Hanan Ashrawi dispels claim she resigned over PA-Israel collusion

A seated person gestures

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi speaks at an International Monetary Fund conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, in January 2018. (Ryan Rayburn/IMF Photo)

Hanan Ashrawi has put to rest reports that she has resigned from the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee to protest the Palestinian Authority’s open resumption last month of “security coordination” with Israel’s occupation army.

Earlier this week, media reports citing anonymous sources claimed that Ashrawi stepped down in opposition to security collaboration with Israel.

On Wednesday, however, the PLO published an English translation of Ashrawi’s letter offering her resignation to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, followed by a statement from Ashrawi.

In the 26 November letter Ashrawi tells Abbas that “I hereby place my resignation at your disposal, in anticipation that you would accept it by the end of this year.”

The letter offers only vague and general reasons for the move.

“The issue right now is not personal or a career decision,” Ashrawi writes. “Rather, it has to do with the current reality and future of Palestine, and with the imperative of the transfer of authority and responsibility.”

It makes no mention whatsoever of “security coordination,” the policy under which PA forces aid and abet the Israeli army and intelligence agencies to crush Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.

“Misleading and irresponsible”

In her statement accompanying the letter, Ashrawi says that she met with Abbas on 24 November for a “candid and amicable discussion in which I informed him of my decision to resign from the Executive Committee, effective the end of the year.”

Ashrawi adds that she had asked to keep her resignation secret “until all necessary arrangements are concluded” – though she does not describe what sort of resignation preparations would require more than a month.

Ashrawi says she was in touch with Abbas following the media reports of her resignation and agreed to the official disclosure of her letter.

She was evidently angered by the leaks which erroneously claimed she was protesting the renewed PA collaboration with the Israeli army.

“Regrettably, news of my resignation was leaked from ‘senior sources’ in a misleading and irresponsible manner that led to conjecture and rumors,” she states.

Ashrawi says Abbas has deferred a decision on whether to accept her resignation while adding that she herself considers it “to be in effect.” (Update: On Wednesday evening Abbas accepted Ashrawi’s resignation.)

Her statement urges “reform” of the PLO and calls for “renewal and reinvigoration” of the Palestinian political system “with the inclusion of youth, women and additional qualified professionals.”

Yet it is unclear why Ashrawi chose this moment to resign given that the undemocratic exclusion of the Palestinian people from PLO decision-making has been its defining feature for decades.

International stature

The PLO Executive Committee, ostensibly the Palestinians’ highest executive body, is chosen by the Palestinian National Council, an unelected legislature that rarely meets and is effectively controlled by Abbas and his loyalists.

Ashrawi was named to the PLO Executive Committee in 2009 and again in 2018. Abbas appointed her to head the PLO’s department of “public diplomacy” in 2018.

Ashrawi gained international prominence as a spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid conference that launched the so-called peace process.

Previously a professor at Birzeit University, Ashrawi has retained a strong international reputation as a champion of the Palestinian cause – a role that sits uneasily with the reality that she has been part and parcel of the regime of permanent occupation and apartheid cemented by the Oslo accords signed by the PLO and Israel in the early 1990s.

Ashrawi was elected to the Palestinian Authority legislative council in 1996.

From 1996 to 1998 she served as PA minister of higher education under Yasir Arafat but resigned over what she said was his mishandling of corruption allegations.

In 2006, Ashrawi ran in the Palestinian legislative elections on the “Third Way” ticket along with Salam Fayyad.

Although their party scored only 2.41 percent of the vote, Abbas appointed Fayyad prime minister after US-backed Abbas-aligned elements staged a putsch against the election winners, Hamas’ Change and Reform list.

That coup succeeded in the West Bank but failed in Gaza, from which US-backed Palestinian militias were expelled in 2007, leaving Hamas in control of Gaza’s internal governance.

Repeated resignations

Ashrawi’s latest move is bound to be viewed with some skepticism as it fits into a long pattern among senior PLO officials of what might be called revolving-door resignations.

One person who “resigned” on countless occasions was Saeb Erekat, the longtime PLO negotiator who died last month.

Abbas has also resigned or threatened to do so on numerous occasions.

In a video commenting on her resignation on Wednesday, Ashrawi states, “The truth is, as everyone knows, I have never once asked for any official position or any privilege.”

This is remarkably consistent with the language Ashrawi used 25 years ago in her book This Side of Peace, in which she asserts, “I personally do not aspire to a position and I did not get into this for power or benefits. I want nothing … I don’t want any official post.”

And yet, Ashrawi has accepted official posts repeatedly since 1991.

Columbia University professor Joseph Massad was an early observer of this trend.

In a 1997 essay (republished in his 2006 book The Persistence of the Palestinian Question), Massad points to a number of Palestinian intellectuals including Ashrawi and Erekat who “before Oslo threatened to resign their positions in protest against PLO concessions,” but later went on to hold ministerial positions in the PA.

In the 1990s, Ashrawi repeatedly declared she would not accept any official post, insisting on one occasion that her refusal was “a question of conscience and conviction.”

“Her subsequent acceptance of a ministerial position, however,” Massad observes bitingly, “demonstrates the changing trends that her conscience and conviction undergo continually.”

It remains to be seen if this will be Ashrawi’s final resignation.

But as the record of senior Palestinian politicians attests, there has seldom been any connection between resigning and actually giving up power or the illusion and trappings of it.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.