Dr Hanan Ashrawi, the first woman to be elected a member of the PLO's Executive Committee, is skeptical that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could deliver if U.S. President Barack Obama indeed goes ahead with a new Middle East peace plan.
"I know Netanyahu even before Madrid," she told Haaretz.
"Do I think that peace is possible with this government? No. This government is doing everything possible, in every way, to undermine perspective of peace. To preempt talks, to act unilaterally, to challenge, to provoke, to escalate, particularly in Jerusalem. And the language that is coming from some members of the coalition - it's language of pure racism and hatred. So it's not just the policy, it's the actions on the ground. And even to the point that they are really want to act as occupiers not only in the West bank and in Gaza, but also in Washington.
Politically, Netanyahu has decided that he works with Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, and that type of coalition doesn't bode well for peace at all and stability or non-violence or any type of responsible communication. But I really cannot forecast what would happen with another government. Because what we need to see - it's not certain statements and proclamations, but actions on the ground."
Should the Palestinians participate in proximity talks?
"It's very ironic because those proximity talks were name of the game in 80-s, when Israel did not recognize the PLO and we set up these proximity talks in Holland with the Dutch foreign minister mediation. We had two delegations - PLO and the Israelis sitting in separate rooms, and the Dutch foreign minister going between them So it's a regression, we've got way beyond that. It's too little, too late. What is needed now is an urgent action on the ground. When you go into proximity talks it's a question of talks, the behavior on the ground negates the talks. And there is no progress on substantive issues. We said, if you can define an endgame, if you can accept the 67 boundaries with East Jerusalem as a capital of Palestine, we can pick up from where the previous talks were left off. And have third party involvement on the ground and move rapidly. Of course we must stop settlement activities."
You got to the U.S. the week of Netanyahu-Obama's tense meeting. What did you hear at your lectures and meetings here?
"On the whole people have been feeling that Israel is going too far and it has to take into account American interests, not only its own interests. I won't say it's a turning point - there is still a commitment to Israel strategic interests and even public opinion and so on but in general people are more willing to be critical. I think it will get to the government level. There are things that cannot be done - when they tell you that it jeopardizes national security and interests and you continue saying our interest trump yours, and it's not even security interests, it's expansionism and illegal act that no one approves? And even the atmosphere and approach - you don't come to Washington and tell them 'we are going to come to your capital and defy you here.' I think PM Netanyahu got some candid messages from President Obama, and I hope that Netanyahu will come with some serious responsible answers."
PM Netanyahu said - and Secretary of State Clinton agreed with him - that he offered Palestinians more than any other Israeli leader before him.
"It's only a rhetoric. This is a fiction, this settlements freeze. He is building in and around Jerusalem, at an escalated pace. He is building public institutions, he announced new settlements. So it's a grand deception, to create an illusion that he is positive."
When the Israeli PM got a cold shoulder in Washington, what did you think?
"I thought that if the Americans hadn't done that it would be very demeaning and very insulting - in their own capital. They can't just ignore it. Sooner or later the U.S. has to end this culture of impunity, and Israel has to abide by rules. At least the sounds from the administration now are more firm than they were before. Netanyahu's government went too far, even with the closest ally and a patron and the benefactor. They went too far and there is a certain degree of arrogance, an no one can take it. I am sure he knew about the settlements, and besides, not knowing doesn't absolve one from crime. He should know, and if he didn't know, it's worse. Because he kept saying that these were plans from before. But than he started talking about all things 3000 years ago and Jerusalem is our capital and we will continue to build - this kind of ideology is not a contemporary language, it's inconsistent with negotiations or peace. It's ideological language. If you don?t want peace - it's OK to talk like that. You will quote Bible, others will quote Quran or new testament. This is ridiculous."
So do you think President Obama can do it?
"I don't know about imposing the solution but I think that we are beginning to see some sort of determination on behalf of the Americans. This past year was a real setback for peace. The Mitchell mission was an exercise in futility. He came with a position that settlement activities have to stop - all of them - and then Netanyahu dragged him into discussions on details and technicalities and got him to overlook the Jerusalem settlements. We are running out of time but the whole year was wasted. Netanyahu, frankly, got Mitchell a run around. Senator Mitchell is not new in the field and it's a shame he ended up going the way of Netanyahu and Americans weakened Abu-Mazen and PLO and more moderate and secular voices in Palestine.
But when it hit Americans at home it seems they seem to take a more determined stance. Whether they will go farther ? it remains to be seen, and it?s up to a lot of people, including the pro-Israeli lobby, other Jewish-American organizations, the Arabs, the Palestinians. There has to be concerted effort to tell the Americans that there is a win-win situation for everybody."
How about the claim Palestinians are slow on implementing their part of responsibilities? Such as incitement against Israel?
"It's a flimsy excuse. Because those who looked at these textbooks know that that they've been revised and are much better now. If they want to start and look through a magnifying glass at the rhetoric in Israel ? and frankly speaking, I see more incitement in Israel than in Palestine."
So what is the biggest impediment to peace on the Palestinian side?
"We have our problems, not the least is the internal dispute and division, and I think that the Palestinians went beyond the call of duty to the point of hurting themselves trying to fulfill their obligations within the roadmap. Abu Mazen also went very far trying to accommodate concerns of the Israelis. But Palestinian public opinion is moving toward more hard line position, losing confidence at the Israelis and demanding the leadership to take steps. There was a Goldstone report, trilateral meeting and so on - and they couldn't deliver."
What did you think about Goldstone report which was rejected by the U.S.?
"I thought it was a good report. It was honest and courageous and it tried to point out that there were issues with both sides. But rejecting the report in the U.S. - it s a standard operating procedures with the Israelis. The U.S. always protects Israel, whether at the Human rights council or the Security Council of the UN, or any other report, because it's part of their lives. It seems to me that the U.S. is going to lift that cover - then, perhaps, they will start behaving in a way that is consistent with the law and the requirements."
You are a Christian. Many Palestinian Christians moved to the west. How do you see their situation now?
"The occupation is extremely difficult. Those who have other options might leave, Christians or Muslims. We have a serious brain drain. And we need those brains to build the state. I don't think we have much time left, the prospects for peace are rapidly disappearing. There is a sense of real urgency."
We've seen recently some renewed violence - is the third Intifada an option?
"Intifadas are hard to predict, the situation is very unstable and the Palestinians are extremely discouraged. They have been provoked very seriously. So let's hope we'll get some concrete results before the mess gets out of hands."
What future do you see for Gaza?
"We need to have reconciliation and we hope that the Egyptian document will be signed by Hamas. And I think we should have elections."
And regarding Gilad Shalit?
"There should be prisoners exchanges as soon as possible."
Do you believe the Palestinian-Israeli agreement will help to deal with Iran?
"I think it helps. If you resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict it goes a long way to resolve many other issues in the region. It pushes many movements in region towards extremism. I think that the only way to deal with it is a nuclear-free region. It should be free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and others. The Palestinians don't see Iran as a threat - of course, Iran helps Hamas, but it's not a strategic or ideological alliance, it's sort of cooperation that serves the interests of both. Not all Arab countries view Iran the same way. But I think the way to solve it is not by waging war, whether unilaterally by Israel or by pushing Americans to it. I think it's extremely dangerous - the region cannot afford a military confrontation with Iran, at all. That would threaten the stability and security of the whole region and of course it will have global repercussions.
Original article published on April 7, 2010
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