Thank you very much for joining me here at AMIDEAST, and I want to thank Steven Keller, who is the country director for the West Bank and Gaza, and Maha Hasan, the assistant country director, and Intisar Tawil, the program assistant for the Access program. I am pleased to be joined by my delegation, especially Senator Mitchell and Consul General Jake Walles.
I’ve just had the great privilege of meeting and talking with students taking part in the English Access program. The United States Government is proud to sponsor this program, and AMIDEAST does an excellent job managing it here. I want to commend all of the Access participants for being part of this, for really seizing this opportunity. There were 8,000 applicants and 1,000 were selected. So it’s a real tribute to this program and to these young people, but it also demonstrates the extraordinary desire on the part of young people to learn more and expand their own opportunities.
I really want to thank Steven Keller and his teaching staff for illustrating, as I just saw, the extraordinary capacity of young Palestinians growing up in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Too often, young men and women in this part of the world are not given the tools that they deserve to fulfill their own God-given potential and meet their own expectations for their lives.
When I walked into the classroom, they were beginning a lesson on Women’s History Month and they were talking about Sally Ride, who is one of the people I most admire in our country. I told them that many years ago, I had the idea that I could be an astronaut – which obviously was never going to happen for a million reasons – but that a young woman named Sally Ride had that dream and kept working hard and achieved it.
The Access English Language Microscholarship Program is a real outreach to young people around the world by the United States and by the American people. There are 44,000 students in 55 programs around the world. Many of these students, who come from families that couldn’t otherwise afford this kind of educational experience, are able to not only have English language training, but also artistic expression experiences, cultural enrichment, and other activities.
Now, this program has been laying an educational foundation for nearly 4,000 Palestinian students. But it should not be the final chapter in their learning. The students I met today and the others who are in these programs should be able to continue their educations. It is worth noting that historically, the Palestinian people have put a great premium on education. We know from our own country that Palestinian Americans are leaders in science and art and medicine and business and literature and academia. We hope to see the same opportunities flourishing right here.
It should be no surprise that educational programs are in great demand, and we have, as I said, far more applicants than can be accommodated. So today, I’m pleased to announce that our government will support new avenues of educational opportunity for Palestinian students who have the desire and dedication to further their studies.
First, we will provide new funding for the Youth Education and Study program, also known as YES, so more high school students can participate in American student exchange programs that will further the bonds between Palestinian and American young people. I know that there are people in this program teaching, including Steven Keller, who have had these kinds of opportunities and therefore become real advocates for what this means.
Second, I’m also proud to announce the creation of a new program that will enable Palestinian students to enroll in full four-year programs at eligible Palestinian universities. Today, these universities remain out of financial reach for too many of these young people. It’s the same in our country. We have so many bright young people whose families cannot afford to send them to college, and we’re doing more in our own country and I want to do more right here with Palestinian students.
Third, we will make opportunity grants available for Palestinian students interested in studying at American universities so that a larger pool of capable young men and women from places like the West Bank and Gaza can compete along with students in other countries for the opportunity to further their academic training in America.
These efforts, along with the educational programs already in place, are vital to the larger goals outlined by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad in Egypt earlier this week. Education is the undergirding of any prosperous and successful society. It will be essential to our shared efforts to work toward a two-state solution so that Palestinians will be able to live in their own state, with their own educational institutions, including their four-year universities, because of a comprehensive peace in the region.
For a Palestinian state to be prosperous, accountable to its people, and able to live up to its obligations in the international community, it has to have more people who can do the jobs required in the 21st
century, and to take on the responsibilities of this new century. Based on what I saw in the classroom today, I think that is absolutely probable if we can provide the circumstances in which these young people can flourish.
I think that the promise and possibility of the Palestinian people are unlimited, and it is our commitment, the commitment of President Obama, his Administration, certainly myself, and our government that we will do whatever we can to help prepare the next generation of Palestinian leaders to take advantage of the opportunities that we will work toward achieving.
So again, I want to thank the students and their teachers and I want to thank the people of the United States who are sponsoring this program, and I think they would all be very, very proud if they could have been in that classroom with me today to see these remarkable young people and to hear their questions. And I look forward to hearing more progress reports about how well you all are doing.
Thank you very much.
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