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'We demand change': US Palestinians issue list of principles for candidates

Statement signed by dozens of prominent US Palestinians calls for conditioning aid to Israel, returning US embassy to Tel Aviv and recognising right to boycott
"The Palestinian people possess an inalienable right to self-determination," statement says (AFP/File photo)
By Ali Harb in Washington

A group of prominent Palestinian Americans has issued a list of "principles" outlining its demands of candidates running in US elections. It includes imposing conditions on military aid to Israel, recognising the right to boycott and relocating the embassy from Jerusalem.

The statement, released on Friday, effectively renews calls for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to ensure accountability for Israel's abuses against Palestinians. 

"The Palestinian people possess an inalienable right to self-determination," reads the first of 13 principles.

The preamble of the statement says Palestinian Americans' "support for candidates to federal offices shall be determined by their level of recognition and agreement with these tenets".

The statement also stresses the right of return for Palestinian refugees, ending the blockade on Gaza and reversing any recognition of Israeli annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank.

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"United States military aid to Israel should be conditioned on ending Israeli practices that violate Palestinian rights and contravene international law," it reads.

Palestinian narrative

Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, an activist who helped organise the declaration, said the statement aims to present a united Palestinian American front with a list of basic demands that tells politicians where the community stands and what they need to do to gain its support.

She added that it was important for Palestinians in the United States to present their own narrative at a time when the Biden campaign is not taking notice of their perspective.

"We felt completely ostracised, completely alienated and ignored by the Biden campaign," Ashrawi Hutchison told MEE. "Our voice was never heard, and we were sidelined on a conversation that pertains directly to us."

'I do not vote against somebody. I vote for somebody. Right now, the Biden campaign has not earned my vote'

- Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison

The statement was signed by 120 Palestinian Americans, including activists, heads of organisations, professors and writers.

It comes less than a week before a 1 July deadline that the Israeli government had set for annexing parts of the West Bank and amid growing calls for US Democrats to take a consequential stance against Israeli policies towards Palestinians.

But Biden has categorically ruled out imposing conditions on the $3.8bn yearly US military aid to Israel - a proposal that was championed by Senator Bernie Sanders.

The former vice president's campaign sparked outrage from Palestine solidarity activists earlier this year when it released a plan for Jewish-American communities that stressed "unwavering" support to Israel and denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic.

In May, Tony Blinken, a top foreign policy adviser to Biden, repeated an Israeli saying seen as a racist trope against Arabs and Palestinians when addressing a pro-Israel group.

"In the category of 'Never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity,' I think a reminder to Palestinians... that they can and should do better," Blinken said, echoing the words of the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban who said in 1973: "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." 

Ignoring Palestinian voices

The only time the Biden campaign has tried to address the pro-Palestinian rights community was through a single paragraph in a lengthy statement on Muslim-American issues. "As President, Joe will actively engage Israelis and Palestinians alike to help them find ways to live together in peace, freedom, security, and prosperity and to champion a two-state solution," the paragraph reads in part.

Palestinian and Arab Americans have long warned against painting the Palestinian cause as a religious conflict. 

Earlier this month, several Palestinian activists left a virtual meeting with the Biden campaign's Muslim outreach director, demanding to be addressed by a senior foreign policy official.

"The Palestinian cause is not a religious issue. It's a moral issue. It's a human rights issue," Ashrawi Hutchison told MEE. 

"And it's incumbent upon not just the Palestinians, but Americans and Israelis and the people of the world, to stand up against the apartheid and ethnic cleansing that is continually happening for decades with impunity."

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She added that diminishing Palestinians' struggle for equal rights to a religious issue is offensive, as it hijacks the voices of secular and Christian Palestinians. 

"We do deserve an equal seat at the table with any campaign but particularly in this case, the Biden campaign."

The Biden campaign has not responded to multiple requests for comment by MEE since May.

The presumptive Democratic nominee is rising in public opinion polls as President Donald Trump struggles to deal with the coronavirus crisis and renewed racial justice protests.

But Ashrawi Hutchison said Biden should not take the votes of Palestinian Americans for granted simply because he is not Trump, urging the campaign to look at the list of demands seriously.

"Our right to vote is extremely important... It's time that we demand change. I do not vote against somebody. I vote for somebody. Right now, the Biden campaign has not earned my vote," Ashrawi Hutchison told MEE.

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