In the wake of the Annapolis peace conference, the top Palestinian diplomat posted to Washington, Afif Safieh, called on governments, analysts, and the news media to show more optimism about the relaunched Middle East peace process.
"I personally believe that history is in the making. The skepticism [about the conference] was unjustified," Safieh told a small group of journalists. "History is still undecided....Only optimists make history." Optimism, he added, was essential to defeating "the forces of immobilism." Safieh serves as the U.S.-based representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization and, in effect, the Palestinian Authority.
Safieh said that the Fatah-Hamas split in the Palestinian territories should be viewed as a "temporary" fracture that should not block peace talks. All of the key final-status issues "happen to be on the West Bank," he said. "Gaza [which Hamas controls] can wait." Safieh said the PLO enjoys a special position by consensus: "It's the PLO that negotiates on behalf of the Palestinian people." He said that President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seem to be "extremely committed to a successful outcome." He hopes the administration "will play a more assertive role" in the Mideast process, a break from the past.
"What we have witnessed for years is what I call static diplomacy," he said. Safieh also suggested that U.S. officials were feeling private irritation with Israel's cautious approach to discussing the sensitive final status issues of any peace deal. "I think the Americans are growing increasingly exasperated with the Israeli inflexibility."