It has been a year and a half since the Palestinian National
Authority has come to Gaza and part of the West Bank. Is the lot of
Palestinians better or worse than before?
One cannot pass judgment across the board. I think that in some
ways it is better, and in some ways it is worse, and in some ways
it is the same. One has to look at the specifics.
In what ways is it better?
Palestinian statehood has become a concrete reality. The return of
the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian exiles is important.
Regardless of who came back and why, the fact is that there are
Palestinians returning; they are setting up institutions on the
land of Palestine.
That is not to say that the Occupation is finished. Israel still
controls the crossing points and still has areas for settlers, but
at least the principle, the concept, of withdrawal has begun, even
if the dismantling of settlements has not. In Gaza, for example,
you can see some improvement in the eco¬nomic situation. There
are no more curfews.
And of course things are better in the sense that we have started
the whole democratic debate, the issue of elections, preparations
for institu¬tion-building and nation-building.
How is the situation worse?
Important issues are being preempted by Israel, especially
Jerusalem and the settlements. It is also worse in terms of access
to the land, the fragmen¬tation of the land. Right now it is
much more difficult for Palestinians to move freely because of a
multi-tiered system of checkposts and permits.
The expectations of the people here were thwarted. They expected
much more than they got. The agreement itself has made Israel act
very quickly in terms of land confiscation and settlements,
imposing facts before any political settlement.
Many Palestinians do not know what is happening in the
negotiations. For example, the official confiscations for bypass
roads in the area of Jenin, from which the military government will
withdraw - Palestinians are not sure whether this is part of the
agreement or not. There is a gap between the political level and
You have been a kind of honorary ambassador for Palestinians
outside of Palestine. Do you feel that the Arab and the
international dimension has been completely cut off? There doesn't
seem to be any more influence of the Palestinian cause on the
Definitely. I feel that the Palestinian presentation, the
Palestinian narrative, the Palestinian message has not been
presented adequately. Firstly, the official system and structure
has not really paid much attention or given priority in status to
the presentation of the Palestinian case internationally or on the
local level, officially or in public opinion.
Secondly, there is what I call the grand deception: that the
Palestinian question has been solved, so don't bother us anymore.
Everybody saw the signing on the White House lawn and was quick to
dismiss the Palestinian question as solved, despite those little
issues that keep coming up, or the gap between talks and
Thirdly, the nature of the message is different. Before the message
was one of historical integrity, in a particular reality of
resistance to the Occupation. Now it is a question of trying to
explain the intricacies of a fluid and uncertain situation that
does not lend itself to public presenta¬tion. We have lost in
a sense the human substance as against the official utterance. We
stressed credibility, the human aspect, our authenticity, the
honesty and the immediacy of our message. Now it is becoming like
other political statements: manipulative, sloganeering, and quite
often lacking immediate honesty.
You have been a leader among Palestinians in initiating dialogue
with Israeli peace movements. How do you evaluate the Israeli peace
camp? Has it been coopted by the present Labor government or do you
still have hopes and expectations for the Israeli peace
The Israeli peace camp has undergone several transformations,
starting as an activist dialogue and becoming more and more of a
political dialogue. I would not say political at the expense of
activist dialogue, but it was a pre¬negotiation dialogue and
became a subject of political expedience. I think what is happening
now is that the peace camp does exist in Israel but it is
constantly being told not to rock the boat, not to weaken the Labor
coali¬tion. It is not a question of being coopted as much as
being neutralized because of the fragility of the Labor-Meretz
The peace process became the be-all and the end-all, with no
alterna¬tives. You find an unwillingness to explore difficult
issues, to do what the previous dialogue did, which was to lay the
foundations for a new type of discourse, to lay open issues that
are very sensitive and difficult to treat where the official
dialogue cannot tread. So now we have in many ways reduced the
contacts to the official negotiations as opposed to the unofficial
dialogue. The negotiations superseded the dialogue and that robbed
the political arena of a very valuable open and frank discussion of
issues that are not always on the negotiating table, away from the
limitations and con¬straints of the official discourse.
Women have taken more initiatives than men in the peace dialogue.
Do you have more hope and expectations from female
Israeli-Palestinian activists than from men?
Women have been more forthcoming, more daring and more honest in
broaching difficult issues. But there is a reluctance on the part
of women, just as there is among men, to discuss certain difficult
issues, such as Jerusalem, settlements and prisoners.
On the Israeli side, political decision-making is getting more and
more restricted to a few people in the Israeli government. Women
have been told very openly that they do not know what is happening
in the negotiations, and not to do anything that would upset or
disturb them. So, even the women's dialogue has been
Is it also possible that Palestinian women are turning inward and
are now giving more priority to women's issues within the
Palestinian community rather than the outer issues of the
Yes, this could be a factor. But I would not call it a decisive
factor, or say that these issues are mutually exclusive, because I
think women's empow¬erment is linked to the political process.
You cannot separate the different components of Palestinian
struggle and say that you do one thing at the expense of the other.
Women are now dealing with issues that have to do with Palestinian
women in parliament: organizing our work; creating more awareness,
particularly on the issue of elections; encouraging women to
participate, whether to run or to vote; trying to establish support
systems, and creating structures at all levels.
These are new challenges and concrete demands, but they do not
exclude the possibility of maintaining a dialogue. Generally, we
are able to address issues that were taboo before. At the same
time, Palestinian women involved in dialogue organizations have
come under attack because there is this backlash against
"normalization." Many people have accused women's organizations of
normalizing and of playing into the hands of the Israelis,
particularly since many women feel disappointed that they did not
see any results for all their work. Somehow their Israeli
coun¬terparts are not consistent politically and, when they
are in positions of power, they do not challenge decision-making,
as they do when the issues are discussed with the
Some of these women have refused to write for this Journal because
it is an Israeli-Palestinian journal. Do you think they are
They have not told me the reasons, so I cannot say if they have
legitimate or justified reasons. But in my opinion, we made the
decision a long time ago, that withholding of communication is
detrimental, and we should have the confidence to speak up to
address issues. We should be able to face and talk to the Israelis,
find areas of convergence and areas of dis¬agreement. Refusing
any type of dialogue is not going to be beneficial. I am not afraid
of dialogue because I have confidence in my own message. When you
adopt the basis of honesty and candor, you have nothing to fear. It
is what you do with the dialogue that is important.
Now, that does not mean I am not aware of the dangers of creating a
misconception that disparity does not exist, that everything is
normal, that we are two sides living in equal conditions trying to
resolve issues on the basis of equality and justice. That is why
the substance of dialogue of any kind of joint activity has to be
made clear. Now, on the one hand, you see joint activity on the
military, the security, the political arena; and yet, it is this
dialogue that started long ago which is now being questioned. To
me, these political or economic dialogues are much more serious; I
would ques¬tion those.
In almost any meeting today among Palestinian women, you hear the
issue or the example of the Algerian women presented. Is this a
fair comparison? Is it a legitimate fear, that Palestinian women,
who had an active role in the political struggle, will be neglected
when its goals are achieved?
It is a legitimate fear, but I do not think it is a fair comparison
since the two situations are not entirely analogous. There is
always a fear; we diagnosed this years ago. We talked about a
backlash, which is really a reaction to an immediate threat. The
moment the threat is removed, women are sent back to the kitchen,
and are relegated to second or third status.
If we perceive our work as reactive work, a reaction to an
immediate threat like the Occupation, or, now, the peace process,
the negotiations and the process of nation-building, then we will
be pushed back to the kitchen. There is a danger.
But women's work has had more than just that dimension: the active
confrontation and the "resistance dimension. We have tried to
evolve a woman's gender agenda and discourse, consciously based on
identify¬ing women's issues that are uniquely Palestinian
while at the same time universal. We have tried to create and
prepare mechanisms, insti¬tutions and structures as well as
support systems for women. We have tried to plan ahead and we have
tried to review the legal system and to propose further structures
and institutions, and now we are involved in a process of raising
What does feminism mean to you? Can you put it in
I do not like labels. I have never used the terms "feminist" or
"non-femi¬nist"; I have always resisted labels. I would say I
am committed to women's issues and to women's rights, regardless of
the label you put on that. I believe that a nation can't struggle
for self-determination and deny it to its women. You can't struggle
for justice among others when you have internal injustice. You
can't struggle against oppression and discrimination and deny that
struggle to others. We have to recognize that our society still
tends to be discriminatory and oppressive against women.
As commissioner-general of the Palestinian Independent Commission
for Citizen's Rights, could you give us a brief evaluation of the
human rights record of the Palestinian National
We are concerned not only with issues of human rights, but also act
as ombudsman where all matters of accountability are concerned, to
make sure that the basic rights of people are not violated through
abuse of pub¬lic authority and public funds. We take up the
individual case only when all recourse to the law has been
We deal with institutions involved in security; we are concerned
with lack of due process, violence, interrogation, rights of
detainees, prison con¬ditions, and freedom of press, movement
Some abuses are the result of lack of training or of legal
awareness; some of a political decision to crack down on the
opposition. Sometimes it is dif¬ficult to identify who is
There are excesses and violations and too few safeguards within the
[new Palestinian] system. There is an alarming tendency to
militarization and centralization, which curbs the freedoms I
mentioned. Some of this results from Israeli pressures, in testing
how the Palestinian National Authority can provide "immediate
security," for example, that inspired the establishment of the
Higher Court for State Security.
This Court was recently vehemently criticized by Amnesty
International, and praised by U.S. Vice-President AI
We did not have to wait for Amnesty. We did our best to prevent the
estab¬lishment of the Court on principle. Then we stressed,
publicly, that the way in which it is operating is totally
unacceptable. Most Palestinians and Palestinian human rights NGOs
came out against such repressive military structure. Ironically,
the U.S. State Department and the Israelis support the
Do you think the decision to create the Court will be reversed
after the elections?
I hope a legislative council elected in free and fair elections
will have the confidence and authority to take this up.
What can Palestinians in general, and women in particular, expect
from Hanan Ashrawi if elected as their
I am considering standing for election, but I have not yet made a
decision. I am in favor of a strong legislative body. People
elected by a constituency have the ability to create a system of
accountability and thus, to ensure the rule of law, would be my
major task. We have to rectify some of the prob¬lems that have
resulted from the transitional phase and watch over the work of the
What was the reaction to your new book in America?
On the whole, the reviews have been excellent. I was amazed at the
num¬ber of Israeli reviewers. I was amazed that The New York
Times would choose an Israeli to review my book. I doubt whether
they would have a Palestinian review an Israeli book. The book is
being discussed because it is an individual, Palestinian narrative
which conveys the collective narra¬tive and the human reality
of Palestinians. Placing that narrative within the mainstream
awareness and consciousness of the West was important to me. I know
that it needed to be done; I had a sense of historical individual
responsibility, a sense of amana I had to discharge.