Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Director, Public Diplomacy for Middle Eastern & MEPI Affairs
The American Federation of Ramallah Palestine
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Thank you for inviting me to join you for the 46 th mid-year convention of your Federation, here in Louisville , Kentucky . The Palestinian migration to the United States started in the early 1900s - perhaps even earlier. When you came to America you realized the opportunities that lay ahead of you. You worked hard and you assimilated in the American way of life. Today Palestinian Americans live all over the country and hold great positions in the private and public sectors. Many of you have lived the American dream and your contributions to this country are evident in the many Palestinian Americans who hold high office such as Senator John Sununu and his father before him as Governor of New Hampshire and later the Chief of Staff at the White House. Also Naomi Shihab Nye a writer who touched so many lives with her writing and many other Palestinian Americans in all walks of live.
While experiencing the good life here you did not forget your roots. Your culture and heritage were always in your hearts and souls. In order to show your love you established this Federation to help students with their education, establish senior citizens homes, donate funds to needy families, help local hospitals and many other on-going programs and projects. And what you did in extending a helping hand to others is exactly what America is doing through the United States Agency for International Development.
The journey of USAID in the West Bank and Gaza started in 1993 with a yearly budget of $75 million. In 1999 USAID received $400 million in supplemental funding from Congress following the Wye River Accords and in 2003 another $50 million in response to the formation of a new Palestinian government. Also the U.S. is a major donor to the UNRWA with a budget of $127 million in 2004. In a gesture of support for the newly elected Palestinian leadership, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced this past February the reprogramming of $41 million in development funds earmarked for projects in the West Bank and Gaza . The United States has donated more to the Palestinian people than any donor country in the world. These funds go toward infrastructure and water resources, revitalizing the private sector, community services, health, democratic reform and higher education.
President George W. Bush is committed to a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel. The Administration is encouraged by the recent Palestinian presidential elections and since that time we have seen continuing momentum toward peace. As Secretary of State Rice said recently the coming six months are going to be extremely important, as the Palestinian parliamentary elections take place later this year, and, as, we witness the beginning of the Israeli disengagement plan from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank. This time period is an opportunity to move forward toward peace and to continue reform of Palestinian institutions. Institutions that are transparent and accountable, with less dependence of foreign assistance. It is extremely important to proceed as rapidly as possible in building them.
On the other hand, there is more work to be done, both by the Palestinians and by the Israelis. Our position on settlement activity has not changed. We have informed the Israelis that they have obligations under the roadmap to freeze settlement activity, and dismantle unauthorized outposts. We are also concerned about the route of the barrier, to the extent that it prejudges final borders, confiscates Palestinian property and imposes further hardship on the Palestinian people. The Palestinians need to do more to confront terror. President Abbas has begun to take some positive steps, but much more needs to be done, particularly with regards to dismantling the terrorist infrastructure. We have sent General William Ward out to the region as U.S. Security Coordinator to help the Palestinians reform and restructure their security services.
As trust emerges between the present Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, we think there is a better chance now than in a very long time to move forward with the President's two state vision.
As President Bush said few days ago while receiving an Iraqi delegation at the Rose Garden :" Freedom is on the march in the Middle East", it is indeed on the march. Democracy and freedom are his priorities in a peaceful Middle East where individuals will have the opportunity to practice their intrinsic rights as individuals. Palestinians - elected a new President, Iraqis - 8 million went to the poll for their first democratic election, Afghanis - elected their first representative government in last year's election, and Lebanese - in few weeks, will go to the poll to elect a new parliament, progress is being made toward democracy in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait and Morocco.
The wall of stagnation, fear, manipulation, confrontation is coming down in the new Middle East. Palestinian Americans are an important component to the success of the new Middle East. I hope that you all become active participants in helping President George W. Bush and his administration to bring peace and security to Palestinians and Israelis. You can play a major role in directing those efforts to your community back home because you are the perfect bridge of understanding and openness between America and the Palestinian people.
Thank you and May God keep the United States of America the beacon of freedom and democracy.