Established in 2003, the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), originally called the American Committee on Jerusalem, is a not-for-profit group whose goal is to persuade U.S. lawmakers to support the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel “in the territories occupied in 1967.” ATFP favors “a two state solution, with a shared Jerusalem and a just solution for the refugee problem according to international law.” “A resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue can only come about through direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials as an expression of their national policies,” says ATFP. “No other parties are entitled to negotiate on this issue.”
ATFP blames Israel for most, but not all, Palestinian suffering: “There are many parties responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian refugees. Responsible parties include first Israel for displacing the Palestinian refugees, refusing their return and confiscating their property without compensation. Some Arab states also bear varying degrees of responsibility; some for allowing generations of refugees to languish in camps under miserable conditions, or by placing various restrictions in terms of their legal status, employment and travel rights, and others for not having done enough to ease the suffering of refugees. Finally, the Palestinian leadership has been at fault for not communicating honestly and openly with the refugees on what they can expect for their future.”
According to ATFP, the formation of a Palestinian state “would represent an absolute windfall for the interests of the United States.” “As America continues the defense of its citizens and its freedoms in the global War on Terrorism,” the organization explains, “a final and satisfactory resolution of the Mideast conflict, which is the single greatest source of anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, would be an invaluable asset. … At the same time, Israel’s security and its integration in the Middle East depend firmly on the establishment of defined borders with its neighbors and a just solution for the Palestinian problem based on international legality.”
“The ill will directed at the United States by its perceived support for Israeli conquests and for corrupt authoritarian regimes,” adds ATFP, “has created serious security risks for our country, as demonstrated so horrifically on 9-11.”
ATFP observes that a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the issue of the “right of return” for the Palestinian refugees who left their homes during the early phases of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. (Seeking out a temporary safe haven during what they anticipated would be a brief conflict that the Arab invaders would undoubtedly win, those refugees fully expected to return to their homes once the fighting had stopped and the Jews had been exterminated. Instead, the Arab armies were defeated.) Today ATFP calls for the re-admittance not only of the relatively few remaining survivors who were among the 725,000 original refugees, but also for the admittance of more than 5 million of their descendants. “The right of return is an integral part of international humanitarian law,” says ATFP, “and cannot be renounced by any parties. There is no Palestinian constituency of consequence that would agree to the renunciation of this right. There is also no Jewish constituency of consequence in Israel that would accept the return of millions of Palestinian refugees. … The challenge for the Israeli and Palestinian national leaderships is to arrive at a formula that recognizes refugee rights but which does not contradict the basis of a two-state solution and an end to the conflict.”
“As part of any comprehensive settlement ending the conflict,” says ATFP, “Israel should accept its moral responsibility to apologize to the Palestinian people for the creation of the refugee problem. Palestinians should accept that this acknowledgment of responsibility does not undermine the legitimacy of the present-day Israeli state.”
ATFP was a signatory to a MAY 20, 2004 “Joint Muslims/Arab-American Statement on Israeli Violence in Gaza,” which “strongly condemn[ed]” Israel’s “indiscriminate killings of innocent Palestinians, including many children,” and its “demolition of Palestinian homes.” The statement made no mention of the fact that the Israeli Defense Force’s home demolitions are entirely related to anti-terrorist measures.
ATFP’s President and Founder Ziad Asali was formerly President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. ATFP’s Vice President is Columbia University professor of Middle East Studies Rashid Khalidi, the former Director of the PLO press agency and onetime moderator of the PLO Advisory Committee.
A senior fellow with ATFP is Hussein Ibish, who from 1998-2004 served as Communications Director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and from 2001-2004 was Vice President of Sami Al-Arian’s National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom.