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Letter from Dr. Hanan Ashrawi to President Bill Clinton

President William Jefferson Clinton
The White House (temporarily)
Washington, D.C. USA

November 20, 2000

Dear President Clinton:

The last few weeks in office, I understand, are hectic and demanding. Hence I have chosen the epistolary form of address (a literary genre of no mean merit) made popular in public parlance by Tom Friedman and his ilk as they hammered Arab leaders with one-sided unreciprocated didactic messages.

Unlike theirs, however, my intent is neither to "patronize" (should we coin "matronize"?) nor to admonish, but rather to engage in what I hope to be an honest and forthright dialogue. Should I wax homiletic or academic, kindly skip to the more human and immediate passages.

It has been our experience, Mr. President, that most American public officials, once out of office, begin to suffer pangs of conscience and inexplicable urges to express contrition in the form of public confessions pertaining to the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people.

With an honest desire to spare you the fate of other high officials who develop after-the-fact immaculate hindsight and a drive for justice, I would like to point out that there is still "world enough and time" to speak out - better yet - to ACT now.

With the presidential elections over (pregnant or dimpled or hanging chads notwithstanding), with Hillary safely assured a senatorial seat (her turn-about politics notwithstanding), with the "economy-stupid" flourishing, and with "historical" visits (e.g. Vietnam) proudly accomplished, you have two obvious options.

You can sit back and contemplate your legacy as a mathematical exercise of columns of positives and negatives, pondering issues of loyalty (whether vice presidential or marital), contrasting Chappaqua, N.Y. vs. Palm Beach, Fla. as your preferred retirement venue, or raising funds for your Presidential Library while pouring over your notes for the next best-selling Presidential memoir.

On the other hand, you can roll up your sleeves and take up the challenge of history in medias res in our part of the world. You still have an opportunity to embark on a penitential (political) pilgrimage of the soul before midnight, January 19, 2001 and you turn into a chronicler rather than a shaper of history.

To do so, Mr. President, it is important that you shed (or, better yet, shred) the briefs and talking points prepared for you by State Department underlings who have made a career out of the peace process (or vice-versa); discard the preconceptions/misconceptions generated by the Israeli spin machine; take a deep hard look at the peace process to discern where things went horribly wrong as a first step towards rectification; and try to listen to the Palestinian people directly.

Yes, there is such a thing as Palestinian public opinion held by real flesh and blood Palestinians who have long been victims of war and now find themselves victims of a flawed peace process and dangerously short sighted policies.

These are the people who, in 1948, were subject to the dual injustice of dispossession, dispersion and exile on the one hand and of occupation and oppression on the other hand.

These are the people who were persuaded that a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not only possible but also desirable.

These are the people who painfully accepted the "two-state solution" and the sharing of historical Palestine by two states: Palestine and Israel.

These are the people who made the historical compromise of relinquishing 78% of mandatory Palestine to Israel and, by accepting UN Resolution 242, agreed to establish their state on only 22% of their original homeland - i.e. that portion which was occupied by Israel in 1967.

These are the people who, after decades of revolutionary struggle in exile and four years of popular resistance (intifada) under the brutal Israeli military occupation, launched a peace initiative and went to Madrid in 1991 to be part of a global endeavor sponsored by the US to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the whole region.

These are the people who accepted the American-formulated terms of reference (UNR 242 and 338 and the land-for-peace equation), only to be told by you and the Israelis that the goal posts have shifted yet again.

These are the people who were told that Israel can maintain its illegal settlements and annex three major settlement clusters that fragment the West Bank into three Bantustans; that Israel can annex most of Arab east Jerusalem and maintain its illegal sovereignty over the city; that the Palestinian refugees must relinquish their right of return; and that what is possible is only that which is acceptable to Israel.

These are the people whose lands were confiscated, children murdered, houses demolished, towns and villages besieged, economy destroyed, freedoms curtailed and rights violated - even in the course of negotiations.

These are the same people who cheered you and waved American flags when you came to Gaza to inaugurate the Palestinian airport (now closed by the Israelis).

These are the same people who gave you (and Hillary) a standing ovation when you addressed them in Gaza (now under complete siege and isolation) and asked for their continued commitment to peace.

These are the same people who welcomed you in the manger of the little town of Bethlehem (now being shelled relentlessly every night) and who sang Christmas carols when you lit up the Christmas tree in manger square.

These are the same people whose children appealed to you for the release of their fathers from Israeli jails (now being filled by even more Palestinian prisoners).

These are the same people who are now grieving through several funerals every day, crying silently (away from the sight of American media) as they lay to rest their sons and daughters (more than 272) murdered by Israeli sniper fire, high velocity bullets, and lau missiles.

These are the same people who have to live with the permanent injuries suffered by their sons and daughters (more than 7000) who were wounded by the same Israeli military machine that is funded by billions of your American tax money (given that Israel's per capita GDP is US$ 18,300).

These are the same people who are running out of fuel, medicine, and basic food supplies while their towns, villages and camps are besieged by Israeli tanks and army checkpoints, and while their skies are being violated by Cobra and Apache gun ships relentlessly shelling their homes.

These are the same people to whom you promised "freedom," "dignity," and the fulfillment of their "political rights," but who are now languishing in collective incarceration, in abject humiliation, and in total deprivation.

These are the people, Mr. President, on whom you are now calling to "stop the violence" while their lives, rights, lands, and very humanity are being systematically violated.

These are the people whose entire security, in every aspect, was totally annihilated while you are pursuing the guaranteed security of their Israeli occupiers.

Do you think, Mr. President, for one moment that we relish the idea of our own victimization, pain, death, and destruction?

Do you think, Mr. President, that the systematic military violence of the occupier is commensurate with the oppressed people's will to resist and reject their subjugation and enslavement?

Do you think, Mr. President, that the peace process which you have so assiduously pursued can achieve a just and lasting peace if it continues to victimize the weak and accommodate the powerful?

Do you think, Mr. President, that with persistent dehumanization of the Palestinian people and total disregard of their minimal rights any peace can be achieved (no matter how much pressure you put on their leaders)?

Do you think, Mr. President, that such a moral outrage can persist had it not been for Israel's lack of accountability and preferential treatment as country above the law and as your very own strategic ally?

Do you think, Mr. President, that the racist policy of "blaming the victim" with persistent Arafat and Palestinian bashing will succeed in breaking the will of the Palestinian people - when the most violent Israeli military assaults failed to pound us into submission?

Do you think, Mr. President, that the Israeli policy of brutalization and victimization against a captive Palestinian population will not reverberate among the peoples of the region (and throughout the world) leading to further regional destabilization and erosion of US standing, influence, and interests?

It is time, Mr. President, for the US to discontinue at this fatally flawed peace process, to draw the proper conclusions from these tragic conditions on the ground, and to launch a daring and fair initiative capable of achieving a peace that can lay claim to justice, morality, and permanence.

It is time for an inclusive sponsorship and participation in the peace process to allow for the UN, the EU, and representatives from the Arab world to be active partners in this global investment in peace.

It is time for international protection for the Palestinians and accountability for Israel.

It is time for the respect and implementation of all relevant UN resolutions, in particular 242, 338, and 194.

It is time for Israel to return to the Palestinians all the lands that it occupied in 1967 without further manipulation or prejudicial unilateral measures.

It is time to recognize that Palestinian statehood (with Jerusalem as the capital) is a right as well as an essential requirement for peace.

It is time to assure the Palestinians of their right to freedom, dignity, and security in an even-handed pursuit of peace.

It is time to think big, to act strategically, and to abandon the damage control, crisis management, reactive policies that respond only to the latest violation or eruption.

It is not too late, Mr. President (lame duck status notwithstanding).

Use your freedom from election constraints, special interest pressures, and personal agendas to intervene and change the course of history.

Your legacy may yet be in the making.

Hanan Ashrawi, PhD.
Secretary-General, MIFTAH
Palestinian Legislative Council Member, Jerusalem

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