World Powers Will Soon Support Our Cause, Says Top Palestinian Official

PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi says growing pro-Palestinian public opinion will soon force European governments to fend off 'mean' U.S. pressure and back the Palestinians' UN statehood bid.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Twice during an hour-long interview, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi let out a laugh that sounded embarrassed. The first time was when she explained what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did in his UN General Assembly address: a speech she deemed patronizing, cut off from reality, stuck in an outdated Manichean perception. The doctor of comparative literature suggests that he did not convince his audience.

"He knows that political discourse in the United States is now captive to the imperatives of elections ... so you can say and do whatever you want because nobody, whether the incumbent or the aspiring candidate, will disagree with anything Israel ..." She did not finish the sentence and laughed in embarrassment, I thought, because of the need to describe the Israeli influence on American politics. A well-known fact - one that sounds bad.

She laughed the same way one other time, as she discussed the diverse pressures the United States applied over the past year, before and after the application was submitted for the state of Palestine's membership in the United Nations. "The U.S. recruited itself in the service of the Israeli occupation. They put pressure on all these countries so we wouldn't have nine votes (in the Security Council )." She says going to the United Nations was the right step to take, a corrective measure (for the Oslo failures and Israel's unilateral moves ), but the mistake was "that we lost the momentum" afterward because of the pressure.

The American pressure continues today as well, she says, such that the PLO will not ask the UN General Assembly now for the status of a UN observer state. "Didn't you see the article in The Guardian about the American memorandum that was sent to European countries' UN representatives?" she asks. The article appeared October 1, and the memorandum it quotes should reach Haaretz readers, too.

In its opening lines, the memorandum states that the United States and the Mideast Quartet are continuing to work toward a two-state solution: "a secure, democratic Jewish State of Israel and a Palestinian state as a homeland for the Palestinian people." (Does this mean the Palestinian state does not need to be secure?) It continues: "At the same time, we continue to urge both parties to avoid provocative one-sided actions that could undermine trust or otherwise distract from the pursuit of peace.

This includes efforts by the Palestinians to potentially press for a resolution in the UN General Assembly to give 'Palestine' non-member observer state status. Such a resolution would have significant negative consequences, for the peace process itself, for the UN system, as well as for our ability to maintain our significant financial support for the Palestinian Authority. A General Assembly resolution on Palestinian statehood could also open the door to Palestinian participation as a state in other international forums, including at the International Criminal Court.

"We believe your government understands what is at stake here. ... We hope you are willing to support our efforts [and explain] that such a vote ... would be extremely counterproductive." (The U.S. State Department did not comment to The Guardian).

'Mean' U.S. pressure

"Mean" is how Ashrawi, a member of the PLO's executive committee, describes the American pressure revealed in this memorandum. As of now, the PLO is determined to go to the General Assembly after the U.S. elections. But there certainly are countries under pressure. "Not all of them," says Ashrawi. "There are some (European states ) that are saying we'll stand by you no matter what, but there are many significant European countries who say you can't upset the Americans, especially in these times. You can't do these things; if you want us to support you in the UN, then you have to promise not to ask for retroactive accountability [for Israeli military actions]. And we say why, there is no statute of limitations on war crimes, and they say no, you have to promise that you won't go (to The Hague ) ..."

Will you go to The Hague?

"If Israel does not cease and desist [from its policies]. I do not want to make final statements - we have that option. And we will not relinquish this option as we don't relinquish our rights. The whole legitimacy of Israel depends on the Palestinian question. If they think they can swallow the Palestinian issue, turn it into a domestic Israeli affair, and sleep calmly ... it's not going to happen [without a change in Israeli policy]. The whole situation will implode and explode. We are running out of time. Because if we don't act now something more dramatic happening in the Arab world means no peace for a long time; attitudes are hardening, not just among the Palestinians here but Palestinians everywhere, and the Arab people as a whole, among world public opinion. Israel presents the high-tech face to the world, okay, but it has a very ugly face which is the face of oppression, dispossession, racism, apartheid, which is being very visible. There is a change (in world public opinion ) and we already feel it. There is always a time lag between public opinion and policy. ... [Gradually] governments [will] feel that pressure from the U.S. has to be weighed against pressure from their constituencies."

And what about your skeptical public, which thinks you are interested only in preserving the status quo that a few sectors benefit from?

"Israel benefits [from the status quo] and we have our strategy [to reach our independence alongside Israel]. We have many steps, but we don't need to publish everything. It is a strategy that requires patience. You do not take shortcuts. The leadership does not have the luxury of knee-jerk reactions. Whatever step you take, first of all you study it. But you don't just say okay, I now dissolve the PA. You think that Netanyahu is going to send an officer to take over the health care and the education sectors? You think that all the tens of thousands of security officers who have weapons will come and tell you - take these weapons, we are not going to use them, especially if we don't have salaries? Do you think that over a million people ... even more, the whole economy depends on these [Palestinian Authority employees] - that these people are going to say okay, we will starve but we will keep our dignity? No they are not, because they have their children to feed, to go to school. It's not even self-interest; it has become survival, of maintaining people on the land. The worst thing that can happen to Palestinians is to keep having this hemorrhage of people leaving due to the systematic policies of the occupation. The important thing is for the Palestinians to stay on their land. This is the crucial thing, because this is the essence of the Palestinian cause and identity, that people align together and this is the counter essence of Zionism's [concept of] a 'land without people."

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi.Credit: Nir Kafri



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