Israel's blockade of Gaza has become the focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, following the killing of nine activists who tried to break the blockade. With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas scheduled to meet with President Obama Wednesday, a group of prominent Palestinians met in Washington to talk about the underlying crisis in the Mideast peace process.
The Palestinians took part in a discussion sponsored by the American-Arab, Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Political Science Professor Asad Ghanem accused the Palestinian government in the West Bank of clinging in vain to the deal negotiated 17 years ago with Israel in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
"So it is time for the Palestinian leadership to take a political decision that Oslo is over," said Asad Ghanem. " It is over!
Ghanem is a professor at the University of Haifa in Israel. He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not interested in the welfare of all Palestinians.
Ghanem suggested that Abbas - who is also known as Abu Mazen - is planning to declare a Palestinian state without insisting that Palestinan refugees be allowed to return to Israel, and ignoring other issues of importance to Palestinians outside the West Bank.
"If you sign with Abu Mazen, an agreement about the West Bank and Gaza Strip, we as Palestinians in Israel will continue the struggle," he said. "This is our right! This is the right of the refugees!"
Ghanem said efforts to find a two-state solution - the goal of the Oslo accords - will not work. The land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea should be a secular state for Jews and Palestinians, he said.
Ghanem's harshest words were calling Abu Mazen a "subcontractor", implementing Israel's security interests in the West Bank.
That drew an angry response from the chief of the Palestinian mission to the United States, Maen Rashid Areikat. He said the Palestinian authority is implementing security for the benefit of Palestinians in the West Bank, and suggested that Ghanem preferred the violent methods like Hamas's rocket attacks from Gaza.
"Do we always need to struggle by blowing up people in busses, and restaurants, and firing these primitive missiles, that they are only causing retaliation," said Maen Rashid Areikat. "Cannot we oppose the Israeli occupation like we are doing now, the nonviolent demonstrations that you see every day?"
Areikat defended the Oslo accords. He said they were meant to be a first step toward resolving the more difficult issues.
After the panel was over, Ghanem said Palestinians need a new leadership that represents those in the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and abroad.
"What I am proposing is an election, to replace the current leadership of Hamas, and Abu Mazen, and this is the time to rethink, democratically, how we can choose our leadership," said Ghanem.
Areikat rejected that out of hand.
"The call for the establishment of an alternative leadership is really really dangerous," he said. "We have struggled many years to recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."
He said calling for an alternative leadership now is tantamount to ending the Palestinian national struggle.