By Abdullah H. Erakat, The Media Line[RAMALLAH] — Dr. Hanan Ashrawi was the first woman elected to the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Ashrawi served in Palestinian governments and is a former spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation to the Mideast peace talks, beginning with the Madrid Conference in 1991.
Dr. Ashrawi was interviewed by The Media Line’s Abdullah H. Erakat
TML: Word from Gaza is that a reconciliation agreement has been reached between Fatah and Hamas. It’s not the first time. Are you genuinely optimistic?
ASHRAWI: It’s encouraging, but the real proof remains in the follow-up and implementation. This is positive and it has the full support of the public and the leadership. The attitude on both sides is quite positive, they’re showing commitment, and Hamas has expressed its willingness to act in a very constructive manner. So from our side, from the delegation that we sent, they are quite hopeful and encouraged by this and they feel that tackling the issues, the government of professionals and an election within the time frame agreed is a good opening, good beginning, and that the other things will follow.
TML: There have been a number of efforts to reconcile the differences between Hamas and Fatah — two signed agreements have gone un-implemented. What’s different now?
ASHRAWI: I don’t know if it’s recognition that if you can’t stand together, you fall separately, but there’s a sense of urgency. I think Hamas in some ways understood that it cannot continue to be isolated in Gaza and outside the Palestinian legitimacy. If it wants any recognition in standing, it has to be part of the system, not outside the system. Regional changes and so on convinced Hamas that they should be integrated here rather than relying on external developments.
TML: One of the biggest sticking points has been Hamas’ reluctance to give up control of the Gaza Strip. How will the power sharing work exactly?
ASHRAWI: We don’t look at power sharing as divvying up the spoils. It should be based on democratic principles and practices: elections. And we have to restore the sense of public service rather than privilege or benefit, to the issue of leadership. It seems to me that is where you can shift the focus. It’s not just a technical issue of “Who wants to be in charge of what?” It’s a question of understanding; renewing the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system. This means elections and then you move from there to the issue of setting up after the elections, the executive authority. But all this should be done in the context of reforming, revitalizing and reactivating the PLO and its institutions.”
TML: At one point there was a stalemate and some Palestinian officials quietly expressed an interest in holding elections in the West Bank only.
ASHRAWI: I don’t think you can handle elections in the West Bank without Gaza. You have to them in Palestine — West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
TML: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that he disapproves of the Palestinian reconciliation and declared that the Palestinian Authority has to choose between reconciliation with Hamas or peace with Israel. When asked about the Netanyahu statement, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah answered that reconciliation is the number one priority.
ASHRAWI: It’s not mutually exclusive. It’s not either/or. And that question should never be asked. We are preparing our own political system, our own democracy. We are working towards self-empowerment. This has nothing to do with negotiations or the lack thereof. Israel should not decide who is legitimate and who is not in Palestine. The same way that we know in the government coalition there are members worse than Hamas, as far as we are concerned. But we’re not the ones to decide. The peace talks have nothing to do with the domestic realities in Palestine. They have a lot to do with the commitment on the part of Israel; its deliberate unilateral measures to destroy the chances of peace and the lack of political will on the part of the United States to stand up to Israel. These are the real issues. I don’t think the unification should have an impact other than strengthening the Palestinians to withstand all the pressures.
TML: What about the letters of accession to join 15 United Nations agencies and treaties? It’s seen by many as a choice by Palestinian President Abbas not to continue on the track of peace talks with Israel.
ASHRAWI: It’s a right. It’s a Palestinian right. We have the right to accede to all conventions and agreements that would empower us; enable us to protect our rights, our lives and our lands. It’s not a concession from the Israelis, it’s not a threat that we are making to anybody. It’s a right of all nations and we want to be part of the international community. We want to have the full protection of international law and we want to interact within the law with other countries and therefore we don’t see this as a negative development or as a threat. We know why Israel is reacting hysterically: because Israel always wanted to deal with us as a population under its control; our land up for grabs as disputed territories; and our resources as available under Israeli disposal; and all these things are unacceptable. That’s why Israel is reacting in such an exaggerated manner. On the contrary, it seems to me that we are moving in positive ways to show that Palestine will be bound by all the elements of human rights; good governance; democracy; and protection of the vulnerable.
TML: What role would Hanan Ashrawi like to see Jordan play in the future when it comes to peacemaking with Israel or the Palestinian reconciliation efforts?
ASHRAWI: Jordan is not a bystander or a neutral party even though it does have a peace agreement with Israel. Jordan is a Palestinian ally. Not just that, but it’s really a crucial component of Palestinian statehood and stability in the region. So it can play a positive role in strengthening Palestine, protecting Jerusalem — in particular the holy places, holy sites — and bringing its political weight to bear in terms of its dealings with the U.S. and the West as well as in the Arab context. So, as a neighbor and as a country that has been most impacted, followed by Lebanon, by the tragedy of Palestine, by the Nakba [“Catastrophe” referring to the creating of the Jewish state of Israel] and by the ongoing victimization. Jordan not just bears the major responsibility but it bore many of the consequences of what happened to Palestine. So we are hoping for a closer relationship than we have now, more support than we get from Jordan. The more we understand that we are two neighboring states with territorial integrity and sovereignty, the better it is for both of us and Israel should not try to play any games in that direction.