Six Questions for Dr. Hanan Ashrawi

I sat down with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, at her Ramallah office. We shared a plate of "healthy stuff," fresh fruits and vegetables -- in contrast to the cigarette smoke-filled rooms of the Palestinian Authority's headquarters, the Muqata -- and discussed the PLO's strategies for 2012. 1. You were in Cairo three weeks ago for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks. How are the unity talks being affected by the Quartet's January 26 deadline?

Dr. Ashrawi: I don't even think about it as a deadline, because I would hate to link our own internal domestic issues to what the Quartet says. Frankly speaking, the Quartet hasn't been doing anything. It's just all show and no substance; all talk and no action. And I don't see why we should adopt their deadlines knowing that they're not doing anything, and all they're doing is asking us to negotiate. And they should know better because they are seeing what's happening on the ground.... We don't have anything against talks. But we have something against talks that are used for a pretext to provide Israel with cover -- legal cover, protection, and time to destroy the two-state solution.... Now either they rectify the negotiations, the so-called process, or we look for something else. 2. Is that "something else" a United Nations strategy? Yes. We need to protect ourselves, we need to solidify and empower ourselves internally. We need to have peaceful, nonviolent resistance. We need to continue to build our institutions and work on unification. We need to repair our democracy. We need to have elections. All of these are internal issues. We need to work with the internationally community not just to get recognition but to get access - to all different instruments of accountability: legal, judicial, and so on.

I don't know why the whole world has to wax hysterical at our trying to get some accountability for Israel. Why do they insist that Israel has to be given preferential treatment and remain above the law? Of course we want to join all of the different U.N. organizations... And I don't see why everyone wants us ahead of time to promise that we won't hold Israel accountable. This is ridiculous. Why should we relinquish the victim's right to seek protection?

3. Do you think that the P.L.O. should be pursuing on a global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) strategy?

I think that B.D.S. is a civil society initiative and one that should be pursued. But I do not believe that every single popular or civil society initiative should immediately be passed on by official circles. I think it's important that B.D.S. continues, and I can see how it really has upset the powers that be in Israel because they are... passing laws [in the Israeli Knesset against boycotting Israel].... B.D.S. worked with South Africa, and I think it will work with Israel. Of course it takes time, and there's always a time-lag, a gap between public awareness and pressure, and a shift in policy.

4. The October prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit seemed to show Israel's capacity to work with Hamas and Egypt's ability to play a brokering role. Do you think this presents a new paradigm for the peace process? Is there further opportunity there?

No -- clearly, Israel is very comfortable negotiating with Hamas and it has been negotiating [with Hamas] directly or indirectly: directly, on issues of daily life; and indirectly on larger issues. So I don't think Israel has any problems negotiating with Hamas. On the contrary, they are very happy that Hamas has delivered security in Gaza... Israel cares about security first and foremost -- that's it -- and whoever delivers security is kosher enough. [Israel] still enjoys calling them terrorists but Hamas has not been involved in any act of violence for a long time. And on the contrary, [Hamas] has stopped others... But [Israel] just wants to make sure that the rest of the world calls Hamas "terrorists" and doesn't talk to it.

5. I noticed that the PLO was supposed to hold the presidency of the Arab League this term, but it went straight to Qatar. Was this because there was too much happening in Palestine?

I think so. That is what [PLO Chairman] Abu Mazen and [Palestinian Foreign Minister] Riyad Malki told us. The thing is that we were keen on having the presidency, and then when this whole issue started [at the U.N.] and everybody was mobilized to go all over the world... we couldn't afford not to have people engaged in this effort. We were a handful doing the job of scores of people. It wasn't possible to carry out the tasks of the presidency of the Arab League and at the same time carry out the tasks that were supposed to be carried out, in particular by the Foreign Ministry and so on. To me, that was a logical reason.

Many people are skeptical. The Syrians were upset... and they felt that by doing this we gave Qatar more power over them. But nobody was thinking about resolutions on Syria at this time. However, whether there was any other political motive, I cannot tell you. But from what we discussed, there was none.

6. Do think that after one, two, or three years the PLO would say that it is time to pursue a one-state option? Would the PLO seek citizenship from the State of Israel and the right to vote?

It probably might be even sooner than one, two, or three years, because at the pace that is being pursued by this Israeli government, they really are making sure that the two-state solution is dead. They are trying to advance "Greater Israel." And I said, if they want to work for Greater Israel then we will work for historical Palestine... So they better not go down that path, but they are. It's a very dangerous path - it's irresponsible and it will lead to the perpetuation of the conflict. However, the decision to adopt the two-state solution and the partitioning of Palestine was taken by the PNC [Palestinian National Council] in 1988, and the only body empowered to change that policy -- because it is a transformational decision -- would be the PNC.