The changing face of Hanan Ashrawi

From the archive (legacy material)

JUSTICE MARCUS EINFELD | Australian Jewish News | 31 October 2003

NO-ONE in Australia has had more contact with Dr Hanan Ashrawi than I. In the 1990s, as president of Australian Legal Resources International (ALRI), a non-government corporation of judges and lawyers assisting countries in transition to democracy, I instituted a program in the Palestinian territories in support of the rule of law.
Known as the Rule of Law Assistance Program for the Palestinians (ROLAP), it lasted almost five years and would still be in place were it not for the impossible security situation.
ROLAP had the support of Palestinian leaders, five Israeli prime ministers and many Israeli, Palestinian and Australian judges and lawyers.
The funding came from the Australian Government through AusAID, the World Bank and the governments of Norway, Denmark and the UK, amounting to around $US20million.
Dr Hanan Ashrawi was chair of the equivalent of the Palestinian Human Rights Commission.
When she moved on to the Arafat cabinet, we continued our association. Later she fell out with Arafat, and she is today unrepresentative of their views on almost every matter of importance.
I recently spoke with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, known as Abu Ala. He is not a supporter of Dr Ashrawi. Which does not make her an unworthy recipent of the Sydney Peace Prize.
In fact, on the basis of the Chinese saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, some might say if Arafat and his mates do not like her, others should.
I have supported the prize from its inception. The reason I will not be at the ceremony this year is due to none of the vitriol that peppered Alan Ramsey’s article (SMH 25/10/03).
Nor is it because of pressure from the so-called Jewish “lobby”. In fact, despite my unique association with Dr Ashrawi my views on her and the award have never been sought by the Jewish leadership.
As Ramsey and Professor Stuart Rees of the Sydney Peace Foundation know, the issue is not who is pressuring whom, but whether Dr Ashrawi deserves the award.
Perhaps due in part to her isolation from Palestinian decision-making, the fact is that Dr Ashrawi has changed her views.
When ALRI hosted, and the NSW Law Society sponsored, a reception for her on a previous visit to Australia, there was a large attendance, including judges, ministers and members of the Arab, Islamic and Jewish communities.
My colleagues and I offered Dr Ashrawi a drink in my chambers. That was when she first gave forth in my presence to her new language of vitriol and hate towards Israel — and to the countries and Jews who support it.
We had discussed Israel’s policies and actions many times.
She agreed that the intifada had been a disaster for the Palestinian people as well as Israel. We have also always agreed that the instant the terrorist murders of Israeli civilians stop for good, peace will be in sight.
And the only way they can stop will be when Palestinian forces arrest and disarm the terrorist groups and dismantle their infrastructure.
But when she sat in my chambers, Dr Ashrawi gave vent to her new solutions to the conflict. Her first proposal was the “right of return” of Palestinians to their “homes” in Israel.
This was no symbolic scenario; hers was a demand for the “return” of millions of Palestinians, many of whom had never lived in or been descendants of former residents of the land.
When my colleagues and I pointed out that this was mischievous use of a term coined in a different context and which meant the end of a Jewish state, she said Palestinians had as much or more right to live in “the land occupied by Israel” as Israelis, who were in most cases not indigenous inhabitants.
When we reminded her of the UN resolution establishing Israel, and that going back has never been a demand of any UN resolution or of a single Palestinian negotiator in 15 years, she answered that Arafat had sold out the Palestinians and that the negotiators did not know what they were doing.
When we said the incorporation into Israel of millions of Palestinian Arabs will never happen, and that if such a demand was ever made, there would never be peace, she said words to the effect of “Well, then there will be war!” By which she included the indiscriminate murder of civilians.
The irony of this is that the terrorists do not want a secular state, still less a two-state solution, both of which Dr Ashrawi says she supports, but a pan-national theocracy, something like Iran or the Taliban’s Afghanistan.
We could not call off the reception, so I asked her not to inject into her speech inflammatory rhetoric of this kind. I explained that the peace process had been well received in Australia, that the government was making a contribution and that people were volunteering to help ROLAP.
I said also that bridges were being built with Muslim communities and that the reception would help us raise funds to assist Palestinian society.
There was no problem with criticism of Israel if it was balanced, but if she became so partisan as to arouse passionate divisions, the cause of her people would be impaired.
SHE was utterly unmoved. Notwithstanding a generous welcome for which I won significant praise from guests, she let forth with an unreconstructed form of Israel-bashing which may have warmed the hearts of hardliners, but dismayed the rest of those present, including many moderate Muslims and people of Arab origin.
That was the first time she had given forth to these views in public in the West. She has since increased her anti-Israel rhetoric, coloured it with an anti-Jewish flavour and so dealt herself out of serious dialogue.
I do not challenge her right to her views, and can handle my pain that such a potentially powerful voice for peace has descended to such futile hateful expressions.
But I do not see how such a person can get a prize for contributing to peace. She may have been a contributor once, but she is not now.
I am sorry that the inappropriateness of Dr Ashrawi as the recipient of this award has crushed constructive advocacy for the award to go to another Palestinian peacemaker.
My concern is that her acceptance speech will be confrontational and the antithesis of contributing to peace.
The issue should not be diverted to an assertion that criticising Israel is off limits. There are no more vigorous attacks on Israeli policies than by Israelis themselves.
Indeed, as former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg pointed out in this newspaper, large numbers of young Israelis are leaving the country in desperation with what is going on. As the Israeli media demonstrates, there can be legitimate argument about some of its government’s policies.
But to blame Israel for everything, and exculpate the terror organisations by ignoring their murderous contribution to the crisis, and the Palestinian leadership for doing too little, as Dr Ashrawi has been doing for years, is dishonest and not peaceful.
Like the honour given to me last year of UN Peace Laureate, the peace prize is designed to recognise peacemaking and engender hope.
What is incompatible with it is not a critic of one of the parties to a conflict, but a pseudo-promoter of a so-called strategy which would result in the dissolution of that party and the genocide of its people.
Dr Ashrawi’s eloquent disguise of her ideas as peacemaking is disingenuous propaganda which would result in nothing less for Israel. Far from contributing to peace, her approach would kill peace forever.
The Sydney Peace Institute has done excellent things, but it has made a serious error of judgment.
The only contribution that can be made to correct this is to ask for a “right of reply”. Probably impossible, but it is the only way to achieve balance to the poisonous words to which I fear Dr Ashrawi will give expression.
One final point. The attempt to persuade NSW Premier Bob Carr to pull out of the presentation is unworthy of Jews and supporters of Israel.
I am far from agreeing with all of Carr’s policies, but people should never forget, and forget to acknowledge, that when the going has been tough over many decades, Carr has been staunch, outspoken and courageous in his unqualified support for Israel and Jews.
I do not add my voice to those seeking to pressure him. He is a highly intelligent man who knows the situation and, like John Howard, is a successful politician who can read the public mood well.
I may prefer it was not happening but am prepared to accept his judgment in the knowledge that he will act at all times in honourable protection of Israeli and Jewish interests.