PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi:
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, member of the PLO Executive Committee and head of its Culture and Media Department says the new US Administration under President Donald Trump does not yet have a clear strategy regarding the peace process except for its full adoption of the Israeli position. She says it is difficult to say where its strategy is heading, especially with the growing influence of the extreme right within this administration with its boundless support for Israel.
Speaking to “Hosted by MIFTAH”, Dr. Ashrawi said that today, the Palestinians were up against an extremely difficult situation with the rise of populism, racism and Islamophobia, the resistance to human rights issues and freedom of the individual in several countries, especially the United States and certain countries in Europe. Meanwhile, our people suffer from Israeli fascism and impunity all while it enjoys political, legal and economic privileges from the United States and the international community.
Regarding the PLO, Dr. Ashrawi said statements had been made and positons taken from various Palestinian parties demanding that the PLO be revived, the idea of elections emphasized and decision-making rectified. However, she maintained, these positions and statements have not been translated into actual steps, all while narrow personal and factional interests have led to an entrenchment of the division to the benefit of countries that have a vested interest in its continuation.
Dr. Ashrawi called on Hamas to accept that the source of its legitimacy and the source of its recognition is from the Palestinian people itself, pointing out that the phenomenon of ISIS and Al Qaeda before them has had a very dangerous impact on us by slandering the Palestinian cause and distorting the legitimacy of its national struggle. It is we Palestinians, she said, who pay the price for this.
Dr. Ashrawi criticized the American stance on the nomination of Dr. Salam Fayyad as UN envoy to Libya, saying this was “unbelievable discrimination” and blind bias towards Israel. She added that it exposes an oppressive, exclusionist mentality based merely on the fact that he is Palestinian. She also rejected certain proposals on options for dissolving the PA, but maintained, “I think the PA should redefine itself, its functions and its relationship with the PLO.”
Following is the full text of the interview:
Recently, former US Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled a regional peace initiative, which gained Arab support. What are the chances of success of this initiative with the new US Administration and how has the Palestinian leadership dealt with it?
Frankly, the new US Administration has no clear strategy in this regard except that it fully adopts Israel’s policies. It gets its information and instructions either from the pro-Israel lobby in the US, including from AIPAC, or from individuals in the new administration who have extremist ideas in support of Israel. In other words, this lobby is no longer outside of the Administration but within it. Therefore, it is difficult to say right now where the current Trump Administration is heading. Mr. Trump has left the door wide open to all possibilities. In his last meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he spoke loosely about the two-state or one-state solution. But what he did speak clearly about was a regional solution. He wants to begin normalizing relations with the Arabs and turn the Palestinian cause into an internal cause. That is, he wants to relegate it to a civil rights issue. It is clear that Netanyahu does not want one-state which would require full citizenship; in other words, non-Jewish Palestinians would become citizens with equal rights and duties. There is fear among the pro-Israel lobby of the one-state option. Many have written against this option because they fear for the preservation of the Jewish character of Israel. Meanwhile, [Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor] Lieberman recently proposed a land for population swap. That is why we cannot say for sure where the Trump administration is heading at this point. While it’s true that Trump is the individual who makes the ultimate decision even if sometimes he makes statements and then reneges on them, he has also appointed a team of extremists such Friedman, Miller and also his son-in-law, to his administration. All of these individuals are wired with racism and hatred of the other. They are fully committed to the far-right settler groups in Israel. Like I said, there are now pro-settlers in the White House such as Kushner and Friedman to parallel the settlers in the Israeli coalition government. The two extreme, right-wing poles have come together but have still not developed clear and pointed policies on options for a solution. The option of a [Palestinian] state is not an option for them just as they cannot be an apartheid state either.
The dilemma of Zionist ideology
Zionist ideology is now facing a dilemma while we are up against a very, very difficult stage in light of the domination of populism, racism and Islamophobia and the resistance to human rights issues and freedom of the individual in many countries. This is particularly true since right-wing extremism also leads to a central dictatorship that tries to block any discourse on rights or freedoms, or in this case, any discourse on rights to self-determination for the Palestinian people. All of these things find receptivity in Europe where there is fear of refugees and immigrants and fear of terrorism. This resulted in the rise of the extreme right and populism in European countries, such as [Marine] Le Pen in France. She is expected to win the right’s votes, not only on a populist platform but on a racist platform of fear of political Islam, which she describes as the source of terror. All of these factors create a notion and behaviors that lead to fascism.
Under the occupation, we have seen how Israeli fascism has developed and how it ratifies laws in contravention with international law and against its own citizens. Netanyahu insolently protested to Belgium because its officials met with Israeli individuals and institutions concerned with human rights such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. Hence, there is a trend towards the oppression of any rhetoric that is different, contrary or investigative, which is frightening for all of us.
In reality, we are living Israel’s fascism and impunity and its legal, political and economic privileges from the United States and the international community. There are also individuals who enjoy legal impunity such as settlers. The judicial system in this fascist state is distorted and we pay the price for this as well.
The development of this extreme right ideology, which is also based on another component – security - results in the distortion of society and entrenchment of the occupation and prevents a just solution based on international law from being reached. This is because centrality rejects pluralism and pluralism here means going to the UN – that is, internationalization is part of depending on international law to arrive at solutions in which more than one power participates. Adopting pluralism includes international and UN agencies, all of which will weaken the control of singular power. This is the direction we are taking, one based on international law which strongly conflicts with illegal Israeli laws and measures.
Within the region, there are Arab countries that feel a lack of security or threats to their security and have therefore developed a security-oriented regime. The premise was mutual security interests. An agreement was made with Israel in an attempt to reach agreements with the Trump administration as a response to the Obama administration’s actions, namely the nuclear deal with Iran and the Sunni and Shiite polarization of these countries. Israel, meanwhile, became an ally to moderate Sunni countries in fighting Islamic terror and in confronting Shiite forces.
In light of these developments, what options does the Palestinian leadership have in facing the challenges of the next stage and how will this affect the national cause?
There are several basic requirements, the first of which is to get our house in order. The challenges we face are existentially dangerous because they are a continuation of the Nakba. I think this is a return of Zionist fundamentalism and an end to the Nakba rhetoric. They want to eliminate the Palestinian cause, either through regional cooperation or through reattaching the cause to Jordan, or through putting the Gaza Strip under Egyptian dependency and then say to us, here is your state.
There is a real fear today that different international approaches will come together and agree on imposing a solution that is fundamentally unjust to Palestinian rights, especially the right to self-determination and to live freely and with dignity on our land. Therefore, we must fortify our internal situation. Unfortunately, I don’t see any political will for this or even a real vision and comprehension of the gravity of these times. Hamas has a stronghold on the Gaza Strip as its source of power, which weakens the Palestinian cause. Meanwhile, there are no actions being taken by the PLO towards self-revival, promoting the concept of elections, or rectifying decision-making. We have reached the point of self-regurgitation while the world changes around us. Our program no longer applies to the current stage and if we do not address our weak and unsteady internal situation then we cannot face the challenges.
I am not only referring to the political division, even though this division is a major rift. It has continued to weaken us and is being used against us at every turn. Unfortunately there are narrow personal and factional interests that have reinforced the division to the benefit of countries that want to deepen it – and we know who these countries are – if it weren’t for their interference and support for Gaza becoming an entity under them and separate from the rest of the homeland, then this split would have ended. At the same time, I’m not saying we have to wait until Hamas collapses. This is wrong. Hamas must be convinced that the source of its legitimacy and recognition is the Palestinian people themselves. Likewise, the source of its continuity is to enter into an inclusive, pluralistic and democratic Palestinian system through elections. Hamas is not an alternative to the PLO. It is not capable of being an alternative, but it should be part of the PLO framework. Hence, it cannot maintain this division and enjoy privileges in Gaza at the same time. That is why we always call for an inclusive system based on real elections and professional institutions. As for our intellectual differences, let them be. There is a political program for the PLO and if Hamas wants to change it then it must be part of the national discussion within the Palestinian system. No one is allowed to think they can monopolize political decisions.
From another aspect, we have problems in the West Bank and Gaza regarding rights and liberties, whether in terms of abuse of power where public funds are concerned or the method in which decisions are made. We in the PLO do not even know about the many decisions and agreements made, which should have been put to the members of the Executive Committee.
Hence, part of the weakness of the political system is not only the lack of local, legislative and presidential elections but also the weakening and exclusion of the PLO from decision making. It has been marginalized while the PA has been strengthened at the expense of the PLO which is what donor countries intended. They always considered the PLO the political reference for our people and therefore wanted the same thing Israel wants – for the Palestinians to have administrative functions under Israeli sovereignty. The PA should not accept this role. It should be the reference for the PA in reality not just in words because the PLO represents the political national decision of all Palestinians. Unfortunately, it has been stymied in a way that makes it seem its perimeters are only within the occupied territories. Even the Palestinians in exile can no longer play this role. This has weakened our political decision making completely.
**Can there be an impact on reviving the international role, including the European role, in mobilizing political support for the Palestinian cause so that it is not confined to economic support and therefore works towards finding a just solution that guarantees Palestinian rights?
Unfortunately, this was the division of functions from the start all the way back to the days of the Madrid Conference. The political decision was in the hands of the United States and the economic and partnership support was from Europe without any assertive political intervention. We fought for Europe to have a political role and to coordinate in this regard, but unfortunately Europe never assumed this role. What’s more, there is no consensus within it over this issue. When it comes to Palestine they say they want a consensus, which is nonexistent. And this is unacceptable. Moreover, the United States and Israel have allies within the EU that weaken positions, wording and programs in the EU, which is experiencing some internal weakness right now because of the extreme right, the emergence of populism and Brexit. In addition to this, there is the emergence of Trump as a phenomenon that has encouraged European countries to leave the union in order to preserve their national identities. He has delivered a calculated blow to the EU just like his blow to NATO. Hence, he is against any coalitions; he wants to fragment the world outside and tighten American control and domination without bearing any responsibilities or interferences except where protecting trade is concerned.
Today, Europe feels threatened, internally and externally. It knows that dealing with violence and terror is not through a military solution or more security measures in its societies, but through resolving the issues on which terror feeds. There is a vision of this sort, but there are those who are calling for isolation. Without a doubt, the emergence of ISIS and Al Qaeda before it has had a very dangerous impact, from September 11, 2001 until today. We Palestinians are paying the price. Israel tried to link us directly to terror, political Islam and negative stereotypes and is still trying to doing so. This has detracted from the integrity and essence of the Palestinian cause as one based on rights and law, a cause of the people, of justice and fairness. Our people have never been terrorists. On the contrary, terrorism has been continuously practiced against us.
Internally, we need to resort to the international arena. All international laws, institutions and organizations were created to protect who lack protection and to protect victims. We Palestinians have been denied this right because of international decisions, mostly by the United States.
On the flip side, there are growing popular and solidarity movements and a growing public opinion in Europe and even the United States mostly in favor of the Palestinian cause, of ending the occupation and of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Even parliaments vote in our favor, but the governments do not follow suit. Still, boycott campaigns are growing and awareness is also spreading in light of the widespread use of social media. The impact has been considerable and we can see this in American universities, particularly amongst academics, students and professors who are no longer afraid of being accused of anti-Semitism. This is in spite of all the counter campaigns against solidarity movements and laws being passed that associate any criticism to Israel with anti-Semitism and consider the BDS movement as illegal. There has also been interference in universities that support Palestine through inciting against them. Extreme right groups amply fund this including individuals such as the American Jewish millionaire Irving Moskowitz to block freedom of expression, which they believe does not include criticism of Israel.
** Was the nomination of Dr. Salam Fayyad as UN Secretary General envoy to Libya and the US’s subsequent rejection of this nomination indication of the growing influence of the extreme right?
This new administration dealt with this issue in a ridiculous manner. It is a racist administration and it’s UN envoy, Nikki Haley’s comments on this issue are completely unacceptable. It is clear discrimination against a person because he is Palestinian. Such discrimination is unbelievable and exposes an exclusionary and oppressive mentality blindly biased towards Israel. What do they want to do? Carry out ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians and bar them from assuming any post at the UN just like everyone else?
This is not about Salam Fayyad per se. Fayyad is a professional and has a lot of integrity and sense of responsibility. I respect him immensely and I think we should all be proud of having someone like Dr. Fayyad. We need to support creative energy and allow it to flourish. I am grateful that [UN Secretary General] Antonio Guterres saw that Fayyad is a qualified and professional individual worthy of the post.
We should have taken a clear and bold stance against this racism just like other countries that intervene on behalf of their citizens. This is a dangerous sign, but it shows the way in which the new US administration thinks. The mere fact that he is Palestinian meant he could be rejected. Meanwhile, liberal Jewish organizations in the United States intervened and protested, stressing that Fayyad was chosen on merit and not because of his national identity.
**What is the future of the PA including the option of its dissolution?
Dissolving the PA may be an option for some, but we are not calling for this. It is an administrative system so if you want to dissolve it, there must be an alternative unless you want chaos to prevail and if you want life to become very difficult for the people. When the PLO established the PA it was based on a political decision; the PA was to be one form of protection for the national project. In other words, it was under the PLO’s control and is one of its branches while the PLO was its reference. Unfortunately things are now the other way around.
I think the PA should redefine itself, its functions and its relationship to the PLO, which must be revived and developed. This should not be done superficially by adding a few new faces and omitting a few old ones and then forming a committee. We have such superficial thinking in this regard. The only way I believe the PLO can be developed is through developing its comprehensive national program and its inclusive national representation of the entire Palestinian people. It needs to reconnect with the people in exile because it is their safety net and the protectorate of our national project.