Thursday, June 10, 2010

Refugee Survey Quarterly: UNRWA and the Palestinian Refugees after Sixty Years: Some Reflections by Lex Takkenberg

UNRWA and the Palestinian Refugees after Sixty Years: Some Reflections

Lex Takkenberg (Guest Editor)*

This volume of Refugee Survey Quarterly marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees1 in the Near East (UNRWA). Unlike its sister agency UNHCR, which is mandated to assist and protect refugees worldwide, UNRWA remains dedicated to supporting and protecting Palestinian refugees.2 The Agency has undergone extensive reformation since its inception in response to operational challenges and evolving refugee needs and has sought to remain abreast of emerging international practices. As such, it became a leader in responding to protracted refugee situations. The aim of this volume is to pay tribute to the important role UNRWA has played on behalf of Palestinian refugees and to engage in reflection and debate that might foster the Agency’s continued success in fulfilling its mandate and help the refugees live in dignity pending a just and comprehensive solution to their plight.

When the United Nations General Assembly met in December 1949 to consider the establishment of a successor to the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees,3 it was presented with a draft resolution sponsored by France, Turkey, and the United States, the three countries comprising the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP)4 as well as the United Kingdom.5 The draft came in response to the announcement that the non-governmental agencies providing relief to the more than 700,000 Palestinians, who had become refugees as a result of the 1948–9 Arab–Israeli War, would be unable to continue the aid operation beyond the autumn of 1949. In addition, during the second half of 1949, the United States as chair of the UNCCP, began seeking alternatives to repatriation as the solution to the plight of the refugees foreseen by the international community.6 Invited by the UNCCP, Gordon Clapp, then president of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), visited the Near East in 1949 to explore whether the US solution to the drought of the 1930s and 1940s could be replicated in the Jordan Valley and beyond.7 The Economic Survey Mission, as Clapp’s visit became known, provided an upbeat assessment of the potential for economic development in the Near East in its report published in September 1949.8 In it, Clapp recommended the establishment of an Agency under the auspices of the United Nations that could lead the large-scale development effort he envisioned.

Countries hosting refugees from Palestine cautiously welcomed Clapp’s mission and much suspicion and scepticism remained. This was triggered, in part, by the omission of Palestine refugees and of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 from the initial draft resolution incorporating the recommendations of the Economic Survey Mission. Resolution 194 not only established the UNCCP but also included, in paragraph 11, the resolve of the international community to permit the refugees to return to their homes.9 In response to host country and broader Arab criticism, the draft was amended to accommodate the aforementioned concerns and subsequently adopted without dissent on 8 December 1949. UNRWA was established by a vote of 48-0-6. Five communist governments and South Africa abstained. All of the Arab governments and Israel voted in support of the resolution.10

The new agency commenced operations on 1 May 1950, focusing in part on continued relief operations in support of the nearly 1 million refugees and other recipients of aid it inherited from its predecessor and also on the large-scale development schemes envisioned by the Economic Survey Mission. Many of its initial international personnel, including its second Director,11 John Blandford, Jr, were seconded by the TVA. In December 1950, UNRWA was provided with a 200 million dollar Reintegration Fund. However, as early as the spring of 1951, agency officials recognized that the expensive work relief, works projects, and emigration activities held little promise to resolve the economic difficulties of the refugees.12 By 1956, when the Suez Crisis broke out, only about twenty-seven and a half million of the 200 million dollar fund had been used and, from then on, the large-scale development effort was shelved. In the words of Schiff,
    [i]n retrospect, it took a dollop of optimism, or naïveté, to believe that the refugee problem could be solved with these ambitious water schemes. All the ingredients to thwart the plans were present: the states of the region were mutually suspicious; the effort required allocation of a scarce resource over which participating countries were prepared to fight; the client population did not want to be moved, except back to their homes; and the time schedule for success, set by U.S. enthusiasm, was very short. In a pattern later repeated across the Third World, an economic development plan devised by western experts evaporated when exposed to the dry winds of local, economic, political and cultural realities.13
At the same time, the refugees remained in need of international support and hence UNRWA’s mandate was repeatedly extended. From the mid-1950s onward, UNRWA’s relief mandate shifted from continuing the emergency assistance previously provided by its predecessor – food, shelter, clothing, and basic health care – to more comprehensive support for social development of the Palestine refugee population.14 Education rapidly replaced relief as UNRWA’s central programme, with the Agency establishing a strategic partnership with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), adopting the host country curriculum to its schools and successfully introducing vocational and technical training in addition to its basic education programme. A similar partnership with WHO formed the basis for UNRWA’s highly cost-effective primary health-care programme. As the refugees gradually attained self-sufficiency, dependence on direct relief dropped so drastically that, by the mid-1980s, UNRWA was able to replace its general ration programme with a much more selective programme targeting families in special hardship.

UNRWA’s pioneering human development strategy proved a success. Some 1.42 million pupils15 graduated from UNRWA’s basic nine year16 education cycle, paving the way to economic self-sufficiency for the vast majority of the refugees.17 Literacy rates among Palestine refugees compare well with regional and global levels and enrolment statistics have revealed gender equity since the 1960s. At present, the Agency operates approximately 690 schools in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, with an enrolment of nearly 500,000 children. More than 60,000 students have graduated from technical and vocational training programmes, offered by the Agency’s ten vocational and technical training centres, since the Agency’s founding. Approximately two-thirds of the registered refugees (approximately 3 million persons) obtain health services from 137 primary health-care centres.

To respond to high rates of infant mortality, UNRWA introduced a special oral rehydration formula to treat mildly dehydrated diarrhoeic infants in 1957. The results were spectacular and the principle of oral dehydration therapy was later adopted globally by WHO and UNICEF. As a result of approaches like this one, infant, child, and maternal mortality rates are amongst the lowest in the region and nearly 100 per cent of refugee households are connected to water networks. Apart from recent emergencies, moreover, dependence on direct relief assistance reduced dramatically from nearly 100 per cent at UNRWA’s inception to 6 per cent at present. The Relief and Social Services Programme has also been the catalyst for the development of a strong, community-based network of social services, comprising approximately sixty-five women programme centres, thirty-seven community-based rehabilitation centres for persons with disabilities, and thirty youth activity centres.

The outbreak of the first Intifada in 1987 and broader regional developments, including a growing acceptance within refugee communities that improving living conditions does not mean relinquishing the right of return, provided a push for a number of programmatic innovations introduced from the early 1990s onwards. As a result, great progress was made, including with the introduction of a highly successful microfinance programme known as the Microfinance and Microenterprise Programme. Since its establishment in 1991–2, this programme has issued some 180,000 loans totalling 200 million USD, making it the largest non-bank financial intermediary in the region. UNRWA strives to reach full self-reliance and financial self-sufficiency for the programme as soon as possible, and aims to be fully independent in the next decade, in line with international best practice.18 Another innovation introduced by UNRWA relates to a more sustained and systematic effort on improving the physical infrastructure inside refugee camps.19 Since the early 1990s, some 13,500 refugee shelters were rehabilitated. In recent years, UNRWA developed and successfully piloted a participatory camp improvement methodology which is now being rolled out throughout the Agency’s area of operations.20 A new infrastructure and camp improvement department was created within UNRWA to increase capacity and develop efforts in this domain. The more developmental approach adopted since the early 1990s also saw a number of major water and sanitation projects implemented as well as the construction of a 232-bed general hospital in Gaza.

Apart from these “regular” programmes, refugees have also looked to UNRWA when crises strike. These may be small-scale family disasters, destitution arising from protracted emergencies (such as the first and second Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza); or large-scale emergencies that cause both immediate devastation and have long-term consequences (such as the 1967 war, the civil war in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, the 2007 events resulting in the destruction of Nahr al-Bared in Lebanon, and the recent Gaza conflict). UNRWA has demonstrated repeatedly its ability to respond timely and appropriately to recurrent emergencies and is currently building capacity to better plan, manage, and monitor emergency response through dedicated capacity at headquarters and a network of Operations Support Officers across three of the five fields.21

In spite of these impressive achievements, UNRWA’s 60th anniversary is no cause for celebration. Palestinians have been refugees and stateless persons for three generations, with no end in sight to their plight. Refugees are confronted with ongoing denial of their rights as well as recurrent armed conflict in UNRWA locations. After the relative optimism of the Oslo years, during which UNRWA began to harmonize services with those of the Palestinian Authority in preparation for an eventual handover, the start of the second Intifada in late 2000 demonstrated that UNRWA’s services would be needed for years to come. This prompted UNRWA and the Swiss Government to organize a major conference in Geneva in 2004 to build new partnerships in support of UNRWA and to prepare the Agency for the challenges that lay ahead. The conference generated an ambitious agenda for reform, prompting amongst other things a major survey into refugee living conditions, the further development of the Agency’s protection activities, the launch of the Camp Improvement Programme, and a comprehensive overhaul of various aspects of the Agency’s management which became known as the Organizational Development process.

UNRWA has a mandate to provide protection which, according to the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee, refers to “all activities aimed at obtaining full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and spirit of the relevant bodies of law (human rights law, international humanitarian law, refugee law)”.22 United Nations General Assembly resolutions affirm UNRWA’s protection role, referring to the “valuable work done by the Agency in providing protection to the Palestinian people, in particular Palestine refugees”23 and encouraging the Agency to “make further progress” in addressing the needs and rights of children and women in its operations, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.24 Building on these foundations and under the leadership of Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd, UNRWA has developed a more explicit focus on protection in the past decade. It has taken steps to mainstream protection concepts and practice at all levels of the Agency. The importance currently attached to protection within UNRWA is made evident by the emphasis placed on human rights as a core human development goal in the Agency’s Medium Term Strategy for 2010–15 (MTS).25

The Organization Development process (OD) has laid the foundations for a transformation in UNRWA management, of which decentralization and innovation are core themes. UNRWA has reviewed its approach to resource mobilization in response to the Agency’s funding constraints, comprehensively overhauled its approach to programme management, and established sound strategic planning processes resulting in a MTS that is being translated into action through three cycles of Field Implementation Plans, Headquarters Implementation Plans, and two-year Programme Budgets based on the strategy. Other elements of OD include the implementation of results-based budgeting by which resources will be linked to the MTS; improved arrangements for knowledge management, in particular the need to build better capacity to gather and use data on refugees;26 more robust arrangements for evaluation; human resource management reforms; and stronger risk management and accountability.27

The refugee issue is unique amongst the so-called permanent status issues in that it is not a bilateral issue but involves other stakeholders, including host countries, donor countries, and the wider international community. Whereas UNRWA’s focus is the provision of humanitarian and development assistance, it is also uniquely placed to advise and support, where possible, necessary efforts by other actors towards achieving and implementing a solution. Realizing that this constitutes a key element of its protection mandate, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General and other senior staff have been contributing experience and insights on related matters, as appropriate. And while the strategic framework for the next six years, embodied in the MTS, is based on the status quo prevailing, the Agency has also recognized that it must be ready to respond to changes in political and economic contexts, including more fundamental change, leading to a significantly different scenario, should a just solution to the refugee issue emerge.28

The present volume brings together a wealth of scholarly and practitioner insights into the various issues touched upon in this introduction. Focusing on some of the key challenges facing the longest lasting case of forced migration in modern history, it is hoped that it will contribute to a better understanding of a unique agency and of the centrality of the Palestinian refugee issue for peacemaking in the Middle East.

* Lex Takkenberg is UNRWA’s Senior Ethics Officer. He has worked in different positions with the Agency since 1989 and is author of The Status of Palestinian Refugees in International Law (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998). The views expressed in this introduction are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by the United Nations or by UNRWA.
1 UNRWA is mandated to support Palestine refugees, that is, refugees from the territory that had been under the British Mandate for Palestine, regardless of nationality. Although the vast majority of refugees who have been assisted by UNRWA are Palestinians, over 1 per cent of those registered have a different national background.
2 On 8 Dec. 1949, the United Nations General Assembly adopted UNGA res. 302(IV) establishing UNRWA. Five days earlier, on 3 Dec. 1949, it had set up UNHCR; UNGA res. 319(IV) refers. Whereas UNRWA is the principal Agency supporting Palestinian refugees, UNHCR’s mandate covers Palestinians who are refugees, which could include Palestine refugees as defined by UNRWA. Ordinarily, UNHCR only addresses the case of Palestinian refugees when they are outside UNRWA’s area of operations. For the past 60 years UNRWA and UNHCR have been cooperating, each within its respective mandate, and in close coordination with the host states, to support and protect Palestinian refugees. For a more detailed description of the complementary mandates of UNRWA and UNHCR in support of Palestinian refugees, see “The United Nations and Palestinian Refugees”, UNRWA & UNHCR, 2005, available at: pubs07/UN&PR_en.pdf (last visited 1 Dec. 2009).
3 UNGA res. 212(III), 19 Nov. 1948, establishing the UNRPR. Apparently in response to the criticism concerning the UN Disaster Relief Project set up by the UN Mediator for Palestine earlier in the same year, the General Assembly saw a major role for the Red Cross and other voluntary agencies in the 32 million dollar relief plan it adopted on 19 Nov. 1948. UNRPR contracted with ICRC, LRCS, and AFSC to carry out relief activities in Dec. 1948–Aug. 1949. UNRPR effectively replaced the Disaster Relief Project.
4 See UNGA res. 194 (III), 11 Dec. 1948. UNCCP was created three weeks after the establishment of UNRPR to deal with the general task of a peaceful settlement, including of the refugee issue.
5 See E. H. Buehrig, The UN and the Palestinian Refugees: A Study in Non Territorial Administration,
Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1971, 36.
6 In para.11 of UNGA res. 194 (III) which had established the UNCCP, the General Assembly resolved that: “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity should be made good by the Governments of authorities responsible”. Para. 11 also instructed the UNCCP: “to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, though him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations”. See also the contribution by J. Al-Husseini and R. Bocco in the present volume.
7 The TVA was created in 1933 to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region particularly impacted by the Great Depression.
8 ‘First Interim Report of the United Nations Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East’, appended to UNCCP, Final Report of the United Nations Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East, Part 1 (The Final Report and Appendices) and Part II (The Technical Supplement), UN doc. A/AC.25/6, New York, 1949.
9 See Buehrig, The UN and the Palestinian Refugees, op. cit.
10 Cf. ibid. The text of the resolution appears in the document section at the end of this volume.
11 The title of UNRWA’s chief executive officer was Director; until 1962 at which time it became Commissioner-General.
12 Cf. B. N. Schiff, Refugees unto the Third Generation: UN Aid to Palestinians, Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 1995, 21.
13 Ibid., 37.
14 On this shift in UNRWA’s approach, see the contribution of M. Rosenfeld in this volume.
15 The author is grateful to M. Rosenfeld of Hebrew University for her support in providing an accurate estimate of the number of students who completed at least nine years of basic education in UNRWA schools from the Agency’s establishment until today. Unlike other statistics pertaining to UNRWA’s many achievements, this critical piece of information was not easily available. The estimate is based on the interpretation of data in UNRWA annual reports, with approximations for missing data. It is believed that the margin of
error does not exceed 2.5 per cent.
16 Ten years in Jordan.
17 See on the impact of UNRWA’s education and other programmes on refugee youth, the contribution by D. Chatty in this volume.
18 See UNRWA’s Medium Term Strategy 2010-2015, available at: pubs08/mts_report_2010_2015.pdf (last visited 1 Dec. 2009), 34–5.
19 On the evolution of the Palestinian refugee camps, see the contribution of H. Rueff and A. Viaro in this volume.
20 See the contribution of P. Misselwitz and S. Hanafi in this volume with regards to UNRWA’s (new) Camp Improvement Programme. See the contribution of T. Rempel in this volume, regarding the Agency’s efforts to introduce participatory approaches, including in relation to camp improvement.
21 See UNRWA’s Medium Term Strategy 2010-2015, op. cit. 34. See the contribution by M. Rosenfeld in this volume regarding the effects of UNRWA’s emergency operations on its regular programmes.
22 IASC, Growing the Sheltering Tree: Protecting Rights through Humanitarian Action, 2002, 11. On UNRWA’s mandate in general, and its protection mandate in particular, see the contribution of L. Bartholomeusz in this volume. The contributions of R. Khoury, B. Goddard, M. Kagan, O. Al-Abed, and N. Morris also deal with various aspects of protection of Palestinian refugees and other vulnerable Palestinians.
23 UNGA res. 62/104 of 17 Dec. 2007 on Operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
24 Ibid.
25 UNRWA’s Medium Term Strategy 2010-2015, op. cit. 23–4, 37–9.
26 On strengthening UNRWA’s knowledge management, see also the contribution of R. Terbeck in this volume. 27 See UNRWA’s Medium Term Strategy 2010-15, op .cit. ch. 6; see also the section on OD on the UNRWA web site, available at: (last visited 1 Dec. 2009).
28 See UNRWA’s Medium Term Strategy 2010-2015, op. cit. 23, 9–10, 25. On future prospects for UNRWA and Palestinian refugees, see the contributions by M. Dumper, J. Peters, and O. Gal and L. Hilal in this volume.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Remarks by President Obama and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority after Meeting


Full Transcript Below:
11:58 A.M. EDT

: Hello, everybody. Be careful, careful.

Before I begin, I know that there was just a vote in the United Nations Security Council. I'm going to comment on that separately. I don't want to detract from the topic at hand here. So for reporters who are interested in that issue, I will be making a statement about that after our session here.

I just want to thank President Abbas for being here, and his delegation. We just concluded some very productive discussions on this issue. I commended President Abbas for the excellent work that he and Prime Minister Fayyad have been engaged in over the last several years in strengthening the security as well as improving the economic situation for his people. He’s done so through hard work and dedication, and I think the whole world has noticed the significant improvements that we've seen as a consequence of his good administration.

But obviously there is a lot of work that remains to be done so that we can create a two-state solution in the Middle East in which we have an Israel that is secure and fully accepted by its neighbors, and a Palestinian people that have their own state, self-determination, and the ability to chart their own destiny.

Now, we've just gone through a difficult period in the region. We saw the tragedy with the flotillas, something that I think has drawn attention all around the world to the ongoing problems in Gaza. As part of the United Nations Security Council, we were very clear in condemning the acts that led to this crisis and have called for a full investigation. And it is important that we get all the facts out. But what we also know is that the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. I think increasingly you're seeing debates within Israel, recognizing the problems with the status quo. And so President Abbas and I had very extensive discussions about how we could help to promote a better approach to Gaza.

We agree that Israelis have the right to prevent arms from entering into Gaza that can be used to launch attacks into Israeli territory. But we also think that it is important for us to explore new mechanisms so that we can have goods and services, and economic development, and the ability of people to start their own businesses, and to grow the economy and provide opportunity within Gaza.

And so we are going to be working hand in hand to make sure that we come up with a better approach, and urge Israel to work with all parties involved -- Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and the international community -- to find a resolution to this issue.

In the meantime, the United States -- which is already the biggest humanitarian aid donor in Gaza -- is going to be announcing an additional $400 million in assistance for housing, school construction, business development -- not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank, because we think it’s important for us to reaffirm once again our commitment to improving the day-to-day lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Now, what we also discussed, though, and what we will continue to work on over the next several months is the fact that not only is the status quo with respect to Gaza unsustainable, the status quo with respect to the Middle East is unsustainable. It is time for us to go ahead and move forward on a two-state solution that will affirm the needs of Israeli citizens and will affirm the needs of Palestinian -- Palestinians who are desperate for a homeland.

We have had very productive proximity talks. Senator Mitchell -- who is here, I think standing in the back -- has been very active, working with both the Palestinians and the Israelis to try to start moving this process forward. And I want to thank President Abbas for participating in these proximity talks even under some difficult circumstances. He has shown courage and tenacity in wanting to resolve this issue. And we believe that with Israelis and the Palestinian Authority coming together, making clear that a peaceful, non-violent solution that recognizes both the security needs of Israel as well as the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians is the right way to go, can yield real progress in the coming months.

It’s important that we understand the sense of urgency that the Palestinian people feel in this process. Obviously you’ve got organizations like Hamas that have not recognized Israel, have not renounced violence, who are calling for a different approach. And we think it’s important that, given President Abbas’s commitment to a peaceful diplomatic solution to these issues, and I think the desire of people both in Israel and Palestine -- Palestinian Territories for a peaceful solution, that we move forward. And the United States is going to put its full weight behind those efforts.

I did share with President Abbas, in order for us to be successful in these next several months, that both sides have to create an environment, a climate, that is going to be conducive to an actual breakthrough. And that means on the Israeli side, curbing settlement activity and recognizing some of the progress that has been made by the Palestinian Authority when it comes to issues like security. It means on the Palestinian side -- and I was very frank with President Abbas that we have to continue to make more progress on both security as well as incitement issues.

And if we can over the next several months try to lift up what are the honest and legitimate concerns of both sides and if both Palestinians and Israelis can recognize that they have a common interest in moving off of what has been this dead end, then I believe that potentially we can make significant progress before the end of the year.

So I just want to let President Abbas know that I said when I took office this was an issue that I cared deeply about and I was willing to spend a lot of time and energy and political capital on. That commitment has not wavered. And I think the American people want to see a resolution of this issue that is equitable. We will continue to work side by side with you, as well as the Israelis, to resolve this in a way that is good for the children and future generations both in Israel and in a future Palestine.

So thank you very much.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (As translated.) Thank you, Mr. President. And we, indeed, have just held very important discussions that touched on the political process as well as the very important latest development that happened in Gaza.

Of course we value and deeply appreciate all the efforts of the United States, as well as the effort of President Obama, and all the assistance and help for pushing forward the economic and security levels. And we have reached a satisfactory picture of the economic and security levels. Yet we are determined to keep pushing forward in our efforts to bring it up to the next level.

And I also appreciate the attention and the determination of President Obama in seeing that we push forward the political process as soon as possible. And I assert and I affirm that we will not give up on this endeavor ahead of us, because it is in our interest, it in the interest of Israel, in the interest of the world, and also, most of all, in the interest of the United States.

We know that time is of essence; we know that we must not miss this opportunity. We affirm the importance of bringing about peace and security in the region.

And I would like to thank President Obama for the support that he will give to Gaza -- and we have just talked about that now. This is a positive signal of the United States that the United States cares about the suffering of the people in Gaza and about the suffering of the Palestinian people.

And we also see the need to lift the Israeli siege of the Palestinian people, the need to open all the crossings, and the need to let building material and humanitarian material and all the necessities go into the Palestinian people.

And also we appreciate the attention given to the formation of an investigation committee that would investigate what happened in the latest events, the events of what we call the Freedom Flotilla, or the Freedom Fleet.

And I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that. What we care about is to live in coexistence with Israel, in order to bring about the independent Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and stability.

We adopt and we affirm the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted in summits, in Arab summits, as well as in summits held by Islamic countries. Fifty-seven Arab and Islamic countries have said that they would recognize Israel if Israel withdrew from the occupied Arab land.

Mr. President, we thank you and we express our deep respect for all your efforts, specifically on the peace process and bringing about peace in the Middle East. We know the two-state solution you said is a critical interest of the United States. This is a slogan that we are proud of and we will pursue very seriously our efforts in order to bring about peace in the Middle East.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We got time for, I think, two questions. So, on the U.S. side, we’re going to call on Matt Spetalnick of Reuters.

Q Yes, Mr. President, I know you’re going to be making a statement later on Iran, but I just wondered if --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes, so just don’t waste that question on that.

Q You’re not going to answer anything --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'll do that at the next one.

Q Okay. Did President Abbas ask you to take a tougher line with Israel over the Gaza aid flotilla raid, and will you in fact do so in outright condemnation of Israel’s actions? And do you support Israel’s insistence on doing a flotilla investigation on its own, perhaps with some foreign involvement, or are you in favor of the U.N. proposal for a completely independent inquiry?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me take the second question first. What the U.N. Security Council called for was a credible, transparent investigation that met international standards. And we meant what we said; that's what we expect.

I think everybody -- people in Israel, people in Turkey, people within the Palestinian Territories, certainly people here in the United States -- want to know the facts of this tragedy, what led to it, how can we prevent it in the future. And I think I’ve said to the Israelis directly and certainly my team has communicated the fact that it is in Israel’s interest to make sure that everybody knows exactly how this happened so that we don't see these kinds of events occurring again. And we expect that the standard that was called for in the U.N. Security Council to be met.

With respect to the issue of taking a tougher line, I think President Abbas and I spent most of our time discussing how do we solve the problem. One of the things that we see is that so often rhetoric when it comes to issues in the Middle East outstrip actually solving issues. And our conversation was focused on how do we actually allow more goods, more services into Gaza? How do we allow businesses to thrive? How can we get construction moving? How can we put people to work in Gaza?

The Palestinian Authority is already doing a number of things inside of Gaza, providing employment opportunities, providing assistance to people directly. The United States is already providing assistance. But the status quo that we have is one that is inherently unstable. And I think the Israelis have come to recognize that.

The question now is how do we create a different framework so that people in Gaza can thrive and succeed; so that extremists are isolated as opposed to having an excuse for engaging in violent activities; but also, how do we do it in a way that Israel’s legitimate security concerns are met.

We -- and I think President Abbas agrees with this -- recognize that Israel should not have missiles flying out of Gaza into its territories. And so there should be a means by which we are able to stop the flow of arms that could endanger Israel’s security. At the same time, we’re doing so in a way that allows the people in Gaza to live out their aspirations and their dreams both for themselves and their children. And that's something that we’re going to spend a lot of time focusing on. And we’ve already begun some hard-headed discussions with the Israelis in achieving that.

Q (Asks a question in Arabic.) And, Mr. President, if I may ask you a question --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, I was just finding out what you were asking him. (Laughter.)

Q I can translate that to you if you want. I just asked him that there is talk that the administration wants to move from proximity talk to direct negotiation, what the Palestinian Authority wants to see as a condition to move to that stage.

And if I may ask you, the European Union has proposed opening of the Gaza crossing. Would you endorse that, with the E.U. supervision? And the money you talked about now, the $400 million, what mechanism -- who is going to distribute this money? Because in the past it has been a problem regarding the money.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (As translated.) With regards to the transitioning from the proximity talks to the direct talks, we did not say -- we are not saying that we have conditions. What has happened is that we agreed that should a progress be achieved, then we would move on to direct talks. We are working in order to make progress. President Obama is working for that to see progress. And we -- this is what we have.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to the aid to Gaza, I’ll let my team give you the details in terms of how that will be administered and how the money will begin to flow.

With respect to the broader issue of lifting the blockade, as I said before, I think the key here is making sure that Israel’s security needs are met, but that the needs of people in Gaza are also met. And it seems to us that there should be ways of focusing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then in a piecemeal way allowing things into Gaza.

So if we can get a new conceptual framework -- and I’ll be talking to my European counterparts, as well as Egypt and Israel and the Palestinian Authority -- it seems to me that we should be able to take what has been a tragedy and turn it into an opportunity to create a situation where lives in Gaza are actually directly improved.

But let me make this final point, that in the long run, the only real way to solve this problem is to make sure that we’ve got a Palestinian state side by side with an Israel that is secure. And so we’re going to be dealing with these short-term problems, but we also have to keep our eye on the horizon and recognize that it’s that long-term issue that has to be focused on. So many of the immediate problems in front of us have to do with the fact that we haven’t solved this broader problem.

Okay? Thank you very much, everybody.

END 12:21 P.M. EDT

June 9, 2010 - 9:26am
Pres. Abbas: Peacemaking takes courage, leaders
June 9, 2010

This round of negotiations provides an 11th-hour opportunity to achieve a permanent and lasting peace based on the two-state solution. For the opportunity not to be lost, courage and bold leadership are required.

June 9, 2010 - 9:43am
Palestine's Great Hope
June 9, 2010

The emergence of Salam Fayyad is the best thing to happen to the Middle East in ages.

The Palestinian State and Institution Building Program
Documents detailing the state and institution building program of the 13th Palestinian Government, including the overall plan and priority interventions for 2010.

Quote from Slate Magazine article by Michael Weiss
According to Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, Fayyad has done a dangerous thing, all right: He has given Palestinians agency, responsibility, and much to lose, creating a new paradigm that many die-hard adherents to the "cause" find threatening to their idealism. As Ibish puts it, "nation-building is supposed to be a glorious top-down endeavour, not a mundane and workaday set of policies."

ADC Thanks Ms. Helen Thomas for Legendary Service
ADC Thanks Ms. Helen Thomas for Legendary Service

Washington, DC | June 9, 2010 | | Helen Thomas, 89, Dean of the White House Press Corp, and lauded as a "Pioneer Journalist" and Trailblazer for female journalists," apologized for her May 27, 2010, response when she was asked "Any comments on Israel...?" and she responded "Tell them to get the [] out of Palestine." Upon further prodding, Ms. Thomas stated that "Remember these people are occupied and it's their land..." and those who are the occupiers should "...go home" to "Poland, Germany...And America and everywhere else."

In her apology, Ms. Thomas wrote: "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) thanks Ms. Thomas for her legendary service, and acknowledges Ms. Thomas' apology. ADC believes that Ms. Thomas should be judged on her "50-plus years of probing journalism, and not on a 30-second sound bite," as stated by Mr. Zool Zulkowitz, who represents American Jews defending Ms. Thomas. Mr. Zulkowitz further said that, "We are clear what Helen Thomas meant to say, which is that Israel should cease its occupation of Palestine..." And, as Mr. Paul Jay wrote: "Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism...Helen Thomas' isn't."

As President Obama recognized in his historic address in Cairo on June 4, 2009, the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have endured the pain of dislocation for more than 60 years. "Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable ..."

It is our hope that other journalists would rise in Ms. Thomas' place and espouse her courage in asking the hard questions. As Ms. Katrina Vanden Heuvel wrote yesterday in the Washington Post: "...isn't there room for someone who made a mistake, apologized and wants to continue speaking truth to power and asking tough questions?" We certainly hope so. We also hope that we will continue to celebrate Ms. Thomas' lifetime of courageous, frontline journalism; and that she will not be intimidated by the recent hateful accusations or deterred from her insightful questioning and reporting.


Contact: Sara Najjar-Wilson, President


NOTE TO EDITORS: The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which is non-profit, non-sectarian and non-partisan, is the largest Arab-American civil rights organization in the United States. It was founded in 1980 by former Senator James Abourezk to protect the civil rights of people of Arab descent in the United States and to promote the cultural heritage of the Arabs. ADC has 38 chapters nationwide, including chapters in every major city in the country, and members in all 50 states.

The ADC Research Institute (ADC-RI), which was founded in 1981, is a Section 501(c)(3) educational organization that sponsors a wide range of programs on behalf of Arab Americans and of importance to all Americans. ADC-RI programs include research studies, seminars, conferences and publications that document and analyze the discrimination faced by Arab Americans in the workplace, schools, media, and governmental agencies and institutions. ADC-RI also celebrates the rich cultural heritage of the Arabs.

From Growing Gardens for Palestine... Honor

Growing Gardens for Palestine

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


There is a fascinating news story this week about a stolen letter returned: Thinking man's mystery: Stolen Descartes letter returned

It has a happy ending... a happy ending only possible because of the research skills, the empathy, the Internet, the hard work and the good intentions of the people involved.

Recently I remembered this poem that I wrote many years ago, and I am posting it here in my Growing Gardens for Palestine blog, to honor Helen Thomas as she retires- to honor her as best as I can.

Other than being a human being, and oh yeah a woman, I have very little in common with Helen Thomas, but I do have great admiration for her legendary service.

Yesterday my dear friend and fellow blogger UmKhalil told me in a note that the last lines of my old poem describe her well...

An Arab Mind

To understand
an Arab mind
one must see Jordan in the Spring.

Wander through a Spring meadow,
cherish the brief blossoming
from brilliant poppy
to tiny delicate sunlit star-
purple thistles, blue flax, pinkish roses, all
come bursting from rock
and earth
and everywhere
where a seed might stray
there is bloom
and each bloom
seems infused
with purpose.


that the Arab mind
holds the perpetual memory
of Spring:

Shivering, stand in wet snow
listening to thunder,
as sleet melts
into rainfall
as the sun's glinting light

pulls forth a pretty posy here and there

and barrages of bloom rupture the earth.

Day after day of bloom bursting
and the deep indigo
of an oriental night
is fragrant.

By day the desert heat
comes back
to claim all color,
washing the hills with brown stubble
which the goats will graze to aught.

Presume, as you stand on barren stone
that soon enough, next spring-


This rock ledge will once again
with flowers

and a crumbling castle
will be a thousand urns
of growth.

Anne Selden Annab

Years ago in the late 1980s, when my husband first introduced me and our newly born son to his extended family- and the Arab world, I wrote many poems about my impressions. I did not, however, write poems about anything negative. Although, perhaps, I could have written quite a long epic poem exploring how utterly exhausted-frustrated- furious- hormonal- helpless and everything else I felt when standing in line to get off one of several seemingly endless flights we had to take to get to Jordan. The steward of an Air France flight warmly complimented us on how our wide awake baby was so well behaved during the long flight, and my husband cheerfully bragged that it was easy to keep him quiet. HELLO- it was not easy for me at all!

I now see that incident, and my husband's comment, in a very different light- but at the time it ... well let us just say that there is at least one very long epic poem I refuse to waste time or effort creating!

The older we get the more I understand that even in the most difficult situations we can choose to do the right thing, even when it is the hardest thing to do. We can "rise to the occasion" as my Grandmother used to say.

This week there are many people, including Obama and Abbas, as well as many organizations and officials who are sincerely doing all they can to try to help create a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. Give them a chance please- listen and try to use empathy and compassion to understand what they have to say.

I do not know what will be. But I do know that both Palestine and peace need all our best efforts- now more than ever.

Peacemaking takes courage, leaders

Israel must clarify Palestine's status

The Arab Peace Initiative

poem & photo copyright ©2010 Anne Selden Annab

Join the facebook group "Helen Thomas should have been our graduation speaker"

Helen Thomas was almost the graduation speaker for the Walt Whitman High School Class of 2010.

The purpose of this group is to quietly but firmly protest the ability of a small minority to impose its will on the larger group through engaging or threatening to engage in disruptive discourse. This group affirms a belief in reasonable discussion and feel that in this scenario, a clear minority was able to override a larger majority by distorting the issues and discussion.

Regarding Dr. Goodwin's decision:
We understand and accept the rationale for changing graduation speakers given the divisiveness in the community. As Dr. Goodwin stated, graduation is a time for cohesiveness, not divisiveness. However, we firmly protest that small minority of voices which was intent on politicizing an traditionally wonderful ceremony and dividing the community based purely on their political views. Their advocacy unfairly forced the change of graduation speaker.

from wikipedia:
Helen Thomas (born August 4, 1920) is an American news service reporter, a Hearst Newspapers columnist, member of the White House Press Corps and author. She served for fifty-seven years as a correspondent and, later, White House bureau chief for United Press International (UPI). Thomas has covered every President of the United States since the later years of the Eisenhower administration, coming to the forefront with John F. Kennedy. She was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents Association, and, in 1975, the first female member of the Gridiron Club. She has written five books; her latest with co-author Craig Crawford is Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do.

Nothing we do will change our graduation speaker now, however it would be nice to know I am not alone in preferring that a legend like Helen Thomas had spoken at our graduation.

join the facebook group Helen Thomas should have been our graduation speaker

My letters to the LA Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer & the NYTimes regarding Helen Thomas' real triumph & Palestinian investments in nonviolence

RE: "Helen Thomas: A troubling end to a distinguished career",0,4996898.story

Dear Editor,

A troubling end to Helen Thomas' career? NOPE- you've got the wrong end of the stick. Helen Thomas' real triumph has been to top a ground breaking professional career in journalism by gracefully retiring on such a boldly honest- and frankly helpful note. Take what she said in full context, quoted correctly and make war or peace with it- your choice... but please do not ignore official US policy which advocates a two state solution (Israel get out of Palestine) to end the 60 year long Israel/Palestine conflict.

Do you really want American tax dollars (as well as charity funds) to continue to help subsidize and defend Israel's settlers in the illegally occupied territories- and do you really want to ignore the fact that many of Israeli's settlers all through out the illegally occupied territories are recent arrivals from Europe, Russia and America. Surely there are better investments for everyone's sake.

And last but not least: Do you really want to so rudely ignore Helen Thomas' beautiful letter perfect apology "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon." Helen Thomas .

Anne Selden Annab

RE: Editorial: Unconscionable

Dear Editor,

Helen Thomas is not an idiot or a bigot. She has been unfairly attacked and maligned. The United States, along with the international community, officially backs a two state solution to end the sixty year long Israel/Palestine conflict. To create two separate, viable sovereign states, one being called Israel and the other Palestine, Israel obviously needs to stop building settlements in the illegally occupied territories and Israel needs to get its settlers and troops out of Palestine.

Furthermore, and this really is crucially important- the vast majority of Palestinians, the native non-Jewish population of the Holy Land, are impoverished refugees, refused their inalienable legal and natural right to return to original homes and lands.

Israel scorns Palestinian rights, impoverishes Palestinians, displaces Palestinians and adds insult to injury by generously subsidizing Jewish settlers in the illegally occupied territories, pushing even more Palestinians into forced exile and despair. A significant portion of Israel's generously subsidized and heavily protected settlers are recent arrivals from Europe, Russia and America. Where those settlers 'return home' to is a very relevant and timely question. They have been pawns in a cruel game but they need to take responsibility for their own actions- their own bad choices and their own contributions to continuing the conflict.

Yes, maybe Helen Thomas could have been more diplomatic and obtuse with how she said what she said. But if she had, would any one have paid attention?

Kudos to Thomas for ending her amazing, ground breaking career on such an honest and necessary note- including but not limited to her apology and her hope for peace in the Middle East. ("I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon." Helen Thomas )

Anne Selden Annab


RE: Palestinian Takes a Road Less Traveled

Dear Editor,

I very much hope that Palestinians continue on this path of nonviolence and careful, compassionate objections to Israel's not so careful or compassionate treatment of the native non-Jewish population of the Holy Land. Ending the conflict needs to be a priority for everyone's sake- and, as Hussein Ibish explains in his persuasive book
What's Wrong with the One-State Agenda? a viable, secular two state solution is the only way forward.

Anne Selden Annab

Peacemaking takes courage, leaders

Israel must clarify Palestine's status

The Arab Peace Initiative

My letter to the New York Review of Books RE 'The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment': An Exchange June 24, 2010

'The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment': An Exchange June 24, 2010
In response to:
The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment from the June 10, 2010 issue

Dear Editor,

Thank you for not letting Abraham H. Foxman have the last word with his letter responding to The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment . This past week the Foxman's ADL along with Rabbi David Nesenoff , White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, former White House Counsel Lanny Davis, and Ari Fleischer former White House press secretary (to name a few major players) very much helped create and exasperate a defamatory and cruel hate campaign against Helen Thomas, forcing her to resign.

Israel's settlement projects and apartheid polices in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories combined with Avigdor Lieberman’s "crusade to humiliate, disenfranchise, and perhaps even eventually expel Arab Israelis" puts Palestinians, the native non-Jewish population of the Holy Land, in a totally impossible situation. Already the vast majority of Palestinians have been pushed into forced exile and cruelly denied their inalienable legal and natural right to return to original homes and lands... How many more Palestinian men, women and children must be persecuted and displaced (and how many more naive folks world wide will be conned into either inadvertently or purposefully empowering Islamists) while Israel and its supporters bicker and battle on and on about perceived "identity" crises?

Anne Selden Annab

Peacemaking takes courage, leaders

Israel must clarify Palestine's status

The Arab Peace Initiative

My letter to the Washington Post RE Helen Thomas agrees to bow out as commencement speaker at Walt Whitman High