Menu JTA Search

Bush Discusses Mideast Process, Settlements with Arab-americans

A group of prominent Arab-Americans met with President Bush on Friday and emerged from the White House session apparently satisfied with the president’s stance on the Middle East peace process.

“There is no question in my mind that this administration is dedicated to a just peace in the Middle East,” Philip Habib, a former U.S. special envoy to the Middle East who is of Lebanese descent, told reporters after Bush met with him and 22 fellow Arab-Americans.

Bush requested the meeting to discuss the peace process with them, according to White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. The session came three days after Bush met in New York with a delegation of top American Jewish leaders, again at the president’s initiative.

At that meeting, Bush pledged to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge and to work to repeal the 1975 U.N. General Assembly resolution denigrating Zionism as racism.

But those promises did not seem to bother the Arab group. “Those are longstanding positions of every administration which I find nothing to object to,” said Habib.

“We come here as Arab-Americans not to discredit Israel,” said David Sadd, chairman of the Arab American Leadership Council. “We come here to look for ways to help find peace for the region, which includes security for Israel, fulfillment of Palestinian rights, territory for peace.”

During the hour-long meeting, there was no mention of Israel’s request for guarantees covering $10 billion in loans for immigrant absorption.

EYE-TO-EYE ON SETTLEMENTS

But George Salem, a member of the executive board of the Arab American Institute, said the group raised Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights.

Salem said the group told Bush that not only are the settlements the “obstacle to peace that he says, but they are against international law.”

Bush, who opposes Israeli settlement-building as an “obstacle to peace,” made “very clear” that he agrees with that assessment, Salem said.

Bush also told the group “he will continue in his efforts to encourage the Israelis to curtail that activity,” Salem said.

On another subject, the group presented Bush with a proposal to allow Palestinian goods to enter the United States as Palestinian-made, rather than as Israeli products.

Such a policy would “enable the Palestinian economy to begin, perhaps, to move” and to “relieve the miseries that they are experiencing now, particularly after the (Persian) Gulf War,” said Fouad Sahouri, president of the Arab-American Business and Professional Association.

Joining Bush in the meeting were White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, himself an Arab-American; Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser; Edward Djerejian, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs; Dennis Ross, director of the State Department’s policy planning staff; and Richard Haas, senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council.

Among the other U.S. Arab leaders in the meeting were Reps. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) and Nick Rahall (D-W.V.).

NEXT STORY