Hanan Ashrawi, a professor of literature at Birzeit University, was the spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation to the bilateral peace talks in Washington. In early December, Ashrawi announced she would not serve in any official capacity in the new Palestinian authority, but would instead work to develop an independent human rights monitoring group. Joe Stork spoke with her in Jerusalem in late October 1993.
Your first response to this agreement was rather negative. Then you changed your mind. What was that process?
The people who made the agreement clearly did not live under occupation. They missed a few of the issues required to meet constituency needs. It’s fine that Israel recognized the PLO because it is a recognition of our national rights. At the same time, you have to take a multi-level approach.
The first things missing are ideas that deal with realities on the ground, like prisoners, deportees and the blockade on Jerusalem. Also, I felt they had not done the economic package in a tight way. They didn’t get the commitments that were needed. All these things you get before you sign, not after. The Israelis have insisted on getting everything they wanted up front, and most of what we wanted was deferred.
On the other hand, I also knew that this incorporated certain key political concessions that we couldn’t get in the negotiations. Recognition of the national rights of the Palestinians is a change in Zionist thinking. Specification of UN Resolution 242 means that you recognize that this is occupied territory, that international law prevails and that withdrawal is a basic component of the agreement. Another important aspect is that this is an interconnected, comprehensive declaration. The time frame is accelerated and commits Israel to negotiate issues like Jerusalem, borders, refugees. The commitment to discuss borders is important because that implies there are going to be borders.
People I have talked to have suggested that developing a Palestinian strategy has been a problem.
This became very clear when three of us submitted our resignations [in early August]. This was not in response to something out of the blue. It was the result of the structure, the procedural weaknesses in the political decision making.
Do you feel the situation has improved?
Not much. There are still too many things being worked out. Problems of factional politics, rewards and punishments, a “liberation movement” mindset as opposed to a state-building mindset.
What is the mechanism for meshing inside and outside?
This problem is a reflection of our achievement. The Israelis had previously insisted on dealing only with the inside. Now we have the opportunity to have a more representative formulation of our positions. And now, at the level of expertise as well as political leadership, we can draw on our resources outside the Occupied Territories. One of the things we did in Tunis was work out a modus operandi to define priorities and to identify the expertise needed for each negotiating committee, for establishing institutions.
The structures and institutions of the PLO — the Executive Committee, the Central Council — now Palestinians who have been prevented from participating will participate. There will be Central Council people in Gaza, in Jericho, here in Jerusalem. And there will be Palestinians from the territories going abroad. This is part of the merging. But you cannot dissolve the PLO structures until its objectives are achieved. You cannot subject the whole national dimension — refugees, for instance — to the interim phase. There are issues beyond the Occupied Territories to be dealt with.