WASHINGTON, Saturday, January 28, 2023 (WAFA) – Prior to his scheduled visit to the Middle East, a delegation of Arab American and Palestinian American leaders met with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken upon his invitation to discuss his upcoming trip to the region that starts on January 29, and which will include stops in Egypt, Israel, and Palestine, according to the Arab American Institute (AAI), one of the attendees of the meeting.
It said in a press release that the discussion focused on the Secretary’s agenda for his trip to the region, which has been upstaged by the recent Israeli undercover military raid in Jenin that resulted in the killing of nine Palestinians, including civilians.
Discussions in the meeting were serious, frank, and substantive, and allowed the Arab-American participants to express their concerns about US policy objectives and statements regarding the situation in Palestine, specifically the Israeli military assault in Jenin and the planned Israeli mass displacement of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta in the south of the occupied West Bank, said AAI. The group made it clear to the Secretary that the US has a responsibility to act to restrain Israel’s aggressive behaviors toward the captive Palestinian people.
Decades of US acquiescence to Israel’s policies of settlement expansion, land confiscation, home demolitions, and a range of other human rights violations have led to an Israeli sense of impunity and Palestinian despair. If the Administration is to fulfill its commitment to the equal worth of Israelis and Palestinians and their rights to security, prosperity, and dignity, the group insisted that the Secretary demonstrate firmness and resolve to rein in Israeli behavior.
Another central concern to the community is Israel’s ongoing efforts to gain admission to the US visa waiver program. Last year, Israel published military rules regarding its restrictions on visitors to the West Bank which make clear that American citizens are discriminated against in entry to the West Bank if they indicate an intention to visit Palestinians. Those visiting Israelis face no similar restrictions.
As to the Department of State’s highlighted objective of the trip as that of encouraging Israel’s integration in the region, the participants urged the secretary to ensure that the rights of Palestinians be protected in any US-supported regional integration projects. Recent polling on Arab public opinions shows widespread Arab rejection of normalization with Israel.
Finally, the community leaders emphasized their condemnation of antisemitism and hate crimes against the Jewish people and other vulnerable communities, including Arabs. They also expressed their deep concern with efforts to expand the definition of antisemitism to include criticism of Israeli policies and behavior. This conflation, they warned, was nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to silence legitimate criticism of Israel.