Interview with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Executive Committee Member, PLO

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Executive Committee Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, says in this interview that the Arab Peace Initiative is “basically an American principle: land for peace.”

“You give back the land which doesn’t belong to you, the Arab land that Israel acquired in 1967 as a result of war to its rightful owners, and you can have peace and recognition throughout the region. This is a magic formula,” says Dr. Ashrawi, a noted Palestinian leader, legislator, activist, scholar, and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Says Dr. Ashrawi: “The problem is there is avarice, there is greed for the land, for control and this drive for short-term gains and land grabs, this drive is undermining strategic gains in terms of peace and stability in the region.”

Dr. Ashrawi also discusses recent events in Syria and Egypt and their impact on the peace process and Hamas. "Anything that happens in the Arab world will have an impact on Palestine, and vice versa," she says. "The question is, we have to choose the best components of this type of impact in order to move ahead and in order to get a just peace in the region."

The interview was conducted by Maureen Quinn, Senior Adviser for the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Interview Transcript

Maureen Quinn (MQ): We are very pleased today to have Dr. Ashrawi, an elected member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), here on the Global Observatory.

Dr. Ashrawi, the ongoing political changes in the Arab world are monumental. I wanted to ask specifically on how some ones are affecting the Palestinians. How are the developments in Syria affecting the Palestinians? Are there opportunities for the Palestinians in the changes in Syria?

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi (HA): Well actually throughout the region, the changes have had an impact on Palestine, definitely. In Syria—still a situation in progress, so to speak—it’s a very painful situation. Its impact has been direct in terms of Hamas. Syria has hosted the Hamas leadership for a long time, and the fact that there was tremendous violence and instability in Syria, and the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood are in the opposition, Hamas was asked to decide where its loyalties lie.

Of course, they could not speak out against the Muslim Brotherhood, and condone any attacks on them. I think because of the instability and sense of insecurity, the Hamas leadership left Syria. So that was the most immediate impact, and the fact that they decided, particularly Khaled Meshaal, to embark upon reconciliation and to take a more moderate political stance, have been influenced by developments in Syria, and in the rest of the Arab world, despite the fact that many in Hamas see that rise of Islamist parties and the Muslim Brotherhood are going to be supportive of Hamas.

But these parties are proving to be more moderate and more conciliatory than they think. So, of course, anything that happens in the Arab world will have an impact on Palestine, and vice versa. The question is, we have to choose the best components of this type of impact in order to move ahead and in order to get a just peace in the region.

MQ: What about the political transition in Egypt? How do you see that political transition impacting on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations?

HA: Again, that is a major change, because the previous government in Egypt was seen as doing the bidding of the West in this part of the world. Therefore, quite often it was seen to pay lip service, for example, to reconciliation or to try to push the Palestinians into further negotiations without getting the reassurances that we needed.

So this new situation in Egypt—I don’t want to say new regime because they still have elections ongoing and the president is to be elected—but the fact is the military, at least in the interim, have been very outspoken in terms of, first of all, bringing Hamas to compliance in terms of reconciliation, and to play an active role in trying to maintain a situation in Palestine that is more conducive to reconciliation, and to peace actually. But without being seen as doing the bidding of external forces.

It is still, again, a situation in the making, and I think Egypt will be in a position to play an even greater role in peacemaking once the dust settles so to speak and once they have their own system in place. I think that they will be quite supportive of Palestinian rights.

MQ: The Palestinian Authority is pursuing an ambitious state-building agenda, and there’s been domestic reforms. Do the Palestinians have confidence in the Palestinian governing authorities and institutions?

HA: In terms of governance, institution building and so on, yes, the Palestinians see that their government is providing the services and trying to do the right thing building efficient, transparent institutions and system of integrity and accountability. But that’s not the whole issue.

The thing is, like the rest of the Arab world, most leaderships or governments are being assessed or evaluated in terms of how they stand up to the Israeli occupation and the ongoing injustice. Because the leadership is being thwarted, as I said, there are all sorts of attempts at undermining this leadership, through lack of progress in the talks, through, of course, the limits and behavior of the occupation.

This is undermining the standing of the leadership. You can build so many institutions, you can engage in nation building for so long before you come up against a stone wall of the occupation because you have no freedom of movement, of people or goods, you have no rights whatsoever, you cannot control your land or your resources, you have no sovereignty, and, therefore, whatever you do is severely curtailed by the limits established by the occupation. You cannot defend your people. You cannot put an end to house demolitions, arbitrary detentions, administrative detentions, you cannot use your resources, and so on. So, the more Israel is intrusive and coercive in these efforts, the more it undermines the leadership, whether it is the government or the PLO.

MQ: What about the question of unity among the Palestinians? Hamas and Fatah did sign an interim government agreement. What are the prospects for unity among the Palestinians today, and what are the real challenges to that unity at this time?

HA: Well, we look at reconciliation as a process of reactivating, revitalizing our democracy, because we do believe in having a pluralistic, active, democratic system. An inclusive one. So unity is not necessarily a monolithic approach where you believe everyone should think alike, or have one political program. No, unity means—reconciliation means, having an active democracy where there are ways of expressing disagreement and dissent that are peaceful and that would serve the national cause and the interests of everybody. That is how we look upon it. We are not expecting people suddenly to fall in step and have one political agenda or program.

But as such, we are not living in isolated, discrete separate entities. This world is made up, especially in our part of the world, of so many intervening factors. The most obvious is the occupation, and what it does. And the rift between Gaza and the West Bank is territorial, as well as demographic, as well as political. So there is no communication between Gaza and the West Bank. We cannot get there, and of course, the occupation has contributed to this rift severely. Gaza is under siege; the West Bank is under siege of fragmentation as well.

So that is difficult, but we are trying to repair this situation, the division, by having national elections. It is going to be difficult. It’s not easy also because there are external factors engaged. Right now, the Arab countries are trying to serve the cause of reconciliation, whether Qatar or Egypt or Jordan or whatever, by trying to translate the Cairo agreement and the Doha declaration to active steps.

The first step is to have a government of independents, of professionals, that will rebuild Gaza, that will take charge of the reconstruction of Gaza and supervise or oversee elections. But right now, the work on elections has been hindered, Hamas still has its own internal issues, they are also busy trying to elect their new council and their new leadership, and they are speaking with different voices right now, so we will see what they come up with, but we feel that the surest and the best way to move towards genuine reconciliation and democracy is through comprehensive free and fair elections at all levels.

MQ: Finally, my last question today is: what are the prospects for further Palestinian-Israeli peace talks? You talked earlier today a little bit about the Arab Peace Initiative. What are the elements of that, that you see as a possibility to build on for peace? Do you see opportunity for real negotiations?

HA: Unfortunately, we do not see an opportunity for negotiations as a process for its own sake. We have gone down that path, and we have seen how negotiations have been abused as an instrument of power to buy more time for Israeli unilateralism and to create more facts on the ground. To expand settlement activities, confiscation of land, revocation of IDs, ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. And there has been no intervention whatsoever to curb Israeli violations or to protect Palestinian rights, so the negotiations have lost their substance and their credibility.

But having said that, I think we need to deal with negotiations as an instrument, as a means to an end, and not as an end unto themselves. If there is the possibility of talks, then they have to be global, international; then they have to deal with the real issues in terms of working out steps to bring about the end of the occupation and the building of the two-state solution, not to have more talks and more negotiations. Everybody knows what the outcome should be. But nobody has the foresight and the practical interest and will to put together a plan of action, to bring about the end of the occupation and the building of the Palestinian state, as a sovereign and free state.

The Arab Peace Initiative is really the key because it is talking about regional implications, and it is based on a very simple principle, which is basically an American principle: land for peace. You give back the land which doesn’t belong to you, the Arab land that Israel acquired in 1967 as a result of war to its rightful owners, and you can have peace and recognition throughout the region. This is a magic formula. The problem is there is avarice, there is greed for the land, for control and this drive for short-term gains and land grabs, this drive is undermining strategic gains in terms of peace and stability in the region.

MQ: Thank you very much, thank you.

HA: You are most welcome, it’s a pleasure.



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