Head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Mission to the United States Afif Safieh spoke to a full crowd at CU Saturday morning and urged the international community to become more involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The event was sponsored by the Palestinian-Christian organization Friends of Sabeel, which counts Nobel Peace Prize-winner Desmond Tutu among its leaders, and the student organization Coalition for Justice in Palestine.
Safieh, who was appointed head of the PLO Mission to the United States in 2005, described an “unfavorable balance of power” that pits “Israeli dominance” with “Palestinian resignation” and said “local actors are incapable of negotiating a peace.”
He criticized the United States and Europe for their responses to the democratic election of Hamas in Palestine, calling the resulting sanctions and condemnation by the West “unwise and precipitous.”
Safieh recalled visiting the State Department and telling officials they could accept the democratic election of Hamas or they could “rob them of legitimacy and force them back to militarism.” Unfortunately, Safieh said, the United States chose the second option.
“I do not believe that the election of Hamas is a blow to the peace process,” he said.
Safieh called on both Israel and the United States to work toward peace in the Middle East, explaining that it is in their best interest.
“Security for Israel comes from regional acceptance, not territory or aggrandizing,” he said. “And Palestine is the key to regional acceptance.”
Likewise, he said, “Palestine is the key to American acceptance in the Middle East.”
Safieh said there is a perception in the Middle East that the United States is complacent about the Israeli occupation, which offends many Arabs.
“We are not asking you to sacrifice a traditional friend in Israel, we are offering you a new one in Palestine,” he said.
Safieh also called on Palestinians to participate in a “collective nonviolent strategy.”
“The wisest military choice we can make is to not engage Israel militarily,” he said.
Safieh put special responsibility on Americans to work for change in the Middle East, calling the United States a “nation of nations.”
“It is your duty to make politicians aware of the emerging realities. Our cry for freedom should be heard in America.”
In response to a question by an audience member, Safieh reiterated his goal of a multilateral peace process.
“I dream of a world where the U.S., with all its might, can be an instrument of international whims,” he said.
The speech was well received, judging from the standing ovation Safieh received when he left the stage.
“It’s great that such an important world leader could come to Boulder,” said Jessica Pitts, a freshman music major. “It’s good to get the Palestinian perspective.”
Cecilia Costelow, also a freshman music major, appreciated “hearing the information first hand instead of through the media.”
“It’s nice that he supports a nonviolent solution,” said freshman music major Alison Medina.