September 21, 2007

Palestinian Leader Promotes Peace

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Thousands of miles away on another side of the world, fighting between Israel and Palestine is an ever-present concern to millions of people.
On this side of the globe in Bailey Hall, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian leader, brought the focus of this conflict to Cornell students yesterday by discussing possible ways to bring peace to the violence-plagued region.
Ashrawi’s lecture, rhetorically titled, “Peace in the Middle East: Who Needs It?” focused on ways to bring an end to conflict. Ashrawi is perhaps a good source for one side of the answer to this question, as her accomplishments include founding the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), as well as a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and spokesperson of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Process, to name a few.
Ashrawi explained that she did not mean to be “facetious” with her title, but she wanted to address the fact that “people believe it’s too complex a situation to handle,” referring to geography, religion and culture as some of the complexities.
During the course of her lecture, Ashrawi repeated many times that what is needed in Palestine is an end to the “occupation” by Israel, as well as a two-state solution. According to Ashrawi, the two-state solution would be defined by the pre-1967 borders. These were the borders of Israel and Palestine that were in place before the Six-Day War. Ashrawi also said, “Palestinians have accepted a two-state solution.”
In response to a question naming the concern of many Israelis that lifting the occupation will endanger civilian life in Israel, Ashrawi responded, “You know I always get this question … I don’t know, how do we give psychotherapy to the collective Israeli mind?” She continued by saying, “you know, it’s pretty racist to say, ‘you cannot trust Palestinians … how do you know?’”
Ashrawi recently co-formed a small centrist party in Palestine but received a disappointing 2.4 percent of the vote. When asked why she received such little support, Ashrawi replied, “In the world of extremism, the people want somebody strong. A party whose sources of power and legitimacy are money; weapons; power.”
Hamas, an organization known for endorsing terrorism, was chosen as the leading party. According to the Embassy of Israel, since the beginning of the second Intifada, Hamas has been responsible for the deaths of at least 400 Israelis, as well as more than 2,500 wounded in more than 450 terrorist attacks. They continue to fire missiles into Israel unto this day.
Ashrawi claimed, however, that, “Hamas has already modified their political agenda into one for peace … in fact they have told Islamic Jihad to stop suicide bombing.” Hamas recently released a controversial children’s television program, in which a Mickey Mouse look-alike spews messages of hatred and violence for Jews, Israel and the United States. When asked to clarify how Hamas’ new political agenda involves this cartoon, Ashrawi was quick to correct that “they [Hamas] are not perfect.”
Ashrawi also discussed different methods to peace. One method she named is the wall that is currently being built in Israel to separate Palestinian territories from Israel. The wall is controversial, as Israel claims it is to keep terrorists out, and the Palestinian Territories worry that it separates the people from their own land. On this matter, Ashrawi stated, “The wall is not an aid to peace; it has become another cause of violence.”
Ashrawi concluded with memories of Yasser Arafat, her friend and colleague, and the former head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. She stated that “Arafat was committed to religious tolerance and women’s rights” and “he had his humanity.” According to Forbes magazine, however, at the time of his death, Arafat was worth $1.3 billion. The Palestinian territories are historically known for their poverty and financial struggles.
Reactions to the lecture were mixed.
Jordan Fabian ’09 said, “I think [Ashrawi] doesn’t regard any of the harmful actions of Palestinian organizations (like Hamas) against Israel … when you’re saying they’re pragmatic, you’re not saying that a terrorist organization took control of the government … that is a serious problem for peace … it goes against what she’s advocating … I feel like she sent a mixed message and dodged questions.”
Alex Kantrowitz ’10 countered with, “We can only hope that more moderate voices such as Ashrawi’s come out of the region.”