Israel Pulse

Hanan Ashrawi crusades against Jerusalem's Jewish history

Article Summary
The militant vocabulary of Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi does not serve the Palestinian cause, damaging efforts to build trust and placing obstacles in the way of the negotiating teams.

Hanan Ashrawi is the most articulate spokesperson of the Palestinian Authority and of the Palestinian people in general. She is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Committee and the first woman elected to the PLO Executive Committee. Ashrawi, who has a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Virginia, is an advocate of human rights and particularly of women’s rights in Arab society. Her fluent English, her expertise in literature, her familiarity with American culture and politics and her impressive rhetorical skills all make her a very popular interview subject with media outlets around the world. She represents her people’s positions clearly and succinctly as she describes her vision for a just and lasting peace with Israel, sometimes even embarrassing the Israeli representatives who confront her during live broadcasts. The Palestinians could not have a better ambassador than Hanan Ashrawi.

Over the past few months, however, Ashrawi’s tone has changed — more precisely, ever since the Palestinians first launched their campaign for international recognition for Palestine as a member state of the United Nations. During a series of meetings she held with European and US leaders and other people of influence both in the Palestinian Authority and around the world, she began describing what she calls Israeli “crimes.” Slowly but steadily, this articulate spokeswoman has adopted a more militant phraseology that employs extreme descriptions and comparisons, which few Palestinian public figures would use.

Ashrawi now uses terms like “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid” and “the premeditated killing of civilians.” Hardly a day goes by in which the aides of this member of the PLO’s Executive Committee don’t release at least one statement to the Palestinian, Israeli and international media with the phrase “Israel’s calculated crimes.” Her close allies and supporters, who happen to include left-wing Israeli activists, claim that she has the right to use such radical language in order to put pressure on Israel, leading to the recognition of Palestinian statehood. From their perspective, all means are legitimate and permissible in order to obtain the final objective.

Recently, Ashrawi took her extreme rhetoric up another notch, casting doubts on her comments’ overall contribution to achieving the Palestinian objective. In fact, her most recent comment could well amplify the distrust and animosity between the parties. That happened after the American NBC news network announced that it would soon shoot a six-episode suspense series called "Dig" in Jerusalem. The series tells the story of an FBI agent stationed in the Israeli capital and investigating a murder. While unraveling the mystery, he encounters Jerusalem’s unique historical legacy, with some of the filming taking place in the City of David archaeological site. The project has been commended by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and the municipality will provide logistical support.

In response to this, Ashrawi has spoken out to prevent the shooting of the series in “occupied Jerusalem.” She argued that the series will focus only on Jerusalem’s Jewish heritage, and presents the city as the capital of Israel. She went on to say that producing the series in Jerusalem constitutes a violation of international law and puts Christian and Islamic holy sites in the city at risk. “Any business or organization that deals with Israel in occupied Palestine is in flagrant breach of international law, conventions and consensus,” wrote Ashrawi to NBC President Jeff Wachtel. She went on, “It is evident that these efforts coincide with Israel’s intensive and accelerated efforts to annex and ethnically cleanse Jerusalem. The choice to film the series in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem is designed to endorse the occupation and the bitter reality experienced by Palestinian Jerusalemites.”

Does Ashrawi really believe that her fight with the American broadcasting network will stop the series from being filmed in Jerusalem? Does she even think for a moment that filming the series in the city will accelerate its annexation or encourage the authorities to trample on the rights of the Palestinians living there? That is highly doubtful. Apparently, Ashrawi has decided that not a day can go by without showing how active and involved she is on behalf of the Palestinian cause. Yet while this may be legitimate in those instances in which Israel intentionally damages the diplomatic process or announces more construction in the settlements, there is something ridiculous about making the same claims about a privately owned television network planning to film a TV series in Jerusalem.

If, as she claims, Ashrawi really does believe in the two-state solution and is truly interested in advancing the peace process and finding a solution to the conflict, she must first understand that her current campaign is both senseless and unlikely to succeed. All it does is upset the Israeli public. In other words, she herself is sabotaging the diplomatic process.

Found in: two-state solution, television, palestinian-israeli peace process, plo, jerusalem, israel-us relations

Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work. On Twitter: @shlomieldar


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