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VOA report on CNI delegation's trip to ME

US Citizen Diplomats Offer Fresh Insights on Mideast Peace Process
By Mohamed Elshinnawi
Washington, DC
/23 November 2007/

Elshinnawi report voiced by Rob Sivak — Download MP3 (2.23MB)
audio clip
Listen to Elshinnawi report voiced by Rob Sivak — Download MP3 (2.23MB)
audio clip

*In a unique exercise of citizen diplomacy, a delegation of six former
American diplomats and private individuals has concluded a fact-finding
tour of the Middle East, timed to precede the U.S.-sponsored
Israeli-Palestinian peace conference set to begin Tuesday in Annapolis,

*Members of the group expressed their hope — and concern — about the
Bush Administration's ability to broker an historic settlement of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mohamed Elshinnawi prepared this report,
read by Rob Sivak.*

Back from tour of Mideast, Amb. Robert Keeley, told press that 'people
there are desperate to make their case'
Back from tour of Mideast, Amb. Robert Keeley, told press that 'people
there are desperate to make their case'

Ambassador Robert Keeley, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for
African Affairs led the group. The veteran diplomat and his five
colleagues visited Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria
and Lebanon. They met with high-ranking officials in each country, as
well as peace activists and leaders of non-governmental organizations.

Meeting with reporters back in Washington last week, Ambassador Keeley
said they found a deep desire for peace among all the parties with whom
they met and widespread concerns about America's role in brokering that

"We do not have a sufficient amount or quality of diplomacy going on in
the Middle East," Keeley said, "therefore people there are really
desperate to talk to Americans to make their case, to listen to their
views, to have contacts in the hope that we may carry a message back
here to our people, to our government, our legislators and so forth.

Keeley said the delegation timed its trip to gauge sentiments in the
region just ahead of Tuesday's Annapolis Peace Conference. The former
U.S. diplomat expressed disappointment that the Annapolis meeting
appears to have no set agenda, and no firm deadline for achieving the
long-sought two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Citizen diplomat Daniel Lieberman expressed concern about great
disparities between Palestinians and Israelis
Citizen diplomat Daniel Lieberman expressed concern about great
disparities between Palestinians and Israelis

Daniel Lieberman, another member of the citizen delegation, expressed
similar disappointment. The editor of a monthly newsletter called
Alternative Insight, Lieberman said he found Palestinians especially
fearful of a potential failure in Annapolis, due to what he described as
new Israeli conditions.

"Israel continues to raise the bar for Palestinian commitments, now
requiring not only recognition but recognition of Israel as a 'Jewish
state,"" Lieberman said. "Palestinian officials, especially the Foreign
Minister, try to be optimistic about the Annapolis conference. They want
a complete agenda and final talks but they are more motivated by the
fear of failure than the promise of success."

Lieberman expressed concern about what he sees as significant
disparities between the two major parties to the Annapolis conference.
He said Palestinians really have nothing to concede in their bid to
establish a viable, independent state that can live in peace with Israel.

On the other hand, he said, the Israeli government, contending with a
weakened peace movement, faces little internal pressure to make
concessions to the Palestinians. Mr. Lieberman said that pressure should
come from United States.

Richard Bliss, another member of the private citizen's delegation, is a
lawyer and corporate lobbyist in Washington. He described his first trip
to the Holy Land, and his encounter with a broad range of political
views in the region, as an eye-opener.

He said some of the leaders he and his colleagues met described
Annapolis as an historic opportunity. But he said many also expressed
doubts about the prospects for peace because some key issues — like the
status of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem — don't appear on the
Annapolis agenda.

But Bliss said he believes the United States has the influence and
resources to press both the Israelis and the Palestinians to accept a
framework for a final peace settlement:

"If the parties cannot agree on a solution during the upcoming round of
discussions in Annapolis," Bliss said, "the U.S should dictate a fair
solution and use financial incentives and disincentives to ensure a
resolution of this intractable conflict. We have many other issues of
global proportions to address and cannot afford to have this one
exasperate issues and conflicts we have with or in other nations
including Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran."

Bliss said solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have a
positive impact on U.S relations with Arabs and Muslims throughout the
region, and greatly enhance U.S. national security interests.

The citizen diplomats' trip to the Middle East was a project of the
Council for the National Interest, a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots
organization. According to CNI President Eugene Bird, the group seeks to
encourage and promote a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East
consistent with American values and national interests.
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