The Fate of Jerusalem -- and Peace
INTERVIEW HANAN ASHRAWI
HANAN ASHRAWI emerged in 1991 as a new spokeswoman for Palestinians on the world scene. A Christian Arab, she was a key member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid talks -- until the Oslo peace accord was signed on the White House lawn in 1993.
Ashrawi helped in the final stages of the Oslo accord but did not sign it or participate in it -- despite requests by Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Ashrawi now heads the official Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights near Ramallah in the occupied territories.
She talked about recent troubling Middle East issues with the Monitor's editorial page while in Boston to promote her new book.
On May 17 Israeli expropriation of land in East Jerusalem was condemned by all United Nations Security Council members except the US. Is this important?
This is the real test -- for the legitimacy of negotiations, and for whether the process can bring a real peace.
With the Americans we feel a sense of betrayal. Betrayal of mission, and betrayal of their role. America is selling short the peace process, not just Palestinian rights, by clearly taking sides. I don't see how the United States can claim to be evenhanded brokers when they violate the foundations of peace and preempt negotiations on such a crucial issue as Jerusalem.
This is not just a personal point for me. This is a Palestinian consensus, an Arab consensus, an Islamic consensus.
I don't know how you can claim the peace process has validity if Jerusalem is allowed to be taken. There are many lands around Jerusalem being annexed by Israel with American blessings. This suggests a commitment to negotiate the very fate of Jerusalem, not just its status, but its fate -- which belies negotiations.
After the White House handshake, did Palestinians believe the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be returned?
Absolutely. To get a consensus for peace and a constituency for peace we had to, at the least, promise that territory would be returned. We had to sway people from historical demands and get them to accept the West Bank and Gaza. This came after years of struggle.
More than the land is now undermined. Everything is -- basic rights and tenets of peace. The peace process is losing support. It is seen as a process of self-negation rather than a process of affirmation.
How is this playing out at home?
People would rather stop the process than accept that the West Bank and East Jerusalem will be taken. This means a loss of faith in the process, which is seriously flawed. But also I feel the voice of reason may be undermined.
What will Palestinians do if East Jerusalem continues to be annexed?
At a certain point there will be a massive ''request'' -- if not pressure and demand -- on the Palestinian leadership to withdraw from talks. You cannot proceed, constantly accepting all Israel dictates. The peace process becomes simply a cover for illegal acts. The people will say, ''That is enough.''
Do you find such sentiments?
I do. But there will also be a move in the Arab world, even among countries that have signed an agreement with Israel. Jordan may withdraw its ambassador. There will be a Palestinian move, and an Arab move. And I would frankly support such a move if land continues to be taken.
The whole peace process was based on the equation of land for peace. If Israel continues to take land but preempts the postponed issues like settlements and Jerusalem, and continues human rights violations, the process has no substance.
We are not in this for the sake of sustaining the appearance of talks -- if talks have no bearing on reality.
In your book you say Clinton offered Jerusalem to Israel as a campaign promise. Do you have evidence?
Present actions indicate emphatically the truth of this.
We are used to hyperbolic election promises. Every candidate promises the moon, including Jerusalem, to Israel. But now even those of us who try to take this talk with a grain of salt see a lack of willingness to deal with Jerusalem in an evenhanded way.
Some candidates support moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.
It is unfortunate that special interest groups have such an influence on your elections. Politicians here are elected by appealing to domestic agendas that require making foreign policy decisions that are very dangerous.
Many politicians know better. They know the sensitivity of Jerusalem. But they feel they must go through the ritual to get elected.
You are one of the best-known Palestinians. Yet you refused Mr. Arafat's invitation to join the Palestinian Authority. Why?
I was against the fragmenting of territory that the Oslo accord called for -- the Gaza-Jericho deal. I could not be part of so much self-negation and abrogation of responsibility. I had reservations about postponing issues without guarantees. I felt responsible for building institutions that would last, that would not be hampered by the Gaza-Jericho geographical constraints.
What did you tell Arafat?
When I went to Tunis in August of 1993 and saw the document I was very upset. I asked [Arafat], Can we change anything? He said, no, he had already initialed it. I said, how could you ignore human rights? You have a constituency. Children are in jail. You can't ignore them. Jerusalem and the settlements were postponed without assurances, disregarding the work we had done for years.
What can be done to move forward?
Israelis must cease settlement activity. This constantly strikes at the heart of negotiations. Prisoners must be released.
Palestinians must work on genuinely free and fair elections while building institutions. We can't afford to delay. But it is difficult to focus on elections and institutions while the land is being stolen.
But the most immediate need is to review negotiations. We need a change of attitude and vision.
Some American Palestinians are critical of your leaders.
The process of transformation is not taking place as smoothly as we had hoped. The patterns of leadership in exile are being imposed on Palestinians in territories that are, after all, still occupied. These leaders are also undermined by constant Israeli pressure and humiliation. They are losing their constituency.
What can you say about repression by the new Palestinian Authority?
There are attempts to control funding, to centralize it. This means there will be direct control of institutions that are supposed to be independent. There is severe containment of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Ghazi Jabali, head of civil police in Gaza, came out with a decree to prohibit political meetings without a permit.
In March, the edict was used to prevent a seminar on the new state security courts. Invitations were sent to the minister of justice in the Authority, the attorney general, and prominent lawyers. We have always had seminars. But Jabali told us we had to obtain permission, unless we thought we were above the law.
A letter was sent protesting the decree -- and saying the seminar was not a political meeting anyway but a study group. All those invited were officials -- including Arafat's adviser on human rights. Permission to hold the meeting was requested.
A letter came back from Jabali saying, ''I have got your letter -- your request is denied.'' Nothing more.
There was no study day. This had never happened. Still, we tried to get Arafat to withdraw the decision to set up the security courts. We found out how they function -- at night, without lawyers, without people knowing the charges, with quick sentences, with no time to get a lawyer.
Why is Arafat cracking down?
Partly because of the deal he struck. He needs to show the Israelis and Americans that he means business. That he will crack down on opposition and control the situation. This is tied to his funding.
Our civil institutions all protested vehemently about the security courts, which are military courts. But [US Vice President] Al Gore praised Arafat for establishing them. So did [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin.
No one cares about Palestinian human rights, provided they get what they want from the process. Arafat delivers for Israel.
Isn't Hamas a threat?
It is primarily a political organization. It could be easily incorporated in an inclusive democratic system, and should be. It should be able to express opinions peacefully. You can't punish all Hamas because of the actions of a military wing.
If we allow others to define our enemy for us we are in trouble.
The lack of emergence of new political systems is the enemy. Hamas in itself does not have a practical answer that appeals to people. It is guilty of excesses, clearly. But people don't join Hamas because they are disenchanted with the Authority. You need an ideological commitment to belong to an Islamic political party. I don't think most Palestinians have that.
The intifadah brought solidarity among Palestinian women for the first time. Has this remained intact?
Our women's movement is undergoing tremendous challenges. There is an effort again at exclusion. The excuse is typical: This is a difficult period and we cannot introduce sensitive social issues.
When leaders are military leaders it is hard. Civil society is the real ally, the natural ally of women. Military societies are generally adverse to women's rights. Also, when any movement is seen to be moving ahead, as women did during the intifadah when they broke patterns of authority, there is a backlash.