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Palestinian Diplomat Hanan Ashrawi Discusses Conflict with Israel

Palestinian politician ​​Hanan Ashrawi spoke about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Belfer Center on Thursday, roughly five months after the latest outbreak of violence in the conflict.
Palestinian politician ​​Hanan Ashrawi spoke about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Belfer Center on Thursday, roughly five months after the latest outbreak of violence in the conflict. By Daniel J. Kwon
By Nia L. Orakwue and Sophia C. Scott, Contributing Writers

Palestinian politician ​​Hanan Ashrawi spoke about the ongoing effort to broker an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a virtual event hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center Thursday.

Ashrawi — an eminent Palestinian politician, lawmaker, and activist — made history as the first woman elected to the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2009. She was re-elected in 2018 and served as the PLO’s official spokesperson until 2020.

Moderated by Middle East Initiative Faculty Director and International Relations professor Tarek Masoud, Thursday's conversation took place roughly five months after the latest flashpoint of violence in the Israel-Palestine region that lasted 11 days. In May, Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, fired rockets into Israel after Israeli police raided a mosque in Jerusalem. Israel responded by bombing targets in Gaza.

Masoud began the conversation by asking Ashrawi to respond to claims about Palestine “inhibiting the prospects of self-determination,” citing denied peace agreements at Camp David in 2000 and Ehud Olmert’s rejected peace deal in 2008.

“If you look at the fact there was never a single peace proposal that could meet the minimum requirements of the sovereignty and territorial integrity and territorial contiguity,” Ashrawi argued. “These were all ways of trying to find ways around the conflict, even when they talk about Camp David.”

“If [Palestinians] were free, if we were in control, if we were equal, if we have equal rights, and so on, then we would take over the peace process, and we would see it to its end,” she added.

Masoud asked Ashrawi to comment on the shortcomings of the Oslo Accords, a pair of diplomatic agreements reached by the Israeli government and the PLO in the 1990s.

Ashrawi said she believes those who negotiated the deal were not “fully aware of all the issues.”

“By pushing aside all the real issues, particularly the occupation and lack of freedom and lack of rights, and by refusing to deal with the core issues and the root causes, including the issue of the refugees, all these things were postponed without any guarantees,” Ashrawi said.

“Without any kind of protection for the Palestinians who were under occupation, we continue to negotiate under occupation while Israel was not held to account in any way,” she added.

Ashrawi said in an interview that she hopes attendees gained a greater understanding of “the Palestinian narrative and the Palestinian reality” from the event.

“I want you to know — and I know many people already know — to think collectively of ways in which we can cooperate to find solutions, and not just to continue to lay blame or continue to expect the Palestinians to bear the burden or the brunt of the situation,” Ashrawi said.

Ashrawi added that she expected the event to receive some pushback since controversy is “always part of any academic institution.”

“The moment you start thinking critically and the moment you’re there to speak out, particularly on the Palestinian question that has been excluded from the public discourse in the States for a long time, I think you will get some pushback,” Ashrawi said. “But this is changing.”

She said she believes institutions like Harvard are important in shaping perceptions, attitudes, and leadership.

“Once [people] are exposed to different narratives, once they’re exposed to the truth and the reality of the Palestinian identity, I think it will make a difference,” she said. “You cannot learn everything but at least you can learn new things.”

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