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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Open Letter to President-elect Obama By Dr. Abdel-Fattah Mady

I write this letter to the US President-elect, Barack Obama, as a Muslim and Arab, believing that it expresses the feelings and aspirations of most Muslims and Arabs. My ultimate sincere aim is to convey to the new president insights into what the real problem in the Middle East is, how the majority of Arabs and Muslims feel toward US foreign policy and how the United States should modify this policy to restore American credibility in the region, reduce anti-Americanism, and achieve a real and complete peaceful solution. It is a time when soberness and candor are more necessary than ever before.

The Problem of Israeli Occupation
Mr. President,
Many peoples in the Middle East believe that the core problem in the region is not a dispute among two nations on borders or territories as the American administration started describing the Israeli-Arab conflict in the 1990s.

The problem is the Israeli occupation of Arab territories in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. It revolves around the longest, ongoing occupation in the recent history. An occupation which has engaged, in practice, grave breaches of international law, including colonial settlements, extra-judicial assassinations, "authorized" torture, house demolitions, extended curfews, destruction of agricultural land and civilian property, deportations, use of civilians as human shields, and other forms of collective punishment and repressive measures that have failed to bring "security" to Israel over the last 60 years.

The previous American administrations claimed that the problem is that Arab countries oppose a peaceful settlement with Israel and that Israel is defending itself against Arabs. Mr. President, please ask your aides to provide you with three important documents:
1. The Saudi-inspired peace plan adopted by the Arab Summit in Beirut in March 2002, which called for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967 in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel. Israel rejected this plan and your predecessor never tried to push Israel to consider it.
2. Documents officially and publicly announced and published by the Israeli government which show Yitzhak Rabin's addresses to the Israeli Knesset on Oct. 27, 1994, and May 29, 1995 (during the Oslo process in 1990s) that contrast with UN resolutions 242 and 338 and the Oslo Accords.

Further, you need to see documents published by several Israeli human rights organizations which provide empirical evidence indicating that (a) under Rabin's government, the growth of the Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories was greater than it had been under the previous "hard-line" Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir; (b) during Ehud Barak's tenure (18 months), the number of settlers grew by 12 percent; and (c) between Sept. 1993 and Sept. 2001 the number of West Bank settlements (excluding East Jerusalem) increased by about 90 percent. (Yehezkel Lein and Eyal Weizman, Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank, B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, May 2002, p.12).
3. A set of scholarly studies and testimonies before Congress which highlighted the issue of Israel's use of American-made weapons and possible Israel violation of US laws, especially the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA) and the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 (AECA). AECA specifies that American-supplied weapons may only be used for "internal security" and "legitimate self-defense purposes" and that American weapons cannot be transferred to a third country without US approval.

As many Human Rights organizations reveal, the Israeli army uses American-made weapons to suppress Palestinians under occupation. Furthermore, charges were raised in the Congress in 1982 and 1992 about the possibility that Israel transferred US arms or technology — without US permission — to Iran, China, South Africa, Chile, Ethiopia, and other countries.

US Protection of Israel
Mr. President,
In that region, it is widely believed that the United States is not only responsible for what is taking place, but also is undermining the Middle East peace process and jeopardizing the stability of whole world. The occupation forces — which violate many UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, the Hague Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — are militarily and economically backed by the United states.

Around the world, countries as well as international and Israeli Human Right organizations have condemned Israel's aggressive policies. Only the United States has opposed almost all UN Security Council resolutions that are critical of Israel. The United States not only provided diplomatic protection in the UN organs (more than 40 American vetoes since October), but also increased its economic and military aid to Israel.
People in this part of the world are intensely aware that US policy in the Middle East is based on double standards. While the United States supported UN resolutions in the cases of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor, Rwanda, Kuwait, and Iraq (and suspended all licenses and approval concerning the export of defense articles and services to Yugoslavia, Indonesia, and Rwanda), it did not support UN resolutions when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, in spite of Israeli violations, the United States kept on increasing its aid to Israel. It is easy to provide numerous examples of double standards.
The conflict has affected not only the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and the stability of the region, but also the interests of the American people, especially in light of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and popular anger in the Arab world directed at US foreign policy.

Also, many American intellectuals have begun to write about the cost of American support for Israel. On April 21, 2002, former President Jimmy Carter wrote in the New York Times that American aid to Israel is approximately $10 million daily. In the Christian Science Monitor article published on Dec. 9, 2002, economist Thomas Stauffer estimates that since 1973, Israel has cost the United States about $1.6 trillion.

Resistance is not Terrorism
Mr. President,
Many people in Arab and Muslim countries believe that it is not accurate to judge Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to Israeli occupation the same way we judge the terrorist attacks against America. Peoples under occupation have the universally acknowledged right of legitimate resistance of the foreign occupation.

They are doing exactly what the Europeans did with the Nazis in Europe or the Africans did in their struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. The previous administration made US foreign policy in the region identical to that of Israeli right-wing extremists, whose vital goal is to make Israel's conflict with the Palestinians synonymous with the US war on terror.
Previous US administrations kept on talking about conditions generating terror in Arab and Islamic countries, citing dictatorship, poverty, and other cultural factors. Some of these might be true. Yet what is missing in US thinking is the feelings of frustration and anger shared by millions of Arabs and Muslims as they witness how Israeli occupation forces humiliate and suppress the Palestinians, and how Israeli laws and regulations officially discriminate against the Arab minority inside Israel.

Of course, frustration, injustice, and anger pushed those who lost their beloved relatives or suffered from the destruction of their homes to react to Israeli aggression by sacrificing their lives, the only way they find possible to confront their oppressors, who are armed with the most sophisticated war machines.

Blind bias towards Israel and Washington's double standards policy pave the way for more violence and extremism in the Middle East, and also make the United States' call for domestic "reform" in Muslim and Arab countries sound suspect. Undoubtedly, there is a strong correlation between US policy toward Israelis and Arabs and the feelings and grievances of Arab and Muslims around the world.
Mr. President,
People in this part of the world will never give up their right to self-determination, to return to their land, and to live peacefully and freely. They seek a just, comprehensive, and peaceful solution, which protects their rights. A solution that will also secure the region, protect US interests, and restore its credibility as a mediator.

A solution that should involve the end of occupation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syrian Golan Heights, and Lebanese Shab'a Farms, and the elimination of all racist laws, regulations, and policies toward the Arab minority inside Israel.

It is now up to you, Mr. Obama, to diminish the harmful, disastrous impacts of the previous US administrations' policies towards the Middle East and work vividly for the interests of US people.

Dr. Abdel-Fattah Mady is an assistant professor of political science at Alexandria University, Egypt.

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