Certainly don't take an article like this very seriously. Safieh is very much a part of the old-guard Fateh now under bombardment for the terrible corruption and ineptitude that has gone on for decades. The Jewish 'left' will embrace him and push him forward, and he himself has nowhere else to turn but to them. But little if anything serious will change and the apartheid and co-optation realities of the 'Palestinian Authority' Safieh serves will continue.
Palestinian Envoy Brings New Strategy to Washington
By Ori Nir
December 30, 2005
WASHINGTON — For many years, pro-Israel activists in the nation's capital
have had it relatively easy, thanks to the failure of the Palestinians to
organize an effective lobby or to station an effective spokesman in the
But the fight just got tougher, with the recent appointment of Afif Safieh —
one of the sharpest and most eloquent Palestinian representatives in the
world — to head the Palestine Liberation Organization's diplomatic mission
Unlike his predecessor, Hassan Abdul Rahman, Safieh, 55, is an impressive
orator and is already assuming a high public profile in Washington. Safieh
is an intellectual who, since the early 1970s, has been weaving in and out
of academia and diplomatic service for the PLO. He has held meetings with
Bush administration officials and U.S. lawmakers, Arab-American groups,
Jewish organizations, think tanks, fellow diplomats and journalists.
Safieh, who recently completed a 15-year stint as the Palestinian
representative to the United Kingdom and the Holy See, boasts both scholarly
knowledge and a rhetorical knack for producing catchy sound bites. A
Palestinian activist recently said that Safieh is "the closest thing we have
to Abba Eban," Israel's late, erudite, South African-born foreign minister.
Last week, Safieh sent a letter to President Bush, which he signed "your
brother in the Christian faith," wishing the president a merry Christmas "on
behalf of the Palestinian people." Beyond the niceties, the letter complains
that "the birth place of Jesus Christ has been totally caged in by the
Apartheid Wall" — the security fence that Israel is building in the West
Bank. He also complained about Israel's refusal to facilitate Palestinian
legislative elections in East Jerusalem.
During a 45-minute interview at his Washington office, which unlike any
diplomatic mission in the nation's capital has absolutely no security
measures in place, Safieh merrily performed intellectual acrobatics: In
perfect English with a bouquet of French and Arabic accents, he talked at
length about his fascination with the underappreciated contribution to
Israeli-Arab peacemaking of Nahum Goldman, former representative of the
Jewish Agency in New York and the founder and longtime president of the
World Jewish Congress. He analyzed America's global foreign policy,
explained the difference between what is Machiavellian and what is
Machiavellic, and discussed Palestinian violent and nonviolent resistance to
Israeli occupation while approving the final draft of the letter to Bush and
chain-smoking six cigarettes.
This level of energy and sophistication can be truly appreciated only when
compared with that of Rahman, the PLO's outgoing chief of mission, who is
being rotated to Morocco. Years ago, Rahman seemed to resign himself to a
semi-stealth status in Washington. He was not a frequent visitor to the
State Department or Congress, rarely appeared in public, and made no
significant attempts to reach out to think tanks, campuses, Arab-American
groups or Jewish-American organizations. For years, Palestinian activists in
Washington have urged Yasser Arafat and other senior PLO officials to send a
more active representative to the United States, but to no avail. Only
recently, under Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, did the Palestinian
leadership decide to reshuffle its diplomatic corps and send Safieh to
Safieh comes to America with a strategy. The Palestinians, he said, already
have won the diplomatic and political battle for an independent Palestinian
state. A two-state solution has been embraced by the international community
as the preferred way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Safieh
said. Therefore, he added, "the challenge today — and it is a monumental
challenge that calls for Herculean endeavors — is to translate this
territorially and geographically" into a reality, with the help of America
and its international allies. To that end, Safieh said, he will have to
confront the ability of the pro-Israel lobby to "monopolize and deter and
dissuade and coerce American politicians in the most undignified manner."
It is disturbing, he said, that 70 American senators last week signed a
letter to Bush, initiated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,
calling on the president to "reevaluate all aspects of our relations" with
the Palestinian Authority if the Islamic militant group Hamas becomes part
of the Palestinian government. At the same time, Safieh said, it is
encouraging that 30 senators did not sign.
Among those who did not sign were the Republican chairmen and ranking
Democratic members of the two committees — Foreign Relations and
Appropriations — that will play the most instrumental role in shaping
America's relations with the P.A.
Safieh was born in Jerusalem to a Christian Arab family but lived most of
his life in Europe. He is married to a Belgian national, carries a Belgian
passport, and is a familiar face in Europe, where he put an emphasis on
working with non-governmental organizations. In America, he plans to do the
same. Churches, he said, are of particular importance, as are think tanks,
the media, and the Arab and Jewish communities. He intends to pay particular
attention to the Palestinian community in America and turn it into "a source
of empowerment for the Palestinian vision of the future."
Safieh already has met with members of two American Jewish groups that
strongly support America's efforts to advance the peace process, the Israel
Policy Forum and Americans for Peace Now, though he managed to ruffle some
At his meeting with members of the IPF in New York earlier this month, he
criticized Israel's refusal to release Palestinian prisoners, who according
to Israel have "blood on their hands." Safieh said that if Palestinians use
the same logic in their relations with Israel, they "would hardly find any
Israelis to talk to." Some IPF members were offended by what they saw as
Safieh's comparing non-combatant Israeli civilians to Palestinian
Asked if it was prudent to make such a remark during his first meeting with
American Jews, Safieh was unapologetic. "In situations of belligerency,
there are fighters on each side," he told the Forward, "and I don't accept
the Israeli-Jewish approach that there is no moral equivalence and that
Jewish blood is more precious than Palestinian blood."
In his dialogue with the Jewish community, he intends to be direct, Safieh
"I am not in the massage business," he said, "massaging perceptions that I
know to be untrue, and cultivating them as such."
He said that his main message to American Jews will be that as Americans and
as friends of Israel, they have both the moral duty and the strategic
interest to help in the creation of a prosperous Palestinian state.
"It is the duty of Israelis and Jews who support Israel to help us, and
fast," he said. "The Gaza disengagement has taught us that a territory that
was occupied in six days can also be evacuated in six days so that the
Israeli side can rest on the seventh and we can engage in the fascinating
journey of nation-building and economic recovery."