American Consul General Michael Ratney Tells Palestinian-Americans to build “Positive Momentum” for Peace Process

American Consul General to Jerusalem Michael A. Ratney addressed the 56th annual convention of the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine (AFRP), held for the first time in Ramallah today.  Consul General Ratney gave a tour d’horizon of the Obama administration’s efforts to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and told over 1500 Palestinian-Americans gathered that the U.S. government is still committed to the peace process and that a two-state solution “requires building a Palestinian economy that is strong, stable, and self-sustaining.”

Consul General Ratney encouraged the AFRP to “invest time and money to continue building a prosperous and secure state of Palestine, living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security” and that “a viable Palestinian state will be built through hard work, tough negotiation, and peaceful, well-reasoned activism.”

For more information on the 56th annual Ramallah convention, visit AFRP’s website at http://www.afrp.org.

The full text of Consul General Ratney’s speech is below:

Speech by American Consul General Michael A. Ratney

56th Annual American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine (AFRP)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Good evening.  It is a pleasure to be with you here with the American Federation of Ramallah – for the first time actually in Ramallah.  This is easily the largest group of Palestinian-Americans I’ve met.  I was delighted to learn that the Federation would be holding its annual convention here – I’ve heard about your organization for a long time, and have been looking forward to meeting with you.  Palestinians have spread throughout the world and wherever they’ve landed, they have thrived.  And at the center of the diaspora in the United States are the Palestinians who once called Ramallah home.

Please know that as the U.S. Consul General, I do my best to represent you here as Americans.  And I do my best to ensure that the views of Palestinians are well understood in Washington.  I spend a lot of time traveling around the West Bank, meeting not only with government officials, but with students and business people, local politicians and civil society activists.  Knowing what is on the mind of Palestinians – actively listening to them – is an absolutely central part of my job.

That said, you invited me tonight to talk, not to listen.  And one thing I have learned in two years here, is no matter what I am asked to talk about, what audiences here really want to discuss is U.S. policy.  So let’s talk about that for a few minutes.

When I first arrived in 2012 there was very little attention being paid to the peace process – either internationally or within the U.S. Government.  It was the post Arab Spring period: the situation in Syria was getting progressively worse, there were protests in a number of countries throughout the region, and in September we lost Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi.  I should mention that Chris, who I knew for much of my Foreign Service career, had served at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem for four years and felt passionately about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

My first months in Jerusalem were a difficult time – with a great deal of uncertainty among Palestinians about where things were headed, and what role the United States would play.  But in March of 2013, at the very beginning of President Obama’s second term, things started to change.  The President’s very first foreign trip of his second term was to here – to meet personally with both Israelis and Palestinians.  I was with him when he helicoptered into Ramallah, right into the Muqataa compound, to meet with President Abbas.  The President found in Abu Mazen a strong partner for peace.  And he brought with him a very determined new Secretary of State, John Kerry.

I should add that when he was in Ramallah, President Obama made it a point to meet with more than just the Palestinian political leadership.  We organized for him a low-key, off-the-record meeting with Palestinian youth, and it was a meeting that I know made a real impression on him.  In fact, it made such an impression, that hours later, as he delivered the major speech of the trip to a huge audience of Israeli students in Jerusalem, he went off-script specifically to tell those thousands of Israelis in attendance about it, about the simple humanity he found in those students, to remind his Israeli audience that those Palestinian 15 and 16 and 17 years olds were not so different from Israeli or American 15 or 16 or 17 year olds.  I think all of you – as Americans and Palestinians – understand that simple truth better than I, but I assure you it is something that often strikes visitors who come here from the U.S. above all else.

After that first trip, Secretary Kerry became a frequent visitor here in search of a solution— not a temporary fix — but a final and fully agreed resolution to the conflict that has plagued this region for generations.  Over the course of the following 12 months Secretary Kerry was out here a dozen times and held countless more meetings in Washington, New York, Jordan, the Gulf, and Europe.  He brought on a team led by a seasoned expert on these issues, Ambassador Martin Indyk.

Then, as now, there was no shortage of critics.  They said that Secretary Kerry would never be able to get the parties to the table.  But he did, and for a period of almost nine months serious negotiations took place.  During that time a lot of issues were discussed and, in fact – again, despite the critics – progress on key concerns was made.  We now have a new level of understanding of the parties’ negotiating positions, security considerations, and other important factors that will leave us better off in future negotiations.

We knew there might not be a final treaty at the end of the nine months that would cover every detail of the final two-state settlement, but we hoped we would be far enough along that the two sides, and the world, would have a clear idea what the end result was going to look like.  But as a framework looked less achievable in the time remaining, we began looking toward extending the negotiations as the end of the nine-month period approached.

As you know, there was a series of what we considered unhelpful actions taken by both sides, and we’re left where we are today, in a pause in the negotiations, and at a very uncertain period politically – a period far more uncertain than when I arrived here two years ago.

Nevertheless, there are a few points to remember:

First, Secretary Kerry remains passionate about this issue.  The Secretary knows the issue well, he knows the political players on both sides well, and he knows the pitfalls of trying to embark on something this ambitious given the political climate.  So why does he do it?  Because the Secretary, like many of us, has recognized that the status quo is simply not sustainable.  Something is going to change and unless we endeavor to be a catalyst for positive change, the situation could get worse for the people on both sides of this conflict.

Next, the Secretary’s efforts brought much needed attention to the issue.  There is a lot going on in the region and around the world.  And yet the Secretary recognized that it would be a serious mistake to simply forget the situation here until we’re faced with a grave crisis.

In doing so, the Secretary’s efforts saw a third important factor, and that is that the world is keenly interested in contributing to a resolution, and wants the U.S. to stay focused on it.  I’ve heard the Secretary say many times that regardless whether he was visiting leaders in South America or Asia or Europe, he inevitably found that among the first questions world leaders asked him was about Middle East Peace.  Whether it’s because people view this as an area central in importance to those of faith; whether they see it as a core issue that needs to be settled for the region’s problems to be addressed; or whether it is because so many American constituents – including each of you in this room – care so deeply about it, it was clear that the world wants us play a role in ensuring that a negotiated two-state solution is still achievable.

Of course, ensuring that a two-state solution will work requires building a Palestinian economy that is strong, stable, and self-sustaining.  This again is something that the United States has been committed to for a long time.  In fact, the U.S. remains the largest single country donor to the Palestinians.

One of the sectors that the Palestinians and the international community, including the U.S., are working to develop is tourism.  It’s great to see the members of the American Federation of Ramallah doing your part by putting money into that important sector.  We look forward to seeing all of you return in the future, both for tourism, and, hopefully, for many of you, to consider investing your time and money to continue building a prosperous and secure state of Palestine, living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.

As Americans, and for many of you as businesspeople, you know that we succeed because we are pragmatic, we are resourceful, and we are determined.  That is precisely what I have seen in young Palestinians.  Palestinian youth and Palestinian entrepreneurs, when they sit at the table with even the most senior U.S. officials or business people, can explain the difficulties of being Palestinian as articulately and as persuasively as any academic or politician or analyst – probably more so.  They might still criticize us, but they can also articulate their vision of the future and convince us that they are doing the hard work now that will help them build a state that is prosperous and democratic.

Please don’t be fooled by those who sell the faulty premise that Israel would only make concessions and a state will only be achieved if the international community pressured them harder, or threatened them with boycotts.  The fact is that a viable Palestinian state will be built through hard work, tough negotiation, and peaceful, well-reasoned activism.  We will start seeing positive momentum behind the two-state solution when the world recognizes it as an investment and not a charity, and when Israelis and Palestinians see each other as partners, not as adversaries.

Right now we are perhaps in the moment of greatest uncertainty since I got here two years ago.  We are watching very closely how the recently formed interim PA government develops, how the reconciliation effort evolves, who makes decisions and what decisions are made.

Creation of a Palestinian state will ultimately take strong leadership.  It will mean saying things that are right, even if they might not be popular.  It will mean working for an end to the era when groups still exist that would undertake despicable acts like the kidnapping of those three young Israeli students. And it will mean articulating a vision of the future that inspires young Palestinians who want that future to be prosperous and safe and dignified.

I hope that you, as Palestinians and as Americans, do everything in your power to educate and inspire both Palestinians here and Americans in the U.S. and to help build the kind of positive momentum that is required for a just and lasting peace to be reached.

Thank you.

For more information please contact the Consulate General Press Office at 02-622-6909 or Information Specialist Naser Ideis at 054-542-0943.