“Our Rights Are Not for Sale” – An Interview with Hanan Ashrawi
Authors: Hanan Ashrawi, Sari Harb
Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Beginning with the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, she served as an official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process. The interview was conducted by Sari Harb. Sari Harb is Program and Political Communication Manager at the regional office Palestine and Jordan of the Rosa-Luxemburg- Foundation.
“Our Rights Are Not for Sale” – An Interview with Hanan Ashrawi on president Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and the Manama summit
Sari Harb: Twenty Six years ago the PLO and Israel signed the Oslo Accords, an interim peace treaty mediated by the US. Since then many peace initiatives proposed by the US and other mediators have failed. Today US president Donald Trump is proposing a “Deal of the Century” to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In June, Bahrain hosted the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop, initiated by Jared Kushner to discuss the economic part of Trump’s “Deal of the Century”. Why did the Palestinian leadership refused to participate in the summit?
Hanan Ashrawi: Actually, the Bahrain meeting was a workshop. It was not a summit and it did not involve a peace plan. All it did involve were some vague unsubstantial attempts at producing some sort of economic cooperation and economic development, without any legal or political dimensions and without any relationship to reality.
The workshop in itself totally ignored the main cause for the conflict and the main reason why they can be no development and no prosperity. So it totally ignored the occupation: there was no reference to the term of “occupation” at all. It totally ignored Palestinian rights to freedom, to sovereignty on our own land given the fact that Israel is placing Palestine under a strangulating siege, particularly regarding Gaza. But it fells free to sell and bomb and kill as well that it feels free to establish checkpoints and fragment the West Bank. That it feels free to constantly steal Palestinian land and Palestinian resources, demolish Palestinian homes and at the same time control Area A, the territorial waters and the crossing points on the borders: it means that nothing can be done because Israel has an infinite capacity to destroy and has been doing it. And that is the main reason why the Palestinian economy is suffering, it is not because we are incapable of building a thriving economy, but because we are not in control of our own resources and land, our lives, our future and our rights.
The workshop was very clearly an attempt to divert attention from the real issue: Israeli violations, Israeli oppression, and so on. To say “Okay all we need to do, is give the Palestinians a hand out and they will accept their captivity”. Besides, this is not an original plan. It has been tried before and many of these projects were proposed earlier. They talked about 50 billion dollars, people say that is an enormous amount. It is not. Because it is distributed over 10 years, it is shared by Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, much of it is in the form of loans, some of it is in the form of investments and so on. And most of it is hypothetical, and I doubt it will materialize. But the issue is an attempt at distraction. Diverging the tactics to say “we are doing something”, while on the ground the US has been taking concrete active steps to undermine the chances of peace, to destroy the very substance of peace and objective by moving the embassy to Jerusalem and by recognizing the Israel’s illegal and obsession of Jerusalem, by targeting Palestinian refugees and their organizations including UNRWA which is UN organization, by refusing to talk about the two-state solution, by considering the settlements as legal and not illegal, by refusing even to mention the 1967 borders they have de-funded everything in Palestine. Their objective is to normalize the occupation itself within the West Bank, to normalize the control and presence of the illegal settlers on our own lands and in the region, to normalize Israel’s presence in the region.
The PLO Executive Committee statement said the Manama summit is doomed to failure. Can you elaborate more on this?
There are several reasons for this. The most important reason is that it has no political, no legal framework. It is just an invention of somebody’s mind in order to carry out cosmetic changes on illegal and brutal occupation.
Two: It buys Israel time to create more facts, and it does not deal with the real facts on the ground, the Israeli occupation and the American collusion with the Israeli occupation, and the American and Israeli illegal unilateral steps.
And three: because it is an abstraction in a vacuum. And all the countries participated. Most of them, I think, only because they succumbed to pressure and threats and so on. And with the exception of a few Gulf countries they sent second, third, fourth level representatives.
So the issue is, when you have such an unstudied and detrimental plan that does not deal with reality and its requirements, then of course it is going to fail. People are going there as a matter of form, not as a matter of substance. It is more or mainly symbolic for them, to tell the Trump administration, “OK, we said yes”. But basically everybody knows it is a failure from the beginning.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Stayyeh announced that the Palestinian National Authority will collapse within two months if the financial situation stays the same. What is the PLO’s plan to face the difficult financial situation? Furthermore, the Manama Summit’s announced goal is to help develop the Palestinian economy.
Look, the Palestinian economy is collapsing because Israel is stealing our money, and Israel is withholding the funds for the payments to the prisoners’ families, to the killed Palestinians. Since 1967, Israel has imprisoned between 800000 to a one million Palestinians, and has killed 75000 Palestinians, and by law the families of these people bear the responsibility and not the occupier. And yet, Israel not only doesn’t want do that, it also doesn’t want the Palestinians to help these families. So in many ways it is punishing the Palestinians because they refuse the occupation. And stealing our money is something that is clearly illegal and criminal. And instead of holding Israel accountable, The US also decided to suspend any support and any payments to the Palestinians.
So now the issue is not to try to find some sort of US hypothetical handout in the future that possibly might happen – which is actually much less than the funds we lose as a result of the occupation. Our loss as the result of occupation far exceeds the 50 billion over 10 years to be shared by these 4 countries (and loans and investments and so on). But our rights are not for sale. And you cannot for the sake of fistful of dollars say, ”OK, we will sell our right to freedom, our right to self-determination, our right to sovereignty and so on. “
Now we know that there will be economic repercussions. American pressure on other governments, on other sources, and attempts of de-funding and destroying UNRWA will instantly leave more than a 5,5 million Palestinians out of funds with regard to educational and health services and social welfare services. This is criminal in addition to being cruel. So doing this is a form of blackmailing. Palestinian people know that. And they know that this pressure is in order to exact Palestinian surrender. That we will succumb under threats, under pressure, under blackmail. And the Palestinian people have been really quite steadfast and adamant about not succumbing to this kind of blackmail. But we know the situation is extremely difficult. If we were in control of our land and resources and freedom of movement, we would build a thriving, vibrant economy. That is all we need! We do not need to substitute our freedoms and rights for some kind of promise of economic alleviation. What we need to do is to try to find ways of maintaining Palestinian people’s resilience, their ability to stay on their land. We need to have a streamlined economy, which is very difficult under occupation, and we have plans how to redefine our relationship with Israel – particularly the economic relation. Part of it is to reconsider the economic, political and legal relationship with Israel, plus of course the security relationship. So we are looking into all these things, but there can be no really genuine handling of the financial and economic needs of Palestine and its development as long as there is an occupation that feels free to steal everything from us.
Many Arab countries participated in the Manama summit. Saudi Arabia’s minister of state Mohammed al-Sheikh has expressed support for Washington’s economic plan, saying it could succeed since it includes the private sector and “there is hope of peace”. How does the PLO view the increasingly close and intimate ties between various Arab states and Israel?
This is part of a larger picture. When we talk about what is happening in the world, we talk about the rise of populism, fascism, racism, extreme right-wing politics, individualism and isolationism, misogyny in total disregard for international law and human rights. All these are part of a rising mentality, of a new ideology.
I do not want to go into details – the immigration problems that gave rise to right-wing, xenophobic ideologies; the rise of ethno-nationalism and hyper-nationalism, and exclusivity and the claim to exceptionalism, all these things have been here under occupation, have been the policies and ideologies of Israel. Add to that a religious fundamentalism in Israel. Now you see it rising in the US. And in the US you have a combination of the extreme evangelical Zionist Christians with the extreme right wing Zionist organizations and lobby groups like AIPAC, with the neocons like John Bolton and others, and with of course people like Sheldon Adelson who has funded Trump. So you have Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo on the evangelical side, you have AIPAC, Adleson and others, the neocons, and you have opportunism. When you are an opportunist it does not matter. I mean you can change your mind and opinion at any moment which is what is happening. So they decided that they are going to cast their lots with the extreme right wing and racist forces and these have formed some sort of collective globally, that is threatening really not just the requirements of peace, but the global system, the political and legal system. That was established after the Second World War, precisely to curb the excesses of the powerful and the violations of the strong, and to provide a protection for the vulnerable and the weak. Instead now we see a systematic assault on all these things.
This has found expression also in the Arab world and in our region where there is this alliance between Trump and some of the Arab Gulf countries, based on a simplistic polarization that the region has one enemy – which is Iran, rather than seeing that the region has a very complex dynamic, suffering from many issues. The most glaring issue is the Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian land, and the American collusion and enabling Israel to steal and annex these lands including the Golan Heights that belong to Syria, including Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank and the Jordan valley. And there is the attempt to create a sort of relationship with Israel as part of the moderate Sunni club in facing the real threat to them – which is Iran. This is not just dangerous, it is a real misunderstanding and mishandling of the complex realities of the region. Particularly given the fact that there is also a very painful transition: proxy wars, civil wars, total distraction and chaos. Whether it is in Libya, Syria, Yemen, still in Iraq even. This is an unholy alliance if you look at Trump and Netanyahu, Bolsonaro and Orban, this rising kind of right wing extremism, racism and populism. Some of the Arab countries think that this is within this alliance that they will protect themselves and their regimes from oppressive threats. To us it is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. And this does not help at all in the rise either of democracy or human rights or even some kind of reformist and corrective forces in the region.
What other strategic choices and alternatives does the PLO have beyond saying “no” to the American proposed “Deal of the Century”?
It is very hard because every time the big powers manage to destroy our options and our reality, we are told what our other options are. Now survival is the essential issue.
We are not alone. We may now feel vulnerable and isolated and we are, but at the same time we do have friends and allies. The most important thing is that International law / Human Rights law / International humanitarian law are all on our side. We have to find ways of curbing Israeli violations and holding it to account, whether through the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Now we have a rise in public opinion, we have a network of people in solidarity with Palestine who share our views and our values: minorities, women groups, Hispanics, blacks, and within academic circles and within think tanks and so on. Despite the threats, despite the attempts at stifling any kind of criticism of Israel, there are people who are speaking out.
And these are a hope for the future because that are the ones who are going to challenge the prevailing Zionist ideology and total identification with Israel in the West. In Germany for example you now have a rising attempt of criminalizing BDS and at labeling or conflating any criticism of Israel with “Anti-Semitism” which is ridiculous. It is preposterous because Israel is a state that claims the benefits and privileges of statehood, but at the same refuses to comply with international law and the requirements of civilized behavior. And therefore people should feel free to criticize Israel: it has nothing to do with religion or Anti-Semitism. It has a lot to do with a global rule of law and justice and with human rights. And the Palestinians cannot be the only people who are deprived of the protection of the law.
Otherwise you will continue to maintain a dynamic that will lead to further chaos, to further extremism and that will legitimize real anti-Semitism. When you label any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, then this gives many of the white supremacists and anti-Semitic forces in the U.S. that claim that they support Israel a free pass to be genuinely anti-Semitic. And there is an increasing space of anti-Semitism through the rising kind of racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia.
There is a Palestinian unity in refusing both the Manama summit and the Deal of the Century. All the Palestinian factions explicitly declared that. This brings the question of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas on the table, especially as Gaza is facing siege and blockade by the Israeli occupation. Will there be real efforts for unity?
It looks and sounds simple: why can´t you have unity? It is an extremely complicated situation because they are many players. Many players involved within Palestine of course, but also from outside of Palestine. The determinable factor is the occupation itself. And Netanyahu admitted it openly, that he wants to achieve the rift. He did not create the rift or even contribute to the rift, but the rift in itself served Israel purposes, undermined Palestinian rights, and the understanding of the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian public as a whole is totally committed to the reconciliation and reunification of Palestine, territorially, demographically, politically, structurally, institutionally. And first of all you need the political will to act on the basis of the Palestinian national agenda. But over the years, since 2007, since twelve years now, you have a rise of personal interests, of privileges, of benefits, of class, of people who see their own interest in maintaining this rift. The only way of looking forward is by having a general reconciliation. There is no magic, you cannot just proclaim it and have it. But what you need to do is to start, and start systematically: institutionally and structurally; start with the elections. You do have go back to the people, and elections themselves are the real challenge and an act of defiance because Israel is not going to allow to have free and fair elections. We are not free ourselves, but we will have to struggle. We have to have elections, and we have to start with the institutions of governance. And I think there is enough public pressure, even the public has become quite skeptical because we try very hard to influence developments and to bring about reconciliation.
Within this situation, where negotiations failed, Israel continued its occupation and annexation of the West Bank and the US totally biased to Israel, can this be considered the logical death of the two state solution?
The most lethal aspect is the expansionism of Israel and its superimposition of greater Israel on all of historical Palestine. This is the threat and end of the 2-state-solution. But we must make it very clear that the two-state solution is not our ideal response or need or demand; it is a compromise, a concession that we made. That the PLO recognized Israel on 78% of Palestine and accepted only 22% of historical Palestine as the land of the territory of Palestinian state.
So to me it is extremely ironic: it is Israel and the world who missed the opportunity to accept the two-state solution which was not an easy offer by the Palestinians because there are many who are still suffering, who still see this as a serious injustice. So now even that is not accepted, and Israel is busy stealing more and more land of the 22%, stealing our resources and maintain this cruel control on over our lives. Settlements can be undone. But it is going to be extremely difficult, because the more they expand, the more difficult it will be to dismantle these settlements, to clear the Palestinian territory for a genuine and viable Palestinian state.
So my question is not what will the Palestinians come up with, my question is: what will the world come up with? We are not the ones who chose to create Israel on Palestinian land. We never had an army, we never waged war. On the contrary: we are always on the receiving end of violence. The world put tremendous pressure to get the Palestinians not just to accept a Resolution 181, the principle of partition. But also a Resolution 242 and a Resolution 338, which means the 1967 borders. And once we did that they say that this is not enough, Israel has destroyed that, so what do you propose to do? We tell the world: what do you propose to do? You stood by, helplessly, ineffectively, watching Israel destroy peace and the chances of peace, and destroy the chances of Palestinian statehood. And instead of holding Israel accountable, you are telling the weaker part – the Palestinians – what alternatives do you have or what do you propose to do? To me I think if Israel wants all of Palestine then let’s go back to the beginning and say no: all of Palestine is ours, we do not want to share it. But that takes us back to the old situation. When you have extreme absolutist ideologies in Israel it will encourage its counterpart. When you have this tremendous greed to try to eradicate the whole nation and its culture and its history and its identity and its rights. And that is not to say just that we do not exist, but that we do have no human dimension, we are dehumanized and therefore we have no claim to any protection of the law. This is extremely serious and it is a very dangerous precedent for the rest of the world. I think we should hold the international community and international system responsible and accountable for enabling Israel to do all these things. And now the American administration has become a partner in crime with Israel. So if they do not want a two-state solution, I want to see them come up with a plan for a one-state-solution, a democratic state. A concrete practical step now that they have allowed Israel to destroy the two-state-solution which was their preference, not ours.
 The Oslo II Accord (1995) divided the Israeli-occupied West Bank into three administrative units: Areas A, B and C. Area A is administered by the Palestinian Authority.
 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States.