Hanan Ashrawi speaks on prospect of peace in Palestine

By Josh Raposa

Benno Kraehe/Daily Collegian)
(Benno Kraehe/Daily Collegian)

Hanan Ashrawi, activist and academic, spoke at Amherst College on Dec. 8 about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the prospect of peace. The discussion, held in the Cole Assembly Room, was followed by a question and answer section.

Ashrawi is an internationally recognized diplomat who has engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. She was the first woman elected to the Palestine National Council.

Ashrawi began her discussion by placing an importance on contextualizing history.

“We are coming up on the anniversaries of the Balfour Declaration, the U.N. partition Plan and the Six Years’ War. It is important in moving forward that we understand the implications of history on the present” said Ashrawi.

Ashrawi continued in discussing, what she calls the “unilateral peace process.” She emphasized that there exists a fatal flaw to the ongoing discussion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The peace process has become an abstraction versus an actual reality,” she said.

In this sentiment, she explained the characteristics of this specific process.

“There are no clear terms of reference to international law and virtually no accountability for Israel regarding the process itself. The United States has also been complicit in this process by continuing to unilaterally support Israeli policy,” Ashrawi stated.

Ashrawi focused specifically on the occupation. Regarding the role that Palestine has under Israeli jurisdiction, she argued that, “there has been a fulfillment of a functional versus a territorial approach.”

She refers to the lack of legitimacy ascribed to the Palestinian people. As a political organization, they do not maintain political autonomy, she said.

During the peace process, this statelessness becomes troublesome in attempting to figure out how it is that these “states” are supposed to conduct themselves, Ashrawi argued.

“What results is a stark power asymmetry where the Palestinians have to receive the permission of the occupiers to grant them the right to self-determination,” Ashrawi explained.

Ashrawi argued that there were three major features that characterize the modern peace process.

“Firstly there is an emerging sense of impunity in the Israeli government, an emerging sense of exceptionalism and power that contributes to the dehumanization of the Palestinian,” she said.

“Secondly is this divine right extremism, a compelling sense of messianic zeal. Along with that comes a distortion of history, rationalizing discrimination, and revisionist narratives,” she added. She finished with the third point, the “military definition of security.” Ashrawi argued that Israeli security has been defined in terms of Israeli military control over the situations in Palestine, which does not work as a prerequisite for peace.

The result, Ashrawi explained, was a type of ethnic cleansing wherein the Palestinian has been “deprived of the very components of their own identity.”

“It fulfills this displacement-replacement paradigm. An entire population of stateless people have lost their culture, history and have had a nomenclature imposed upon them in various settlements,” she said.

Ashrawi commented on the growing global trends that continue to exacerbate the problems of the Palestine region.

“It seems like this rise of populism and, specifically, post Arab Spring political fragmentation is contributing to a revival of empire,” she said, using the civil war in Syria as an example.

Regarding the potential prospect of peace in the future, Ashrawi stated, “Is peace possible? I think it’s possible but not probable.”

Aidan Barry, a sophomore economics and finance major at the University of Massachusetts, articulated his moral outrage when thinking of the conflict.

“I just don’t understand how, in violation of all these laws, we can say that it is remotely okay to do this. To build settlements in homes and displace thousands,” said Barry.

Michael Oliveira, a sophomore economics and finance major, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I think it is concerning. But I think from a realist point of view, there’s no going back. We can’t undo what’s happened from World War I. Hopefully there can be some type of peace eventually but it needs to be done along realist lines,” said Oliveira.

Ashrawi concluded with a hopeful message however: “What keeps me going is the hope of the Palestinians. I truly believe it will be people like you who can change this process.”

Joshua Raposa can be reached at [email protected]