• A Muscatine man returns from the Mideast with a charge from his homeland: Help get the United Nations to recognize our country
MUSCATINE, Iowa — John Dabeet has been selected to be the point man on a mission he’s been dreaming of since he was a boy growing up in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
Dabeet, 45, an economics and statistics professor at Muscatine Community College, has just returned from a two-month trip to the Middle East. He learned two weeks ago he’d be coordinating efforts within the United States on behalf of the Palestinian government that, Dabeet hopes, will lead to United Nations recognition of Palestine as an independent nation.
When Israel was created in 1948 following the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, millions of Palestinians, including Dabeet’s father, were forced off their land to live in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
In between now and Sept. 23, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will formally ask the United Nations to recognize the Palestinian state, Dabeet will work with non-governmental organizations in the U.S. and abroad, talk to reporters and lobby members of Congress and the Obama administration on behalf of his native land.
Dabeet, a lifelong Christian, left Palestine after college in 1988 and became a U.S. citizen in 1995.
“I am excited, but it’s a very big job,” he said Wednesday afternoon from his office at MCC. “I’m very excited about representing the Palestinian government and the Palestinian people in a movement that is very dear to my heart.”
Dabeet said he earned the appointment because officials in the Palestin-ian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) know of his work with AMPAL, the Americans and Palestinians for Peace organization Dabeet founded in 2000.
The Palestinian Authority takes care of its country’s interests in Palestine while the PLO takes a larger world view. Abbas is leader of
According to Dabeet, the UN General Assembly can do three things with the Palestinian request to become the UN’s 194th member nation:
n The U.S., as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can veto the proposal, a very real possibility, Dabeet said. “It is sad to see the U.S. foreign policy as being so one-sided in support of Israel,” he said.
n Under the UN’s “Uniting for Peace” resolution, sometimes used when the Security Council is deadlocked, Palestine could be recognized if two conditions are met: two-thirds of the current member nations, or 129 countries, approve; and Palestinians can prove that not establishing an independent Palestine would lead to instability and threaten peace.
n The most likely scenario, he said, is that the UN could grant Palestine non-member status, a move that would require 50 percent plus one of the nations that are present on the day the vote is taken.
The advantage to non-member status, Dabeet said, is that it would enable Palestinian representation on any UN organization, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“That would allow Palestinians to be part of the decision-making,” he said.
While he was in Ramallah this summer, Dabeet accomplished a second feat: he got Ramallah Mayor Janet Michael to sign a sister city agreement with Muscatine — and he got her to sign the agreement on the Fourth of July.
“Ramallah is already a sister city to Paris and Moscow, but I’m proud to say Muscatine is the first American sister city,” he said.
Dabeet plans to be in New York City for next month’s formal request by President Abbas, but he says he’ll continue working for the cause long after that.
“I don’t want to give the impression this is a one-day event. It’s the start of a process,” he said. “It’s a process of learning to live with freedom and dignity.”
He was reminded how elusive both freedom and dignity are for many Palestinians during his most recent visit, when he said Israeli authorities told him that he wasn’t an American while traveling in Israel/ Palestine — only everywhere else.
That’s despite the fact he travels under an American passport.
“They cannot decide who is American and who is not,” he said. “Americans need to understand that among Palestinians there are a lot of Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering, and I am one of them.”