Seeking Common Ground
lease call, said a Dearborn-based Arab American
leader in a voicemail message. And I did. Nasser
Beydoun, executive director of the American Arab
Chamber of Commerce, had piqued my curiosity.
It turned out that he objected to my Oct. 10 column about
the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum in Detroit a week earlier.
Israel wasn't invited to take part in the forum, but Israeli busi-
nesses as well as Jewish American leaders, like U.S. Sen. Carl
Levin, D-Mich., did attend.
The forum was billed as a way to improve the image of the
Arab world in the United States by fostering
economic, educational, political and social
reform. I felt delegates returning to the
Middle East should urge the League of Arab
States to embrace Israel. U.S.-Arab business
couldn't prosper, I felt, without involvement
by Israel, a high-tech nation arid America's
strongest Mideast ally.
I hoped that the summit would spur a last-
ROBERT A. ing Arab warm-up toward Israel. Time will
tell how many Arab states accept
the Jewish state as a diplomacy or
trade partner, I said.
Over the past four years,
Beydoun, 39, has built the American Arab
Chamber of Commerce into a 1,100-member
organization. He envisions the chamber as an asset
to U.S. policy in the Middle Fast.
That goal intrigued me.
Beydoun stressed that the summit was meant to
buoy U.S.-Arab ties, not solve the Palestinian-
Israeli crisis. He blamed the collapse of the U.S.-
brokered road map for Middle East peace on
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
I spoke with Beydoun, a Lebanon native, in the
wake of 37 months of Palestinian terror, which
has taken at least 900 Israeli and foreign lives. The
intifida has claimed more than 2,500 Palestinians; they've died
in Israeli defensive strikes or as suicide bombers, snipers or
"I understand the fear of Israelis," Beydoun said. "I empathize
He then set the stage for our discussion. 'As an Arab
American," he said, "I believe Israel has a right to exist. I also
believe the Palestinians have a right to statehood."
For me, Palestinian statehood becomes more inviting only
when the Palestinian people thwart terror, recognize Israel as a
sovereign state in their newspapers, music videos and schools,
and are willing to negotiate under the lens of world scrutiny.
Beydoun doubted peace could come under Sharon and
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. He blamed
Sharon for breaking the summer calm by continuing to target
Hamas leaders. He said Sharon undermined deposed
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas as much as
I argued that Abbas was a puppet of Arafat. I said Sharon,
though a warrior to the core, doesn't target civilians in a calcu-
lated plot to annihilate the Palestinian people — in contrast to
Arafat's understood vow to destroy Jewish control of Israel.
I regretted that innocent Palestinians have died in crossfire or
because they sided with Israel. But I expressed disgust with the
anti-Zionism in official Palestinian Authority pronouncements.
We agreed that the hatred Arafat and Sharon have for each
other virtually assures they won't be the ones to forge a lasting
So long as Arafat is a political force, Sharon can't let down
his guard, I added.
As we talked, I pondered how Sharon says he won't end
Israel's military occupation in the disputed territories until the
intifada stops and how Arafat says the terror won't end until
Israel pulls its troops from Gaza and the West Bank.
"You can't tell the Palestinians they have to stop attacking
Israel while the Israeli government continues to build a wall
and settlements," Beydoun said. "It's not going to happen."
I have a hard time comparing suicide bombers that deliber-
ately blow up babies to limit Israel's population growth with a
protective fence and strategic settlements that became urgent
when terror turned intolerable.
I find it loathsome that the Palestinian Authority expresses
remorse and conciliation to Western reporters following a ter-
rorist attack on Israel or the U.S., but promotes to the
Palestinian public the notion that America is part of a Jewish
conspiracy causing their squalor and hopelessness.
The Road Ahead
Beydoun is right to insist that both sides must get
a grip on reality and each other's sufferirig. As he
put it: "We all need a solution. How many more
innocent people need to die?"
Beydoun pinned the prospect for peace on the
near-dead road map. He chastised Israel for
reneging on it by not pulling back troops and set-
dements in the disputed territories. "With the
wall, terrorists, settlements and suicide bomb-
ings," he said, "no hope is in sight."
He then hit the bull's eye. "It's incumbent upon
America to move both parties," he said. "The
only way to get an attitude change in the Arab
world toward Israel is to resolve the conflict."
Resolution is the great unknown. We know land is at the
heart of it.
"Demolishing homes, killing Palestinians, confiscating land
and building settlements won't get any sympathy in the Arab
world," Beydoun said.
Until the terror stops, I countered, Israel must stand sentry
over its land and citizens. Reason, not barbarity, must reign.
Settlement growth since the Oslo Accords during the 1990s
especially irked Beydoun. "How do you expect the Palestinians
to negotiate for statehood," he asked, "when they see settle-
ments whittling away their land?"
But Judea and Samaria are Jewish biblical lands, I thought to
myself Some settlements must go to bring peace, but others
are vital to security. Could Israel defend itself if just nine miles
wide along the sea?
In closing, Beydoun said: "Jews have to step up and say to
Sharon, 'Your policies in the West Bank and Gaza aren't get-
ting you anywhere.'"
We didn't solve anything, but Nasser Beydoun and I talked
without rancor as we sought common ground. The dialogue
affirmed my inner struggle.
I yearn to walk the streets of the Old City without fear. I
want to believe Arab leaders are open to peace with Israel.
But then I see how they still call for Israel's destruction in Al
Hayat AI Jadida, the official daily of the Palestinian Authority.
Its tough to debate borders, occupation, settlements and
refugees against that telling backdrop.
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