Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, who leads the Palestine Liberation Organization's diplomatic mission to the United States, told a UCLA audience that the PLO is firmly committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the framework of negotiations with Israel, while acknowledging that the negotiations may fail.
The leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization's diplomatic mission to the United States, Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, addressing about 50 people in Royce Hall on Nov. 10, said that the establishment of two separate, sovereign states for Palestinians and Jews is still the right path to peace, in spite of decades of failures to achieve that goal.
"Right now we are in a forced marriage, and we need to be divorced so that we can develop our national identities separately from each other," Areikat said, adding, "We have for 43 years been putting up with a brutal military occupation that has denied us our basic human rights – subjected us to harassment, occupation, closures, curfews, incursions, invasions, attacks – and we are entitled to live freely and independently of Israeli influence."
Peace negotiations between the two sides, promoted by the Obama administration, have stalled primarily over the issue of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Areikat denounced what he described as short-sighted political maneuvering by Israel's government aimed at avoiding the resumption of negotiations and any threat to Israeli claims on lands and settlements.
"We cannot provide cover for Israel to continue to plan settlements and change the facts on the ground, and fool ourselves that this is an Israeli government that is seriously and sincerely interested in reaching an agreement with the Palestinian people," he said.
Without providing specifics, except to rule out a return to violent resistance, Areikat said that the PLO was contemplating "other options" that would hasten the end of the Israeli occupation. Some have suggested that Palestinian leaders hand the daily administration of the territories back to Israel, dissolving the Palestinian Authority, or take their case once more to the United Nations – both of which possibilities that were raised during the audience discussion with Areikat, moderated by UCLA Professor of History James Gelvin. Areikat replied that broad international recognition of Palestine had been achieved in the past without leading to Palestinian sovereignty over it, and said that negotiators would seek a consensus including the United States.
In his remarks on Wednesday the ambassador responded directly to encouragement from some quarters for Palestinians to demand equal citizenship rights within a single, bi-national state that would include Israel and all of the disputed territories between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.
Citing projections that Palestinians will outnumber Jews in this region within 20 years, Areikat said that a one-state outcome would not satisfy anyone. Areikat also pointed to what he said were unfounded Israeli fears about the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel immediately following on a two-state solution. Although the choices available to Palestinian refugees are central to the whole dispute, he said, no one believes that 6.5 million of them, or a number approaching that, would return to Israel after a settlement.
"What we are telling [the Israelis] is that you … have to acknowledge the principle of the right of return of the Palestinians, and then we can sit and discuss the mechanisms of implementation of that right, taking into account the Israeli demographic concerns," said Areikat.
Areikat warned strongly against pursuit by the Israeli government of a policy of settlement growth and separation of two peoples in the West Bank.
"I don't think this is something that even Israelis would want to have, let alone Jews in the diaspora, because allowing for this status quo to continue and turning the West Bank into an apartheid-like territory is something that would be morally, not only politically, unacceptable," he said.
The visit by Ambassador Areikat was sponsored by the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, which has made audio and video of his lecture available. The UCLA International Institute was a cosponsor.