Opinion: Organization Needed to Unite U.S. Arabs

A woman works to register Arab voters in New York in 2012. (Photo by Raed El Rafei)

In the presence of a number of Palestinian activists, I recently met with the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) interior minister, Dr. Said Abu Ali, in Washington D.C. Though we discussed various issues concerning the current Palestinian situation, the most significant part of our conversation focused on Palestinians in the United States.

The PA and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) are both responsible for not utilizing and benefiting from these influential voices in a country where Israel is rapidly gaining influence.

During the meeting I suggested that the PLO takes on the initiative to establish a “Palestinian People’s Association,” which would serve as a unifying framework to bring together Palestinians in the West, specifically in North America.

This would achieve two goals: first, establish a democratic organizational structure geared towards avoiding the partisanship of the PLO, and second, the election of association officials through public Palestinian conferences held in American and European cities. The next stage would be to establish priorities and a plan of action based on the vision of a broad range of Palestinian immigrants.

My suggestion comes from discovering the big role Palestinians play in the United States, particularly in the American political arena and electoral campaigns. Yet these efforts are happening on an individual basis, leading to a narrow influence on Palestinian affairs.

The existence of this association would benefit more than just Palestinian immigrants and the Palestinian cause; it would also strengthen the PLO’s objectives in the West, specifically the U.S. The association would resemble the World Zionist Organization in that it would serve as a larger coordinating body for various organizations working under its umbrella. The endeavors of Palestinian Americans would in turn be modeled after the Israeli lobby in the United States. This vision can be transformed into a reality if enough financial resources are allocated to Palestinian activism in the U.S.

If achieved within the upcoming few years, the association would unite the many influential Arab-American political forces. The Palestinian cause remains central in rallying together Arabs throughout the world, and is at the core of the centuries-long Arab-Zionist conflict, which began with the Balfour Declaration and lead to the establishment of the State of Israel.

The majority of Arabs are currently preoccupied with domestic issues related to political regimes, as well as social, economic, and security struggles. The current reality is completely at odds with the Arab reality of decades past when the Israeli conflict served as a major unifying factor. This was a time free from discrimination based on national belonging/ethnicity and sectarianism. The Arab states were either basking in the newly found liberation from European colonization, or fighting for independence.

Until the mid-70s, the Palestinian cause was the central rallying point for all Arabs. As time went on, many regional conflicts pinned Arabs against Arabs, and Egypt found itself regionally isolated following the establishment of the Camp David Accords.

Unfortunately, the struggle for “national liberation” has become a point of controversy. Many Arabs no longer hesitate in requesting foreign military intervention in their internal struggles – a complete contradiction to the realities of a century ago. In turn, the Palestinian cause has been marginalized.

For the Arabs, Palestine has been the first agenda point since the Balfour Declaration. It was first prior to the Sykes-Picot division of Arab lands, as well as during the Crusades. It has historically been first on the Arab agenda, and continued as such until the beginning of the previous century. Israel remains the party that consistently benefits from Arab, specifically Palestinian divisions; divisions such as the state of conflict, the absence of a unified position, and the dominance that the private interests of the rulers and the opposition have over critical issues and matters of national interests.

The Arab nations are in dire need of a renaissance project that utilizes the brilliant minds present in both Arab countries as well as Arab communities abroad. United, these forces will lead the Arab renaissance that will not only serve the Palestinian cause, but the Arab countries in general. This renaissance is currently unachievable not only because of what is happening on Arab soil, but also because of the widespread migration of scientists and diffusion of money overseas.

Arab immigrants in the West are capable of living together regardless of their original nationalities, thus providing them with the ability to construct desirable models in different fields. These Arabs have been exposed to a vast array of democratic models that can be applied in the Arab world. Immigrants have a distinctive leverage in the reform process that many Arab countries are undergoing.

Despite all of this, the Arab influence on Western policies is still limited, for reasons including: the Arabs’ physical dispersion, their conflicting national concerns, and their weak sense of Arab national identity. The existence of a unified Palestinian model would make an incredible difference, and the Arab immigrants would find themselves occupied with supporting the proposed Palestinian People’s Association. We would revitalize the Palestinian cause for all Arab immigrants.

Sobhi Ghandour is the founder and executive director of the Al-Hewar Center, an independent forum for dialogue among the different members of the Arab American community.

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