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[Interview] PLO Leader Hanan Ashrawi: There Is No Will To Make Israel Comply With International Law

First published December 11, 2017 in Middle East Sight Magazine

Photo of Haneen Ashrawi, PLO Executive Committee Member

Dr Hanan Ashrawi served between 1991 and 1993 as the official spokesperson of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East peace process, as Palestinian National Authority Minister of Higher Education and Research between 1996 and 1998, she is the founder of founded MIFTAH—the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, and since 1996 has served as an elected legislator in the Palestinian Legislative Council for the Jerusalem Governorate. In 2009 she became the first woman elected by the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization) as a member of the PLO Executive Committee.

Ben Goren: President Trump announced this week that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. You have said that this loses the US any standing or credibility to take part in any type of peace talks. If this has shattered the narrative of the US as an impartial mediator in the conflict, now that the PLO has refused to meet with President Trump & Vice-President Pence should the PLO henceforth refuse to engage in any negotiations brokered by the US?

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi: I think the US has totally disqualified itself to play any role in the peace process, it has moved from being the patron and protector of Israel, and the special allies of Israel, to be complicit in Israeli lawlessness and therefore it has taken sides and has become party to the conflict and therefore not party to the solution. So we believe that there has to be an [agreement reached] which should be multilateral, it should be bipartite plus one plus, it should come out of more of an international initiative, based on international law, and respect for international law, and of course we are calling on all blocs within the U.N. and outside in order to have a decision about ending the occupation, recognising the Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its Capitol, and of course holding Israel accountable. So in a sense the US narrative, the charade, is finished, that they are even-handed or can sponsor a peace process, particularly given the extreme bias of the team in the White House, and of the President himself, who has trashed the whole region into a new cycle of violence and instability and insecurity and who has really defied and violated international law, and he has also betrayed his closest Arab allies in the region by illegally handing Israel an occupied city that is of extreme significance to everybody, so I describe this as an act supreme provocation, recklessness, and irresponsibility.

Ben Goren: Many people argue that Israel has never negotiated in good faith, and has no intention of negotiating in good faith, and always invites the Palestinians to the table and always demands the Palestinians sacrifice something of substance without offering any sacrifice in return. How should Palestinians deal with these invitations moving forward? What other methods do you think might alter the dynamic of occupation and lead to a mutually respectful and acceptable agreement?

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi: The so-called peace process to buy more time and to create more fractures unilaterally and to destroy the very foundations of peace, and at the same time to buy time to create facts on the ground, like the annexation of Jerusalem, like the ethnic cleansing of the city, like the expansion of settlement activities and the theft of resources, so in a sense there has never been negotiations in good faith with Israel, it has always expanded more settlements and violated the terms of references and objectives of the peace talks, by buying more time, stalling and prolonging the talks whilst acting in a way that renders the peace talks irrelevant.

Ben Goren: Given this, why should the Palestinians continue negotiating?

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi: Exactly. That’s the key question. There is no will to make Israel comply with obligations, with international law, with the Geneva Convention, with signed agreements, so then there’s no need to negotiate at all with Israel because it knows only the language of diktat, power, lawlessness, and any negotiations that would incorporate sacrifices would only be playing into Israel’s hands.

Ben Goren: How will this dynamic of occupation change? How will the situation change or move forward when one side is so intransigent, is so unwilling to move, or concede, or negotiate on any level that is equal or respectful?

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi: I wish we could do it ourselves, alone, but unfortunately we cannot so we are calling on all concerned countries and peoples to play a role in this. The occupation is here; it is a fact. We cannot change this unless we get Israel to withdraw. It is controlling our lives, our land, our freedoms, our resources, everything, and it feels as though our whole nation is being held captive. We need to take Israel to the International Criminal Court to face genuine accountability, to get judicial accountability, and this is the beginning of a change of course of action that Americans have worked very hard to prevent us from doing, from getting justice from international organisations using global rule of law. This is one course of action but we should also join different organisation that can provide us with some protection and curb Israeli violations. We also need to work with other international blocs, with Arab, Islamic, Latin American, African, and Asian in order to send a clear message that impunity will not work, that this occupation cannot continue forever, that unless they hold Israel to account it will not stop.

Ben Goren: How effective do you think BDS has been in holding Israel to account and putting pressure on Israel?

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi: I think BDS is part of an ongoing process which is a form of non-violent resistance, and it is one way in which individuals, organisations, and groups can old Israel accountable and act on the basis of their own conscience, and engage in order to send a clear message to Israel that it cannot pursue such a dangerous course of action. I think BDS, because it is a civil society movement and because of the way it generates solidarity across the world, is very effective but alone it’s not enough. When Governments fail it’s a way for people to make themselves heard and felt and it has worked in South Africa, and it has built up despite Israel’s hysterical attempts to criminalise it with the collusion of some American Governors and organisations. BDS will continue and will incrementally build in order to tell the Israelis that individuals will act in accordance with a sense of responsibility, morality, and legality.

Ben Goren: It has been suggested that an increasing number of Palestinians are giving up on the idea of a ‘Two-State Solution’ in favour of a ‘One-State Solution’. How would that work? How would Israel agree to that? How would they not consider that a demographic threat to the Jewish State they’re trying to establish?

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi: I hate to see myself as a demographic threat to anybody because we a re a people with rights. We have the right to freedom, we have the right to self-determination, we have the right to live in dignity on our own land. Israel is destroying the ‘Two-State Solution’, so the ‘One-State Solution’ would be the de facto outcome but it would mean the perpetuation of the occupation for the long term. Israel has long experience in practising discrimination [which we can see from the treatment of the] Palestinians in Israel, and how it treats them as second and third class citizens with no rights. Also I think this would given them more opportunity to steal more land, to imprison us in population centres and little reservations, [whilst they] take over everything else. By the time you get to the point of demographics the whole place will be changed in terms of its character, its history, and its ownership. Ultimately this is what will happen if the ‘Two-State Solution’ is destroyed. We will not get citizenship; we will not be treated like human beings let alone as equal people. Israel’s racism prevails because they think that anybody who is not Jewish has no rights and therefore they act accordingly. This sense of racism and exclusivity is in itself going to be the downfall of Israel but at the same time it means that it will not be resolved in this generation or the next probably.

Ben Goren: To what extent can the PLO. Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian people trust other regional, particularly Arab, Governments given the history of these nations’ strategically convenient support for Palestinians and Palestine?

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi: Palestine has many difficult relationships. Many people talk about the Arabs having sold us out and not giving us enough support but we will not give up on the Arabs, and we will continue to work with the Arabs, we need their support and solidarity, their political and economic and moral support, so we understand what is happening in the region, we know the difficulties now, we know that in many nations and places Palestine has been sold short, but at the same time will continue to try to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs.

Ben Goren: Thank you very much for your time Dr. Ashrawi.

Dr Hanan Ashrawi: You’re very welcome.   

The interview was conducted by telephone on Sunday 10th December 2017.