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Hanan Ashrawi Gets Peace Prize


Hanan Ashrawi got the Sydney peace prize and gave what sounded like a fine speech. Her voice of reason was very welcome at last after the long torrent of one-sided invective that usually issues from spokespersons for either side. The award of the prize to Ashrawi was sharply criticized by right-wing Zionist organizations (eg, the ZOA, as quoted in http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/69) who insisted that Ashrawi is a spokesperson for 'terror' and unworthy of a peace prize. Therefore, it is important to examine both the speech and Ashrawi's record.

As we have seen everything in the Middle East before, including fine speeches, it remains to be determined whether the speech was as fine as it sounds or not, and whether or not Ashrawi meant what she said. A speech and a program that are compatible with peace, must allow both Palestinians and Israelis the fundamental right to self-deterimination in their own state, because this is the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Does Hanan Ashrawi recognize the right of the Jews to their own state? It is not as clear as it might seem at first glance.

Regarding the refugee problem, Ashrawi stated, for example,
"The Palestinian refugees must be granted historical, legal, moral and human recognition and redress
in accordance with international law and the requirements of justice."

Accordingly, we need to determine what is Hanan Ashrawi's concept of "international law and requirements of Justice." If her idea of justice requires for example, that Palestinian refugees be repatriated to Israel, creating an Arab majority in Israel and putting an end to the Jewish state, then this speech is not about peace.

Hanan Ashrawi is on record as supporting the "right" of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is now Israel.
At http://i-p-o.org/palestine-refugees.htm we find:
Vienna, 2 February 2000/P/K/16713c-is

The International Progress Organization (I.P.O.) has joined thousands of Palestinians and their supporters from all over the globe in a Petition for the Right of Return and has declared its affiliation with the recently established Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation (CPRR). The Petition sponsored by the CPRR states "that every Palestinian has a legitimate, individual right to absolute restitution of all his or her property and the right to return to his or her original home." Members of the Advisory Board of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation are, among others, Haidar Abdul Shafi, Hanan Ashrawi, Noam Chomsky, and Ibrahim Abu Lughod.

In this speech, Hanan Ashrawi condemns violence, "Unprecedented violence is eradicating previous
achievements and agreements. It is also destroying the prospects of any future reconciliation."

It should go without saying that a person getting a peace prize should be against violence, but in the Middle East that is not necessarily the case, so Hanan Ashrawi is to be lauded for her stand. Contrary to the claims of some, Ashrawi has condemned suicide bombing and violence on several occasions. She wrote:

In December 2001, she wrote:

Why and when did we allow a few from our midst to interpret Israeli military attacks on innocent Palestinian lives as license to do the same to their civilians? Where are those voices and forces that should have stood up for the sanctity of innocent lives (ours and theirs), instead of allowing the horror of our own suffering to silence us?...
When and why did we allow the concept of resistance (and the right to resist) to become the exclusive domain of armed struggle rather than the expression of our human will and spirit in defiance of subjugation, intimidation, and coercion?

(from "Challenging Questions" ) http://www.doublestandards.org/ashrawi1.html)

In a 2002 interview, she was asked, "Do you think that suicide bombing is a legitimate form of resistance?"

Ashrawi replied,
No, not all. I think suicide bombing is the weapon of the desperate. And I often wonder, what would drive individuals to such a point as to transform themselves into instruments of death, willing to die and take others with them. What kind of mindset, what kind of emotional or mental state would drive persons to do these things? Particularly given the fact that historically, our culture is not a suicidal culture; historically, the incidence of suicide among Palestinians has been very low.
( from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2002/002/9.17.html)

Indeed, Hanan Ashrawi was among the sponsors of a petition by Palestinians asking for an end to suicide bombings. The petition read in part:
"We, the undersigned, out of our sense of national responsibility, and in light of the difficult
situation of the Palestinian people, hope that those who stand behind the military actions against
civilians in Israel, will reconsider their actions and will cease to encourage our boys to perform
these operations, because we do not see results from these actions We believe that these operations
do not advance the fulfillment of our endeavour, for freedom and independence Military actions are
defined positively or negatively not by their own criteria [i.e. the success of the attack itself]
but rather according to the achievement of political goals" (Al Quds, June 19, 2002)

Some might question how any actions against civilians could be "military actions," but in the context of Palestinian reality it was brave and forthright stand, and it did somewhat reduce Palestinian support for murderous attacks on civilians.

However, Ashrawi was not always so outspoken against violence. For example, at the start of the Intifada, in November 2000, she said:
"In a sense, the army of occupation and the settlers have become legitimate and select targets of Palestinian resistance," she said." (from http://tspweb02.tsp.utexas.edu/webarchive/11-16-00/2000111603_s01_Independen.html)

Asked about the Hamas group in 1993, Ashrawi said, "I don't think of Hamas as a terrorist group. We coordinate politically...the people we know and talk to are not terrorists." (UPI, April 30, 1993)

The verdict has to be that the jury is still out on Hanan Ashrawi. Like many on both sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict, she has probably traveled a certain distance from an extreme position to one that makes reconciliation more possible, and views it as legitimate. Perhaps Ashrawi should not be judged by statements made in 1993 and perhaps not even by statements made at the start of the current violence, just as Yitzhak Rabin should not be judged by statements made in the 1980s about Palestinians. On the other hand, it was certainly disappointing that when the violence broke out in September 2000, moderate Palestinians like Ms Ashrawi were either silent or condoned it. If non-violence does not have friends in need in Palestine, then in fact it has no friends at all. Ashrawi, like many other Palestinians is not quite ready to give up right of return.

Ashrawi wisely said in accepting the reward, "Neither side can lay claim to a monopoly of pain and suffering, in the same way as it cannot claim exclusivity of narrative and legitimacy. " However, in fact all of her perception of the reasons for the conflict and its resultion, still claim an exclusivity of narrative and legitimacy, and disallow any possibility of wrongdoing at any time by the Palestinians.

She said, "Territoriality will give way to demography and the issue will become one of democracy, with Zionism forced to re-examine its basic premises." Ashrawi has recognized only half the truth. Certainly Palestinian nationalism, and her own Fatah movement, which still claims all of Israel from the river to the sea in its constitution, will need to reexamine its basic premises as well, if there is to be peace. Why, if Ashrawi has accepted the Jewish state, does she believe that 'territoriality will give way to demography?" Does she mean that eventually, the Arabs of Israel will constitute a majority, their numbers bolstered by Palestinian refugees, and then the Jewish people would be denied the right to self determination? That is not a formula for peace of course.

In summary, Hanan Ashrawi is no saint of peace, but perhaps she is not the devil depicted by right wing Zionist groups.

In times of violence and victimisation, unilateralism and militarism, and ideological
fundamentalism, the world is most in need of voices and forces of sanity, reason and moral
responsibility -- the genuine building blocks of peace.

As we witness attempts to impose a simplistic view of a Manichean universe, polarisation and
reductive stereotypes of good and evil, we are most in need of those who will engage in a redemptive
validation of pluralism, tolerance, diversity and comprehensive engagement in collective

The just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be addressed in its proper context as
the longest standing case of military occupation and as the most persistent unresolved case of
denial, dispossession and exile in contemporary history.

The logic of peace, formulated painstakingly (and painfully) as the substance of Palestinian-Israeli
encounters and dialogues, is being drowned. Unprecedented violence is eradicating previous
achievements and agreements. It is also destroying the prospects of any future reconciliation.

The notion that a nation can be brought to its knees by the use of unbridled violence, or that the
will of a people can be defeated by military means, must be discarded. Armies may be able to defeat
other armies, but the limits of power are most apparent when it is used against civilians and
non-combatants. The fallacy that there is or can be a military solution to the conflict must be
irrevocably discarded.

Conversely, the emergence of the bizarre concept of a "balance of terror" has reinforced the
irrational and immoral killing of civilians and the victimisation of the innocent. The drive for
revenge, like the escalation of military brutality, has generated the most tragic and futile
momentum for escalation and self-destruction.

On both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, the no-holds-barred mind-set has taken over as a
mindless, visceral, repetitive response, with horrific ramifications. The erroneous assumption that
greater pain and punishment, or the escalation of failed measures, would somehow lead to "success"
or the surrender of one side is at the heart of the prevailing dynamic of death and destruction.

Related to that is the notion that a people under occupation will eventually reconcile themselves to
their captivity and accept their fate without struggling for freedom and dignity. Self-determination
to the Palestinian people is not an abstraction, but the realisation and enactment of their identity
on their own land. It's also a motivating force for independence and statehood.

For the conflict to be resolved, its causes must be identified and tackled, and grievances and fears
on both sides must be addressed. Neither side can lay claim to a monopoly of pain and suffering, in
the same way as it cannot claim exclusivity of narrative and legitimacy. Clearly, peace cannot be
made contingent upon converting all Palestinians to Zionism or transforming all Israelis to espouse
Palestinian nationalism.

And what about third-party intervention? An instrument such as the road map of the quartet powers --
the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN -- could have served as a lifeline for peace had it
been implemented with speed and integrity, with clear time lines, monitoring and verification
mechanisms, and the courage to exercise impartial accountability. The incorporation of Israeli
amendments in the implementation has tarnished the integrity of the text and of the external actors.
Front-loading the process with Palestinian obligations, adopting the sequential and conditional
approach, and creating further interim phases without guarantees on the ground have rendered the
road map inoperative and subject to extremists on both sides. In the absence of political will,
even-handedness, and seriousness of intent, third-party intervention could backfire and aggravate
the conflict further.

Such interventions can also be destructive if they are motivated by special agendas, if they
exercise bias and if they are incapable of making substantial changes on the ground. The most
detrimental external interference is that of the zealots and enthusiasts who embrace the most
extreme long-distance stances. Blind loyalty for and identification with one side leads to the
adoption of strident belligerency towards the other. This intensifies the conflict and subverts
rational dialogue.

Islamic fundamentalists and regressive brands of Arab nationalists have, ironically, joined forces
with Christian evangelicals, Jewish fundamentalists and ideological neo-conservatives to fight their
own proxy wars at the expense of moderate Palestinians and Israelis alike. Such radical apologists
have inflicted serious damage and pain from their safe distance in Riyadh, Damascus, Washington,
Knoxville or Sydney -- demonstrating the type of intervention that no peace can survive.

A Palestinian-Israeli solution remains simple and attainable. Of course, the two-state solution is
still possible, although it is becoming increasingly difficult with Israel's expansion of
settlements, bypass roads and the apartheid wall throughout Palestinian territory. The bi-national
state as a de facto solution will become the only option should Israel continue its expansion and
refuse to withdraw to the 1967 lines and remove the West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements.
Territoriality will give way to demography and the issue will become one of democracy, with Zionism
forced to re-examine its basic premises.

Within the two-state paradigm, Jerusalem, both East and West, can become an open city and the shared
capital of two states, thus encapsulating the essence of peace and regaining its stature as a city
much greater than itself and not subject to exclusive possession.

The Palestinian refugees must be granted historical, legal, moral and human recognition and redress
in accordance with international law and the requirements of justice. There is no need to invent the
wheel, but there is a need for the will and courage to act against all adverse forces.

This is an edited extract from the 2003 Sydney Peace Prize lecture delivered last night by Hanan
Ashrawi, a long-time Palestinian negotiator.

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Replies: 2 comments

the only reason Ashrawi has ever given for criticizing suicide bombers is that they have not helped to further the palestinian goal which is the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. the main difference between her and other Jew haters is that she is better educated and is able to couch her vitriol in more soothing words.

Posted by mike levine @ 11/10/2003 08:29 PM CST

While Hanan Ashrawi is a very eloquent speaker and intelligent woman, from reading some of her speeches, I don't see her as someone to receive a peace prize but rather as a skilled spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. Seems to me there are many others on both the Israeli & Palestinian side who have stood more for peace...and risked more than Ms. Ashrawi...and more deserving of a peace prize.

Posted by Karen @ 11/13/2003 03:39 AM CST

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