- Rebecca Vilkomerson
executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.
- Budour Hassan
Palestinian writer and project coordinator for the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights.
- Hanan Ashrawi
Palestinian politician and scholar. She was elected an Executive Committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2009, becoming the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine. She also served as the official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process.
As Palestinians protest President Trump’s announcement that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and begin moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we go to East Jerusalem to speak with Budour Hassan, a Palestinian writer and project coordinator for the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights, and speak with Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. We are also joined in Ramallah by Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian politician and scholar.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Palestinians are protesting in cities across the West Bank and Gaza Strip after President Trump announced Wednesday that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiate a process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian politician in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. And we’re joined in East Jerusalem by Budour Hassan, a Palestinian writer and project coordinator for the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights. Here in New York, Rebecca Vilkomerson is with us, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.
And we welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s go to East Jerusalem right now, where we want to turn to our guest in East Jerusalem, Budour Hassan. Your response in East Jerusalem, as you were listening to President Trump yesterday? And what is the response in the community?
BUDOUR HASSAN: Obviously, it was very frustrating to hear that coming from Trump, but it was not surprising, because U.S. complicity with the Israeli occupation is not new. It’s something that has spanned over generations. And for Palestinians, it’s something that is expected, because a nation like the United States, that has been built on colonization, it’s only natural for them to support another colonizer state in Israel.
We obviously—while we are outraged, we know the reason for our outrage is not just Trump’s declaration. Our reason for our outrage is that it was under President Obama that the U.S. pledged $38 billion of taxpayer—U.S. taxpayers’ money to support Israel militarily. So this is why we are outraged. We are outraged because the Palestinian Authority continued to sell people the promise of negotiations and peace, and the result is that all these talks about peace and negotiations and the peace process, that has been going on for more than two decades, has only led us to this. And this is why people are protesting, because it’s important to know that the young people, women and men, who are taking to the streets to tell President Trump and to tell the Palestinian Authority and to tell everyone that Jerusalem is and has always been and will always be Palestinian. But they are clear that their outrage is not simply about Trump. It’s about an entire system that has denied Palestinians their rights.
And this declaration, to be honest, many of us are a bit relieved that we are finally seeing the true face of the so-called U.S.-Israel shared values. Trump—if anything, Trump is a personification of what many U.S. presidents have always tried to conceal or deny. He is saying it clear. He is not lying or cloaking his promise—his promises to Israel by fancy words about peace and negotiations. And this is why now our battle is much more clearer.
We know that this is a battle to reclaim our—to liberate our country, and also to dissolve the PA, because we believe—and many protesters have said that today and will continue to say that—that if the Palestinian Authority is actually right or true in its indignation about what Trump has done, it must be dissolved, first and foremost, and it must declare that the Oslo Accords are null. And it also must strip Israel of its recognition. Only when the Palestinian Authority does that, we can talk about the possibility of rebuilding a national movement. But meanwhile, we cannot take the anger of the PA seriously, while it continues to recognize Israel and the legitimacy of the Israeli state.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is heading the Trump administration’s efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. But quietly, the Kushner Companies Charitable Foundation is continuing to fund a far-right-wing Israeli settlement in the West Bank that is considered illegal under international law. ProPublica reports that the Kushner Companies Charitable Foundation made a donation of at least $18,000 at the “Master Builders” level to American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center. While the charity has given to the settlement in the past, ProPublica reports this appears to be the first time they’ve done so while Kushner, whose title is senior adviser to the president, is the lead administration official brokering a peace plan. So, Rebecca Vilkomerson, you’re the head of Jewish Voice for Peace. Could you comment on this, the fact that the president’s son-in-law is part of a foundation that’s providing funding to this far-right-wing group in Israel, and also what the response here in the U.S. has been among Jewish organizations to Trump’s announcement yesterday?
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Yeah. I mean, I think something that Budour Hassan said is very important, which is that in some ways, you know, we know there’s going to be incredible damage from this announcement, but there is potentially a silver lining, which is that the U.S. ongoing policies of supporting Israel tacitly and being complicit in Israel’s policies are being completely laid bare. And it’s not just Jared Kushner. We have the U.S. ambassador, David Friedman, who has also been a personal fundraiser for settlements, as well. So we have the actual—
AMY GOODMAN: Who was Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer.
REBECCA VILKOMERSON: Who was also Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, right. So we have these—so we have, you know, the highest officials in the Trump administration who have a clear interest not just in—you know, really, with the far-right extreme settlers, not just in the Israel government as it stands, which is already extremely right. And so, there is like—the bankruptcy and the hollowness of the idea that the U.S. could be a broker for peace, I think, is now very, very clear.
And I would also hope that the sort of broad swath of Americans who are completely horrified by Trump, generally, will sort of recognize the pattern here, and his recklessness and criminality and cruelty, that this is very much of a pattern. And so, that group of voters, who tend to support the way that the United States has interacted with Israel and the United States’ support for Israel, will start to maybe question that and will be able to understand that and separate that out, in a way they weren’t when Obama was indeed supporting Israel in the same way with military and economic and diplomatic aid.
In the Jewish community, you know, AIPAC is supporting this move. Some other big organizations are supporting this move. One of the organizations that I think was very surprising for many of us in the Jewish community was the Anti-Defamation League, strongly supported this move. And they’re ostensibly a civil rights organization, but they’re here taking a position that is absolutely against the human rights of Palestinians, not just who are living in Jerusalem, but all around the world. So I think there was a very strong reaction against their public statement in favor of this decision yesterday. And so, my hope is that this is an—the response to it is an indication of the shift in the Jewish community to really starting to understand that the United States can’t keep playing this role.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Dr. Hanan Ashrawi about the role of President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also under an increasing microscope in investigations in Congress—
HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —and in the special prosecutor. You mentioned the political pressure at home. So, he spent a lot of time with the man known as MBS, the crown prince in Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, is considered very close to him, not to mention extremely close to the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, who slept in his bedroom when he was growing up, when he would visit, before he was prime minister. Now, while Saudi Arabia has spoken out against Trump’s move, there are some who are saying privately he has already checked with them and that they support him. Is this possible? What does this mean? And what about the role of Jared Kushner as the supposed peace negotiator in the Middle East between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, there are several issues involved here and several layers of incompetence and the sins of omission and commission.
Number one, Jared Kushner is one of the most extreme Zionist individuals, who has habitually, as you said, supported the Beit El settlement, supported—he was the board of the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, so to speak. He was always intricately connected ideologically to the most extreme right-wing components of Israeli society, particularly the settlers, who are outside the law, war criminals.
But he has also had economic ties with Israel, and he has had some Israeli banks bail him out when he was in economic trouble. That’s another problem.
And third, his lack of experience and knowledge.
Fourth, the whole context, the whole setting of people like Kushner, like Friedman, even like Jason Greenblatt, and so on, who have ideological commitments and who are entrusted, under Kusher, with the task of achieving peace. I mean, this is incredible. It’s like putting the thief in charge of the treasure or whatever. So, in a sense, while they are buying more time, procrastinating, going back and forth, pretending that they are working on peace, they’ve been buying Israel not only more time, but favor. And with the White House now, you have settlers in the White House. We used to say we had settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Now they are in the White House, and they have succeeded in taking over American policy.
Before, yes, the U.S.—and I said this before, Amy—the U.S.—you could never accuse the U.S. administration of being even-handed. But now it’s complicit. That’s the difference, that it has become part of the crime, rather than at least trying to maintain a semblance that it’s outside this or that it can maintain a distance. It cannot. And that’s why it has destroyed its standing and chances for peace.
But what’s alarming now—and I agree there’s a silver lining that things are out in the open in a very crude way and a very ignorant way and irresponsible way, which is no source of comfort, because the U.S. cannot contain its actions. We used to say, “Well, the poor Americans, look what they got.” But now it’s the poor world, because any decision taken in Washington has repercussions all over the world. I mean, they’re capable of destabilizing the whole region. They’re capable of weighing in in favor of impunity and lawlessness and violating international law and U.N. resolutions. They’re capable of becoming partners in crime. And they’re capable of doing all that, and still, in a very super—talking about peace, as though they are doing this for the sake of peace.
So, it’s not just a question of individuals. It’s a question of combination of factors, of special interests, of economic interests, of ideological commitments, and, of course, of lack of experience and foresight when it comes to the necessity, when it comes to the need to understand not just the intricacy, but the components of the situation. I don’t call it a conflict. This is a situation where you have occupier and occupied, where you have one military force enslaving a whole nation and holding it captive and stealing its land and resources—and getting away with it, and getting support and cover from the U.S. to pursue this, and buying more time. So I don’t think at any point was there any hope or chance that the Trump administration or the U.S. would be an even-handed peace broker or would try to oversee a just solution. So, now that this has become clear to everybody, something we’ve been talking about for years—I started in ’91 talking about this, and I was in charge of negotiating with the Americans.
But the problem now is that we have to minimize the damage that they are doing. And at the same time, we have to mobilize the Arabs, the Europeans, the rest of the world, international organizations and so on. And we have to put our own house in order. I don’t want to transform this discussion into, you know, sort of internal mea culpas and so on. Yes, there are problems and issues that are domestic, but now we are facing serious problems, and we do have to, in a sense, band together. We have to try to face this external challenge in a way that is unified, responsible, with a cohesive and bold strategy, because our first responsibility is to maintain people’s ability to stay on the land, to maintain people’s ability to resist and to withstand such an onslaught of several factors, several forms of aggression, some of them military by the Israeli army, some of them economic, some of them in terms of siege, others in terms of political and legal negation and so on. All these different forms of assaults on Palestinian reality and rights require that we face them with a unified front, with a clear and bold strategy, and try to maximize all those areas and sources of strength that we could use in order to protect our cause and our land and our people.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dr. Ashrawi, could you say a little about what you expect the response, both in Israel and Palestine, to be? Reportedly, in Israel, not just people in Netanyahu’s administration, but also more liberal politicians, have welcomed this move by Trump. And you, yourself, have said that by making this move—
HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —Trump has emboldened terrorists and more extreme elements within Palestine, as well as the most aggressive elements of the Israeli Netanyahu administration. So what kind of response do you expect?
HANAN ASHRAWI: I think it certainly has emboldened the more extreme ideological hardline elements in Israel. It has shown that might makes right, that you can violate the law, that you can be aggressive and hostile, and you can act with criminality, and you will be rewarded. Not only will you get away with it, now you will be openly rewarded, yes. And this has helped shift all the discourse in Israel to the right. The whole terrain has gone to the right and to the extreme right and so on. The peace camp is literally nonexistent now. And the Labor Party, which used to be called the Labor Party, they call themselves the Zionist Camp. Even the transformation of the language has—is very indicative. They have supported this move, and they see it as something that should have been done and that is normal and that helps, you know, the Jewish state. So, nobody is saying that they are non-Zionist.
But at the same time, they should have more sense to understand the danger inherent in such a move, including danger to Israel itself. It’s not my responsibility to protect Israel from its extremists and from the fumbling and mumbling of the American administration. But it is also my job to see—to understand whether there are saner voices within Israel, within the U.S., who will stand up to these voices of extremism and violence and so on.
Within Palestine, I don’t think that we have, you know, terrorism and so on. I don’t like to use that label. But I think, globally, that there are forces, there are irresponsible sources, that would like to exploit the Palestinian question, that—who are in search of an excuse—people like ISIS, for example, who would like to grab on, hold on to something as a justification for their acts of terror. And that’s why I said the Palestinian cause must not be up for grabs, number one, by any nut who wants to use it.
And two, I think that it should show, in many ways, that if you adopt the language of peace, the language of legality, the language of humanity, the language of morality, the language that says, “We can negotiate, despite everything else, a just peace,” then you have nothing to gain, but everything to lose, that you will be defeated by other voices. And I think this is the fatal flaw in this. So, in Palestine, you’re seeing that the PLO, that has funded—that, by the way, the Palestinian Authority does not take political decisions. It’s an administration that works on the ground to deliver services. But the PLO, that since '91 has committed itself—or since ’88, to a negotiated settlement, and has staked, actually, its own career on the peace process as—or on a negotiated settlement as a means of resolving the conflict, has been shown to be unable to deliver. And this is why it has been weakened. And that's why it strengthens the opposition, people who say, “Well, they don’t listen to the voice of peace or reason, therefore they will listen only to the voice of violence and ideology,” because these are the weapons used by Israel, and now by the U.S., when it comes to Palestine.
And that’s why I see a new configuration. I think that this is a deal changer, anyway—deal breaker, anyway, and a game changer. I think you are seeing more and more hardline positions, more and more polarization. The extreme right has become more emboldened in Israel, and it feels justified. The settlers have taken over the agenda. And they have neutralized and excluded, in many ways, any voices for peace. That’s why it’s important, when you talk about Jewish Voice for Peace and other American Jewish organizations, that they speak out, that they not be intimidated, because they are not living in the system that is becoming more and more fascist in Israel—
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask—
HANAN ASHRAWI: —even though they have problems in the U.S., as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask—
HANAN ASHRAWI: And that’s why in Palestine we also need an internal dialogue in order to come up with a new strategy.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask Budour Hassan, who is standing right now in East Jerusalem: What are the plans? The announcement of three days of rage tomorrow, the Friday day of prayer, what the plans are there? President Trump talking about hiring the architects and the contractors to begin the process of building the embassy in Jerusalem. What’s going to happen over these next few days, that you know of, Budour?
BUDOUR HASSAN: I’ll tell you something. In July, when Israel introduced metal detectors outside Al-Aqsa Mosque, people, without waiting for leaders, without waiting for anyone—neither religious nor political leaders, it was young women and men, religious, secular, Muslim, Christian, atheist, some people who never prayed in their lives before—took to the streets and camped outside Al-Aqsa Mosque. And after two weeks of popular rebellion, that was leaderless and that was grassroots, they managed to topple the metal detectors, and they managed to, probably for the first time, defeat an Israeli plan in Jerusalem. And actually, it was them who imposed their decision on the Israeli administration.
And I believe that people in Palestine say, of course, the days of rage are important, and we expect that tomorrow there will be protests, but we also know that this is a long struggle. I mean, people will—some people will probably forget, but people in Jerusalem have been suffering from colonization and from repression, especially extreme repression for the last two years. And this is why they are perfectly aware that this is—this battle is not two days or three days or a few demonstrations here and there. It is a battle for Palestinians in Jerusalem, especially with mass residency revocations by Israel, with mass arrests, as well, home demolitions and demographic engineering that Israel tries to operate in occupied Jerusalem. People are aware that this is a very long battle that is going to need them to stand together and that is going to need them to resist Israel’s attempts to Judaize and expand its control over Jerusalem.
So, there are—I mean, I am sure that there will be protests today and tomorrow. In Damascus Gate, for example, there has been—there have been protests, and there have been confrontations in Ramallah, as well. And tomorrow, because it’s Friday and because it’s usually a very iconic day, after prayers, people, young women and men, will protest. But I think it’s a very long battle for Palestinians. And a friend said that it’s not in the White House where the identity, the Palestinian identity, of Jerusalem is denied; it’s in the streets of Jerusalem that people will continue to reinforce and stress the Palestinian identity of this city.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, we have 20 seconds. Do you agree with Saeb Erekat that the two-state solution is dead?
HANAN ASHRAWI: It has been, for some time now. But it was a very convenient myth, that kept the image, the facade, of a process ongoing, and that was used constantly to pacify those who felt that, you know, they’ve done their national duty, like the Europeans and others, by saying, “We are committed to the two-state solution,” but standing aside and allowing Israel to destroy it single-handedly. So I think, yes, this is—it’s final now, but the issue is what will take its place. I do not like to see any vacuum, in terms of political vacuums or even vacuums in terms of struggle and internal reform and so on. We need, as I said, a new national dialogue. And we need to reform our institutions and our strategies in order to face the tremendous challenges we are seeing materializing right now before our eyes.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Palestinian politician, speaking to us from the occupied West Bank in Ramallah; Budour Hassan, Palestinian writer, speaking to us from East Jerusalem; and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, here in New York.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Time magazine has named its 2017 Person of the Year: “The Silence Breakers,” the women who have spoken out against sexual harassment and assault. Stay with us.