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Mr. President, Open, Don't Close, a Dialog with Islamic Nationalists

From: Council for the National Interest Foundation <cnif@democracyinaction.org>

Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 15:28:44 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Mr. President, Open, Don't Close, a Dialog with Islamic Nationalists

A delegation from the Council for the National Interest has just returned from serving as observers in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections that took place January 25, 2006.  The delegation also visited five other countries in the Middle East, meeting presidents, prime ministers, and top party and opposition figures.  It has written a letter to President Bush urging him to open a dialogue with the Islamic nationalists who have come to power in the Palestinian Territories but are also a major force in Egypt, Lebanon, and other countries. Below is the text of the letter.


February 13, 2006

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President;
The undersigned are members of a delegation from the Council for the National Interest and served as Election Observers in Gaza.  Before, during and after that successful completion of free and fair democratic elections under heavy military occupation, we met with citizens, opposition leaders, and government officials there, and in the West Bank, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. 
 
The purpose of this letter is to report our principal conclusions, and urge careful consideration of a significant and potentially highly beneficial modification of our current policies.
 
Mr. President, the governments and peoples of the Arab Middle East are openly and seriously concerned at the perceived lack of truly meaningful public dialogue with the United States.  It is for this reason that our visit has been given extensive coverage in the Arab media, and we have been received by Presidents and Prime Ministers. The highly pervasive desire to be openly engaged in ongoing bilateral discussion and negotiation is almost palpable.  Unfulfilled, that desire generates additional obstacles to the successful resolution or reduction of existing issues.
 
The widespread view from here is that America is far more interested in issuing instructions and demands than it is holding far less provocative meetings which might possibly accomplish the same objectives.  No country has ever appreciated, or reacted positively to being told in public what to do or not do, and certainly not when the statements contain implicit threats.  Occasional visits by lower-ranking officials do nothing to diminish an impression of arrogance combined with a profound lack of understanding.  Neither of these traits is ever productive; combined they do serious damage to relations.
The governments and people here, without exception, view the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as the core issue that must be resolved immediately, in accordance with all existing UN resolutions that will incorporate justice for both sides. A band-aid approach to this region does not work.
 
They are convinced, with good reason, that the U.S. is not an honest broker. The U.S. call for democratic reform does not seem sincere. It is believed throughout the Middle East that U.S. goals are to demonize Islam, exploit the oil resources of this region, and protect Israel from any criticism, especially when its actions are completely counter to declared American principles. 

Our unwavering military, economic and political support for Israel makes us appear responsible for its actions.

None of the Islamists we interviewed showed any sympathy for Al Qaeda's agenda, and in fact are committed to civil and political accountability through the electoral process. One of the Hamas leaders went so far as to declare, “We are not the Taliban.” Your  blanket statements about "radical Islam" paint all Islamic nationalist movements as identical with Al Qaeda, thus strengthening the hand of those who are clearly intent on doing harm to the US, and effectively preventing any dialogue with those who have shown their commitment to democratic practice and institutions.
 
We are convinced that a more visible and truly meaningful program to engage the nations of this vital area in high-level, ongoing discussions and negotiations would make significant contributions, to the much-needed repair of our severely damaged image as well as to the advancement of our interests and objectives.  More attentive listening and less peremptory lecturing has always been a better way, everywhere.  At this time, in this region, it is urgently needed.
 
We believe our key point is reasonable, relevant and cost free.  Talks require time, to consider the issues, and nothing further.  They present an opportunity to modify positions for mutual benefit.  If we openly engage in genuine dialogue with the governments in the Middle East, there is at least the possibility of solving some problems.  If we do not, then all of the problems will remain – and grow.  The costs of genuine discussion are minimal; the possible benefits are considerable.  The alternative situation, which exists now, leads to the exact, highly undesirable opposite result.

It is our hope that you and your people concerned with Middle East policy will take these criticisms of the lack of a dialog with Islamic nationalists seriously. We sincerely hope you will urge congressional leaders to oppose efforts currently underway in Congress to deny all aid to the Palestinian people now that they have exercised their democratic free will.  We believe that the Islamic nationalists in Palestine and the Arab World are sincere in desiring a mutually rewarding association with the United States, but not at the expense of their freedom and liberation from occupation.
 
(Signed)

Ambassador Robert Keeley, Chairman, Council for the National Interest Foundation
Ambassador Edward Peck, Washington, DC
Eugene Bird, President, Council for the National Interest
Peter Viering, Attorney, Stonington, Connecticut
Elizabeth Viering, President, Stonington Real Estate Company
Dr. Hassan Fouda, Scientist, Pfizer Corporation (Ret)
Christopher Belcher, Alchymedia, Washington, DC

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