EDITOR’S NOTE: The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is going through yet another critical stage. The so-called Deal of The Century outlined by US President Donald Trump has given Benjamin Netanyahu a carte blanche to consolidate more Palestinian land under Israeli control. Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a leading lawmaker in the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) based in Ramallah says the new stage is very dangerous and is about Israeli ambitions not only in Palestine but the Arab world. Although an academic by training, Dr Ashrawi has been active in Palestinian politics since at least, the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference as a spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation and then briefly, in 1996, as Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in the Palestinian Authority that was subsequently established. She remained in mainstream politics and again fought the 2006 Palestinian election on a ‘Third Way’ ticket. Since 2009 she has been elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Dr Ashrawi is also a leading intellectual with a doctorate in medieval and comparative literature, has received many international awards, established a Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy and is the author of many books. Al Bawaba’s Ruba Hattar and Marwan Asmar talked to Dr Ashrawi in a phone interview from Ramallah. Excerpts follow:
Lots of changes have taken place in the world and region in the past months. Most recently it seemed Netanyahu backed down on annexing (30%) of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Jordan Valley? Yet settlements in these areas are being established. Would you say he is simply avoiding universal criticism and buying time at this point?
Yes obviously, what he’s done is revert back to the usual habit; which is creating facts. He has managed to hijack the global agenda by talking about annexation, talking about extending and applying Israeli law. In the meantime he has been systematically been annexing, expanding, expropriating and stealing Palestinian land and resources nonstop.
It is not a new thing. Annexation is not something new. Even the settlers are allowed through Israeli law - so there is a system of apartheid and a defacto annexation of Palestinian territories. Now there is outrage about annexation because of mentioning the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea and so on. So he is designing to normalize this language in the public space while proceeding as usual to carry out this super-imposition of Greater Israel on all of historical Palestine.
The rate of land confiscation, home demolition, building side-apartheid roads, stopping construction of Palestinian cities, and increasing settlements, tells you he is doing it at a very accelerated pace to make use of the opportunity he has of Trump being in the White House, making use of the Deal of the Century, which attempts to legalize land theft and expansion. I think this is a very manipulative issue. He is busy doing what he wants to do with full impunity.
Clearly his decision has been influenced by the Americans and more ‘surprisingly’ by the Europeans like Germany, France, Britain, Belgium, Holland, Sweden and so on. Europe has been and probably for the first time, rock solid against annexation. Please explain? The Europeans always supported a Palestinian state but had always been muted. Now it appears to be “glaring” and outright...
They certainly do if they want to claim their will and their areas of strength. They did speak out, yes. Many parliaments in Europe took very clear positions on the rejection of annexation, and there were many clear messages from Europe that they are not going to just sit back and watch it happen which is what they have been doing for decades. I didn’t see this outrage and public outcry when they annexed Jerusalem or when they annexed the Syrian Golan Heights.
The essence of the colonial-settler program of Israel is expansion and land theft. Europe has not once held Israel accountable. I know that they talk about nation-building and the two state solution and so on, and for the first time they are talking about considering taking serious steps, we don’t know what they are of course, but they haven’t done anything even though Israel has been defying laws and destroying projects funded by Europe; so it is about time I believe. We need to see.
The question is are they going to translate their sense of concern and take real steps to tell Israel that it will be held to account, that there is a price to be paid, that there are consequences for violating international law. Israel has always said: “you can say what you want provided we do what we want, that’s been the norm.”
As things are shifting in the US with the recent Black Lives Matter movement and poor management of COVID-19 by Trump, his chances of winning the elections have become somewhat challenging, if Biden and the democrats win the election, would this affect the U.S. stand with Israel? Would the new more left wing government listen more to the Palestinians?
I need a large grain of salt to believe that Biden is left wing! Biden is the classical democrat and someone who always operated with support and backing of a pro-Israeli lobby and he was always the one to put the brakes on the Obama policies when it comes to any kind of engagement in the region. He always told him: why invest in such a losing proposition like the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, you lose credit for it and its doomed to failure. I am sure, he will not bring back the embassy to Tel Aviv, but he will reopen the consulate in Jerusalem and then he talked about how he will counter all these efforts to delegitimize Israel, America’s strong ally.
We must not have any illusions, we are not naive. We have a long history with all American administrations; we know that the Democrats have in many ways neutralized the opposition in the U.S. and right now during elections you see many republicans united in order to support Biden and got Bernie Sanders to drop out because they didn’t want any kind of plea policy on Israel that would hold Israel accountable, that would undo the damage that was done by Trump but they will bring back the policy in the US to the status quo anti of the Democratic party which failed with Clinton and others. This policy, including in the time of Obama, failed because there was no will to stand up to Israel. If they do that now, they will lose credibility in many ways because
within the Democratic Party there is a very strong progressive movement of millennials and younger people of minority groups, people of color, women, LGBTQ. All these movements are speaking out; they are no longer intimidated or silenced. They can transform the Democratic Party to go back into its origin to support the working class and people who are oppressed rather than go to bed with big money interests. If they want to maintain their credibility it seems to me right now there are people who are claiming their own space with the Democratic Party, who are challenging the business-as-usual approach which is what led to Hillary Clinton losing the elections.
What about Benny Gantz. What role has he and his “Blue and White” Party played in all this? Did Netanyahu back off, if you can use the term, because of lack of support in the Israeli coalition government and what is Gantz really after?
Gantz has managed to destroy any opposition to Netanyahu, the Likud, the right wing and Israel as a whole. He split the Blue and White Party. He betrayed and let down the allies who worked hard in order to get him elected including Meretz, the coalition of the left, and the Joint Arab list. He joined Netanyahu and ran on anybody but Netanyahu.
He gave Natenyahu a way out, he gave him what he wanted, he signed an agreement on the coalition, talked about annexation, and really weakened the ability of the Blue and White or what was left of it. Also the other factors interfered, Netanyahu is still sitting in his place because he has managed to stay in power and avoid going to jail so far, distracted the attention from his own corruption trial and at the same time he placed Gantz in a position of ‘you either do it my way or we go into elections.’
Gantz lost credibility among the Israeli public and very clearly all public opinion polls show Netanyahu will have a very clear decisive majority so he is telling him you either relinquish the next 6 months and you take the presidency and you accept my positions or I will call for elections.
Gantz has really cornered himself and Netanyahu feels he’s got everything he wanted and now he wants to exploit Trump being in the White House and continue these policies, but really what has been the fly in the ointment has been the Coronavirus and the way Netanyahu mishandled it and the uncontrollable spread of it in the same way as the US placing money and economy over the lives of people.
Looking back at the last 40 years in Palestine’s history, the PLO was the most organised political system representing the Palestinians; its consistent work has led to the first Intifada and then going to the Madrid talks. Today, there is unfortunately great internal division between Fatah, Hamas and other. Are the different parties on the ground solidified against annexation? And is there a way to reinvent the PLO going forward?
Absolutely. There are differences in political agendas and positions and different strategic objectives but they are all the same; from the extreme left to the extreme right. Palestinian fractions and political parties and movements are all committed to Palestinian rights to independence, to self- determination, to freedom, and getting rid of the occupation. Some might talk about one state, some might talk about two states, etc. but that’s not the issue. Of course there are ideological differences; Hamas is different from Fatah, and most Palestinian people are more secular than ideological when it comes to their political platforms.
But now, there has been a clear movement and there has been ongoing discussions between Fatah and Hamas and of course with the push of all the other political parties and fractions to achieve some sort of reconciliation and/or agreement, and I think this is going to work incrementally and gradually to end the rest but regardless of where they stand on other issues; on the issue of Palestinian rights, there is unanimity.
The PLO does not need to be reinvented; it needs to be improved, it needs to be reformed, we need to have elections, we need to have young people there, we need to have more women, to have a sense of revitalization and re-legitimization to regain the trust of people. This has to happen and I think many people agree but the problem with all political systems; particularly in the Arab world, is that once men are in office they refuse to leave.
It’s time to support the young, to give them a platform, to enable them to take their proper place. We need the vision, the energy, the spirit and the willingness to take risk and the understanding of the rest of the world. I am just tired of the same old tired slogans.
As this annexation is an expansion of Israeli sovereignty and negation of the presence of Palestinians and their ties to their land as an important factor of their identity, it is also an economic move to take over the resources of Palestine. Would this also affect the Levant countries? How can Jordan or even Egypt, who have peace treaties with Israel, play an influential role in leveraging this dangerous path?
Jordan has been decisive on this. It clearly took a position that was decisive and that made all the difference, not just internally, not just with the Palestinians but they addressed the Europeans and most importantly the Americans. Jordan will not put up with this annexation because it will have a very detrimental impact on Jordan being a very dangerous move; unless the Americans decide Jordan is indispensable. They will have to listen very carefully to Jordan. Americans, Israelis and many other countries listen to the King [Abdullah]. Likud and the right wing couldn’t care less but it is the rest of the people in Israel and of course, the Americans and Europeans who understand the dangerous impact this could have on Jordan and the regional stability and the world.
Jordan knows that any instability, problems or violence in Palestine will have an effect in Jordan and this type of annexation will induce a great deal of lawlessness within the region.
If Netanyahu goes ahead and says ‘look I want to annex’ can Jordan and the Arab World do anything? If he goes the extra mile and says I am going to do this, will he do it?
He doesn’t have to say "I want to annex," he will annex! He is doing it, so let’s not have any illusions about this. The problem is how to curb his ferocious appetite for stealing our land and regional resources for Israel and exercise control over territorial waters, air space, borders, crossing fronts, everything…The Arab world is not of one mind even though they come up with statements.
Do you see anything worthwhile in the Deal of the Century?
Not at all. I find it extremely dangerous and destructive….every single aspect of it attempts to replace international law, legitimize expansion and land theft, it relegates Palestinians to a people who need a handout, it accepts the idea of Bantustans, you can call it a state but under Israeli sovereignty and control…its like if you have a cup or a glass of yogurt, you can’t tell people find the few things in that cup that are not spoiled, it is moldy, it is spoiled you can’t rescue anything out of it. And it would be dangerous to defend that or to give it any legitimacy for any type of solution or negotiations if you will.
I believe we don’t need any more negotiations. If the whole world says this is what they [Palestinians and Israelis] want, let them get together and let them bring it about, that’s it, we don’t need to talk anymore.
On a personal note, you’ve been doing this since the Madrid Conference in 1991. What do you think of all this now, what is happening?
I think Israel has been allowed to continue to act with impunity not only to marginalize but to dehumanize the Palestinians and to carry out a full-fledged assault on our rights and lands, resources and lives without any kind of curbs or accountability and this is the real problem.
Now this approach is reaching the end of the road. Trump has joined forces with the extreme racist right wing in Israel – you have the emergence of populism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, isolationism and total disdain for international law; all these things working together to try to destroy not only the Palestinian people and cause but also to reorganize the region and want to reposition Israel as a major political, military, intelligence, economic power in the region and to redefine Israel from an enemy into a friend. It is very, very serious. If this kind of approach is pursued, this will lead to total destabilization and it will have serious consequences in the region and beyond.
This is the end result of the laxity, of lack of will on the part of the international community, of the preferential treatment Israel has gotten and of course our own internal weakness.
What can Palestinians and Arabs do in terms of practical steps?
A lot can be done. There are some Arabs who think their future, longevity and prosperity and so on depends on their alliance with the US and Israel. This is entirely misguided, entirely, as Trump said no enmity lasts forever. Trump is motivated by his own self-interest and he can turn alliances with North Korea, China and with whoever he wants and he can drop people like UAE and Saudi Arabia at the top of a hat, he said it openly, he wants their money – the American army is protecting them so they have to pay, which means he has turned the American army into mercenaries to protect the Arab World and to be paid in return.
I don’t see how people don’t understand that it is much better to modernize the Arab states, to listen to their own public and constituencies, to understand that your legitimacy comes from your own people not from the Americans or the Israelis or normalizing with Israel regardless of how strong it is now, I am positive it won’t be long, the tide is turning, gradually people are beginning to see what Israel is and what it is doing and gradually will hold it accountable.
Right now, the worst it’s been, the dark night of the soldiers, but ultimately there will be a change, the public opinion is shifting and Israel will no longer be the end all and be all of the West because they are beginning to understand that it’s a liability also.
We are glad you’re still positive
I am being very realistic.
The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.
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