Letter from Dr. Hanan Ashrawi to President Bill
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
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$
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
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
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
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
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
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
It is not too late, Mr. President (lame duck status
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