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Arab and Palestinian Americans frustrated, left without commitments to policy change after meeting with Blinken

By Kylie Atwood and Khalil Abdallah, CNN

(CNN) — Arab and Palestinian Americans left a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday night frustrated they did not have a clear understanding of how the Biden administration might act upon their concerns as the Israel-Hamas war devastates the civilian population in Gaza, participants told CNN.

“There wasn’t a plan that was shared that instilled any confidence that the administration is prioritizing an immediate solution,” Bilal Hammoud, executive director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, adding the discussion “was disappointing because we wanted more concrete next steps.”

The emotional and heated meeting comes as the Palestinian and Arab American community is divided over engagement with the White House, as members harbor sadness and anger over the administration’s policy toward the Israel-Hamas war. White House officials have held several meetings with prominent Arab Americans across the country since Hamas’ October 7 attacks, but some of the invited participants have declined to attend, often making their rejection known in open letters and press interviews.

Many members of the community agree Biden would have to made significant policy changes to win back this key part of his political coalition — including Arab and Muslim Americans and progressive voters — ahead of the November elections while his administration largely refuses to use its leverage over Israel to halt the fighting in Gaza.

The groups went in Friday with specific demands for the administration, including calling for an immediate ceasefire, the return of all hostages and prisoners held without charges, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, unimpeded humanitarian assistance to reach the Palestinian population, the end to US arms shipments to Israel, and the rebuilding of devastated Palestinian communities.

Yet the attendees did not leave the meeting, which lasted more than 90 minutes, with any commitments to take action on those fronts.

“I believe the meeting was a failure; we were not able to agree on any change in US policy towards the situation in Gaza,” said one attendee.

John Dabeet, the president of the US Palestinian Council, said he feels “cautiously optimistic” after the meeting. But he said it was too hard to predict which actions the administration might take.

“We are not naive. We did not go there thinking we can turn the ship completely in the opposite way, but any change we can create will be seen as a positive thing to help the people in Gaza to lower their suffering,” Dabeet said. More than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to the region’s health ministry.

The Arab and Palestinian American leaders requested the meeting, which included the heads of five national organizations: the American Federation of Ramallah Palestine, the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, Arab America, the Arab American Institute, and the US Palestinian Council.

The State Department did not provide a readout of the meeting or respond to an inquiry about the lack of commitments made during the gathering.

The Biden administration this month paused a shipment of bombs to Israel amid concerns over their potential use in an incursion into Rafah, where more than a million civilians are sheltering. But the meeting attendees did not view that step as significant enough to amount to a powerful policy change that could force an end to the conflict.

They went into the meeting already frustrated by the callous neglect” they say the Arab American community has received from the Biden administration. But they also approached the meeting with the belief that engagement is necessary to drive policy change.

“I am a firm believer that engagement is important. Being around the table is important because at least our voice will be heard this way,” Dabeet said.

But for the attendees with whom CNN spoke, returning to the table with Biden administration officials would come only after significant policy changes.

“I would not attend another meeting until there is action,” Hammoud said. “At this point, there is nothing left to be said. I think the administration knows fully what needs to happen.”

Bilal is not alone in feeling the Biden administration knows what it must do to win over — or win back — the Palestinian and Arab American support domestically.

“I think the administration has ample chances to make real change … and I have not seen change, real change in policy. So that is why I think they’re checking the boxes at this moment,” said Ghada Elnajjar, a Palestinian American who has lost more than 80 members of her extended family to the Israel-Hamas war, which she calls “Israel’s ongoing genocide.”

Elnajjar added that perhaps the messages will eventually be heard as November’s election approaches. “They are risking the elections,” she said.

Elnajjar helped organize for the Biden campaign in 2020 as part of the Arab Americans for Biden. The group has now removed Biden’s name, becoming Arab Americans Forward. Elnajjar said she’s not sure what she will do in November when it comes to her presidential ballot.

Attendees at the meeting with Blinken made the point that it is not just Arab Americans who Biden is losing, but also allies from other ethnic backgrounds who are standing in solidarity with Arab, Palestinian and Muslim Americans.

“This was a last-ditch effort with this administration so they can’t say they didn’t hear from us or our demands,” a meeting attendee said.

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