A Simple Plan

by Hady Amr
Washington DC - Last month, United States Ambassador Ed Gabriel, and a former US secretary of defence William Cohen, co-led the production of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies report for its Advisory Committee on US Relations with the Arab world.

The report entitled "Writing a New Chapter in US-Arab Relations" has some central findings that the participants agreed upon. Among them are, one, that Arabs with direct exposure to the US have a more favourable impression of the US, and, two, that worsening Arab attitudes towards the US are a reaction against US policies and not US "values".

The group also agreed upon some key recommendations including the need to create an advisory board on Arab development funding; the need to create bilateral task forces to improve relations between the US and specific Arab countries; the creation of an Arab partnership foundation; and increasing educational exchanges.

The important thing is that they were endorsed by a broad spectrum of credible participants and a key policy institution. As such, it stands the chance of being taken seriously, of changing policy, and of making a real difference in US-Arab relations.

The recommendations were sound, but more could be proposed. What makes the report notable is not only its recommendations, but the fact that Ambassador Gabriel is a Democrat, and Secretary Cohen is a Republican. They put aside what differences they may have had to focus on creating common ground for what is best for the Arab region. What is remarkable about the effort is how it was carried out. It's a model that can be replicated in finding ways for Americans to help Israelis and Palestinians move beyond their differences.

The key ingredients of the CSIS Cohen-Gabriel model were as follows: First the participants agreed to build a common consensus around substantive and actionable items. Second, a significant policy centre with a good relationship with the US government anchored the project. Third, leading members of the two political parties -- Republicans and Democrats -- were involved. Fourth, diverse members of the political spectrum with potentially conflicting views agreed to participate. Finally, a practical report was produced and an effort was made to give it a good media launch to help turn the recommendations into policy.

What is needed now is to take this Democratic-Republican model and transform it into Arab-Jewish relations here in America. It can be done in a way that has practical, positive ramifications not only for inter-community relations in the US, but for the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities living in Israel and Palestine, and may contribute to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is how it might emerge and what would be required: First, a prominent Washington think tank convenes a panel of leading Arab-American and American Jewish leaders, along with some former Republican and Democratic political leaders who have worked on the Middle East and have recently demonstrated the ability to work together. Senator Cohen and Ambassador Gabriel have made a number of achievements with this last effort.

Second, bring on board some prominent Palestinian Americans like Senator Sununu along with some prominent key activists from Arab-American and pro- Israel organisations (being sure to include Muslims, Christians, and Jews), as well as involve some key business leaders from both communities.

Third, have President Bill Clinton and President George W Bush, or whoever the chairs are, strongly impress on participants the need to set aside their differences to make practical recommendations on how the US government could work to strengthen the incentives for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Why? Because Israeli-Palestinian peace will strengthen our American security.

Fourth: once the whole group understands that they are working together as one team, on the same side of the table with the same objectives, have them visit the leadership in Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, and when they return, have them produce their own blueprint for what the US government, citizens, and business leaders working together might be able to do to move the ball down the field.

What the CSIS report suggests is that in the presence of a clear model, all that is needed to ensure that the problems encountered can be solved is, simply, political will.

* Hady Amr served as National Director for Ethnic American Outreach for Al Gore's Presidential Campaign and as an advisor to the Kerry Campaign. He is the Co-President of the Arab Western Summit of Skills.

Source: Common Ground News Service, May 13, 2005.

Visit the Common Ground News Service Online: www.commongroundnews.org

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

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