyalist.I was warned by friends of mine, never to show my pro-French, my Francophilia andnever to mention the (unidentified) because it might make me less lovable and moreunpopular than I should be. But in San Francisco, that enlightenment, that enlightenedsegment of American society, I'll take that risk. I am an admirer and a fan of General DeGaulle. I believe he's a statesman like they make them no more. And let me tell you, DeGaul after the '67 war, before he was a statesman, because he was familiar with what Icall the pathology of conflict and the psychology of belligerence.He had a proposal of his own which unfortunately was disregarded.What was his proposal? He called for what he then called (Unidentified), meaning thecoordination of the major four countries, China was not yet in the security council. Andanyway he wanted the major four powers to discuss what is desirable for peace making inthe Middle East and to notify and inform the local belligerent parties what the worldexpects from them. Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately this proposal of (unidentified),never took off the ground. Why? Because America in '67 was not unhappy with the Israelimilitary victory. It compensated humiliations of Vietnam. The Soviet Union short sightedlike they frequently could be, preferred a bipolar constellation and rapport and didn't seewhy they should give equal status to lesser countries like England and France. TheEnglish were unenthusiastic simply because the idea was French to begin with and ladiesand gentlemen since then we have not permanent peace,but a permanent peace process which is the symptom of its failure.Now I for one, believe that (unidentified) that was occupied in six days can also beevacuated in six days, so that the Israelis can rest on the seventh and we can engage in thefascinating journey of nation building and economic recovery. What's lacking is thepolitical willingness. And I'll tell you frankly, I believe that peace is too important to beleft to one party to decide upon and peace between Israelis and Palestinians is not acompromise for me half way between labor and food, half way between Bebe and Barak,half way between Shimon and Sharon, no I believe we should have the international lawand UN resolutions and our guiding commerce.And to tell you frankly, I am constantly intrigued by what I call American self-inflictedimpotence as far as Israel-Palestine is concerned. America, today is the only superpowerwho behaves as a superpower all over the world, it has even conducted two controversialroles in the last five years. Yet we who are calling America to wage peace on us, stillhave to wait. And believe you me, if America was to wage peace on us, we would be the consenting victims.And let me tell you, not because I want to have anybody steal (unidentified), I personallybelieve the unorganized nature of the Palestinian tragedy is what has poisonedinternational relations in the last two decades. The unresolved tragedy of Palestine and wehave become unreasonably reasonable. Today, we the Palestinians, the victims in thisequation, we have become the Jews of the Israelis. We have been the victims of thevictims of European history. We are the ones who moved faster beyond double negationtowards mutual recognition in yet, we are still nowhere. Our society gets born from birthto death from womb to tomb, knows nothing else but of Aryan, military occupation. Andlet me tell you, you cannot envision what military occupation means for Palestinian society.Let me take one dimension without any emotion. Because of the 450 unnecessary militarycheckpoints that are tormenting my society, tripling its energy, suffocating the economyand strangulating the vibrancy of that society, we as Palestinians ever day lose 8 millionworking hours delayed on military checkpoints. In a world that is measured by"competivity" and productivity, we dilapidate and squander unnecessarily 8 millionworking hours everyday at checkpoint. I'm not speaking yet of the humiliation, the(unidentified) and the oppression that accompanies that. I believe enough is enough.Yet, to tell you very frankly, as a peace enthusiast, as the person who has had theprivilege of introducing the two persons who became the negotiators of Oslo in Londonin December '92, I can tell you, if we are left to ourselves, we would never achieve this.What is acceptable to the Israelis is unacceptable to the Palestinians and vice versa. Therewon't be peace unless there is an assertive, visible, vocal, input by the third parties. Andwhoever speaks today of third parties thinks of the U.S. administration. And I believe thatinput should come with the U.S. as the engine and the locomotive, but through the quartetas you know this diplomatic construction of 2002 that has the U.S. aid, E.U., Russia andthe U.N. To represent all the others. And I personally believe we all know what should bethe contours and the content of that desirable peace. Its (unidentified), the two statesolution along with the '67 alliance. We all know what should be the content and thecontours, its the political willingness that is still lacking.Now we have been posted to Washington for the last nine months. We came here withgreat excitement, because my personal belief is that I would battle for independence andstatehood, will either be won or lost in the U.S.A.. And I'm confident that our cry forfreedom out of captivity and bondage will be heard by you. And let me tell you, we asPalestinians, we have the feeling that we have suffered three successive denials. And alldenials are nauseating and revolting, including the ones that have been inflicted on us.We have suffered, Mrs. President, the denial of our mere physical existence, you are notwithout knowing that a founding principle of Zionism was that Palestine was a countrywithout a people for the people without an (unidentified). Our mere physical existencewas denied. Then for another denial of our national rights. For of them the other denial,denial of our suffering, which is extremely painful and often those who would recognizethat yes, maybe history has been slightly unjust to us, everything is compared to the otherone, its banal or they say that our suffering is of our own making so well deserved.Let me tell you as, I as a Palestinian and a Palestinian spokesperson, I've never compared nationaltragedies, I've never compared our neck by the catastrophe to the Holocaust. For the simple reason, one Idon't like (unidentified) accountancy, I don't like comparative marketology, yet I've said and I've writtenthat had I been a Jew or a gypsy, the Holocaust would have been the worst thing that would have happenedin the history of mankind. Had I been a Native American, it will have been the arrival of the early Europeansettlers that has resulted in almost a total extermination of the indigenous population. Had I been a blackAfrican, I would be slavery in previous centuries and apartheid in the last century, and had I been anArmenian, it would be the Turkish Ottoman massacres and if I were a Palestinian, and I happen to be aPalestinian, it would be the (unidentified), big catastrophe of 1948.But to humanity, and you are humanity, you should consider all the above as politically unacceptable,morally repugnant and I believe that you also believe that we are not children of a lesser god. And anyway,I don't like comparative (unidentified), because up until today, I haven't found a mechanism to measure painand quantify suffering. I'm against suffering, I want termination of suffering and I don't enter into this city tohave a discussion of comparative (unidentified).Now we are in America, my wife and I and we have carried our battle, trying to carry the message acrossthe country from the east coast to the west coast gradually. And let me tell you, naively, and I promise to begrotesquely transparent. My conviction is that there are two America's, two historical (unidentified), twopolitical cultures, not one and those two political cultures do not correspond to democratic America andrepublic American. Yes there is the first America of the early settlers that resulted in almost totalextermination of the indigenous population. Yes there is the America that institutionalized slavery, yes thereis the America that had a nasty conception of its frontiers and expanded the detriment of Mexico, yes thereis this America. And maybe when Sharon used to speak of shared values, it was that common history that he had in mind.But ladies and gentlemen, fortunately for you, for the world, for us Palestinians, there is that other America.There is the America of the Founding Fathers of the Republic who defied the colonial rule. There is theAmerica of Abraham Lincoln that took the painful decision of waging this Civil War to rid itself of slavery. Itis the America of Wilson who went to the Versailles Conference upholding the principle of self-determination and yes there is the America of Martin Luther King Jr. who had a dream that we share acrosscontinents, across oceans. And you are that America, that second America, and I believe that America willlisten to our cry for freedom out of captivity and I believe that is the America that we have to engage in adialogue with so we can mobilize it for human rights, for peace. And today, ladies and gentlemen, in ourplanetary global village, there is no more local conflict, every local conflict has a global significance andbelieve you me, any conflict in and around Jerusalem, has by definition, a global significance.Let me end to leave more time for our interaction, ladies and gentlemen, by saying that even in the bleakestof moments, I've always considered that Palestine will resurrect and as you know, we in Jerusalem,we have had some previous experience in resurrection. Thank you.