Extremists strongly denounced
Amman, Jordan — A senior Palestinian official, in a significant break with militant organizations in the region, has called for the establishment of better relations with Washington and greater U.S. involvement in Middle East affairs.
“There is simply no benefit, from our point of view, in taking a negative stand toward America,” Saleem Zanoon, speaker of the Palestinian National Council, said in an interview with The Chronicle. “There is no other way forward.”
Zanoon, regarded as a powerful figure in the Palestinian political hierarchy under Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, said that in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, “we are very anxious to encourage a larger and more effective role for the United States.”
Zanoon’s statements come as President Bush, in comments yesterday, appeared to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state.
“The idea of a Palestinian state has always been a part of a vision, so long as the right of Israel to exist is respected,” Bush said after a meeting with congressional leaders.
Bush’s remarks came after published reports that the administration had intended to outline a new Mideast peace initiative — including U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state — before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks pushed those plans to the back burner.
In an another departure from the tone of some Palestinian leaders before Sept. 11, Zanoon also condemned the religious extremism and terrorist activities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, militant Palestinian organizations that have carried out suicide attacks in Israel.
“We had a dialogue with Hamas in Cairo in 1995 to end the violence. But they did not honor their end of the argument,” he told The Chronicle.
Throughout the bloody year-old uprising against Israel, Palestinian leaders have expressed generally lukewarm criticism of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, without clearly denouncing their tactics. Israeli officials have accused Arafat’s Palestinian Authority of endorsing and even assisting the suicide attacks against Israelis.
At the same time, there has been mounting criticism of U.S. presence and influence in the region from Arab and Muslim groups. Some Palestinians have taken up militant Islamic calls to join a religious war against the United States if Washington mounts a military attack on Afghanistan.
But Zanoon went much further than other Palestinian leaders of late to separate the drive for Palestinian independence from the violent anti- Americanism of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network and other terrorist groups. “We reject these criminal acts — as a matter of principle but also because such actions only incite hatred against Muslims and Arabs,” said Zanoon. “‘We reject any connection with the Palestinian cause.”
As recently as last week, Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued public statements contending that there could only be a military solution to the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.
“Our hope,” countered Zanoon, “is that the Bush administration will now take positive steps to become more deeply involved in the peace process — to help us both, Israelis and Palestinians alike, to return to the negotiating table.”