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Denied Entry to US, Palestinian Diplomat Hanan Ashrawi on US “Peace Plan” & Israeli Political Crisis

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Israel will hold new elections after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government in six weeks of negotiations following the April 9 election. This marks the first time in Israeli history a prime minister-designate has failed to form a coalition government. The news comes as the United States is continuing to promote a controversial Middle East peace plan drawn up by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is in Israel today along with special envoy Jason Greenblatt. But the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the political crisis in Israel could kill the U.S. plan, which will be partially unveiled at a conference in Bahrain next month. Palestinian officials have vowed to boycott the conference and dismissed any attempts to tackle peace talks in the region without addressing human rights and the Israeli occupation. We speak with longtime Palestinian diplomat Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee. The United States recently denied Ashrawi a visa to enter the country.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: New elections have been called in Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government after six weeks of negotiations following the April 9th election. This marks the first time in Israeli history a prime minister-designate has failed to form a coalition government.

The news comes as the United States is promoting a controversial Middle East peace plan drawn up by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner is in Israel today along with special envoy Jason Greenblatt, but the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports the political crisis in Israel could kill the U.S. plan. The U.S. has scheduled a conference in Bahrain next month to unveil part of the plan. Palestinian officials have already vowed to boycott the conference and have dismissed any attempts to tackle peace talks in the region without addressing human rights and the Israeli occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where we’re joined by longtime Palestinian diplomat Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, recently in the news after the United States denied her a visa to enter the United States.

Well, it’s great to have you with us, Dr. Ashrawi. If you could start off by talking about this historic development? For the first time since Israel became a state, a prime minister, after election, was not able to form a government. What is the significance of this for Israel and for the Israeli Occupied Territories, where you are right now?

HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, basically, the main conflict within the Israeli political system is between the right and the far right and the ideological right. So the confrontation has been between the religious extremists and the political right wing on issues pertaining to the army and the religious recruitment of—and the recruitment of religious people to the army. This is one thing. This is one reason why the government wasn’t formed, because he couldn’t muster—Netanyahu couldn’t muster a majority, one.

But, two, other than his overweening pride and ambition, Netanyahu certainly wants, by any means possible, to avoid being legally pursued and prosecuted. He wanted full immunity for the indictments on issues of corruption, abuse of power and so on, and therefore he was willing to dissolve the parliament to preempt the president’s right to choose somebody else, to ask him or her to form a new government. So, this way, he preempted the president, dissolved parliament and called for elections, which are to be held in September.

The internal domestic issues and all the different contradictions within Israel, in many ways, and the shift to the extreme right and to the ideological and racist positions within the political circles in Israel have led to this impasse. And I think you’re going to see even more of that, because the peace camp has all but disappeared. There is no left opposition to speak of. And the Palestinian Israelis are being totally marginalized and excluded. And the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are only on the receiving end of what happens.

Now, when you talk about the so-called peace plans, the American timetable, in addition to the American substance dealing with the peace plan, has been formed on the basis of Israeli priorities and on the basis of Israeli domestic politics. And, therefore, every time something happens in Israel, this U.S. administration sort of mobilizes either to campaign for Netanyahu or to help him put together a coalition. And at the same time, the ball has been kicked down the road on this peace plan in order to give Israel more time to create more facts, and for the U.S. also to create more facts, to prejudge the real issues of negotiations and, at the same time, carry out diversionary tactics to say the issue is only an economic issue: “All we need to do is give the Palestinians a handful of or a fistful of dollars, and they will accept their captivity. We will make it more palatable or less unpleasant,” so to speak.

So, the issue now is that this relationship between the U.S. administration and Israel has subjected international law, the will of the international community, the imperatives and requirements of peace, as well as Palestinian rights, to this partnership in crime. How do we maintain this extremist coalition in Israel? How do we serve Netanyahu’s interests? And at the same time, how do we subject or even transform American policy to suit this extremist government’s priorities in Israel?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dr. Ashrawi, I want to turn to remarks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made Wednesday after the results were announced. He railed against former defense minister and far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman for refusing to back him, accusing Lieberman, who is of course right-wing, of being part of the left.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] It is just unbelievable, just unbelievable. Avigdor Lieberman is now part of the left? Avigdor Lieberman is part of the left. He is from the left’s bloc. You give him votes for the right, and he doesn’t give his vote to the right-wing government. This is what we see.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Dr. Ashrawi, that’s Netanyahu speaking Wednesday, calling Lieberman a part of the left. Could you respond to that?

HANAN ASHRAWI: I mean, that’s ridiculous. You can’t dignify that with a response, because Lieberman is known as one of the most extremist, right-wing, racist politicians in Israel, and he has been one of the mainstays of Netanyahu’s coalition. But, as usual, you know, the Israeli government is like the American administration: They sort of deal with manufactured facts.

But anyway, the thing is, Lieberman stands for the secular extreme right, and therefore, when Netanyahu sided with the religious extreme right, Netanyahu accused Lieberman of being a left-wing politician, when we know very well that there are several poles within the extreme right and the racist right and the ideological right. He represents the secular, racist right. And he’s in competition with Netanyahu, and has been, and relations have not been well between them. So, I don’t want to analyze Israeli politics, but, very clearly, you can brand or you can label anybody the way you want, if it suits your purposes. And this has been, you know, a constant trick of Netanyahu’s.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner giving his assessment of the situation in Palestine and the Trump administration’s peace plan. He was speaking earlier this month at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.

JARED KUSHNER: You’ve got, you know, Hamas, obviously, in Gaza, which has—which has just driven that place into the ground. And it’s really—I think the people are hostages to a terror organization. And that’s an unfortunate situation. And then, in the West Bank, I think you have people who are pretty repressed. And again, I think that they question whether the leadership is actually looking after their interests or not. And so, again, I think that for the Palestinians, the political aspirations are important. I do believe what we’ll put out will address a lot of their political aspirations and a lot of their dignity, that is important to us. …

We know what’s in the plan. We believe that it’s virtuous. We believe that it’s something that is beneficial to both sides. And it’s been very disheartening for us to see that the Palestinian leadership has basically been attacking a plan that they don’t know what it is, as opposed to reaching out. If they truly cared about making the lives of the Palestinian people better, I think they would have taken different decisions over the last year, maybe over the last 20 years.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Jared Kushner giving his assessment of the situation in Palestine, criticizing the Palestinian leadership, saying if they cared about Palestinians, they would have taken a different approach. Again, Jared Kushner in Israel today along with the Middle East envoy, Greenblatt, who is the former real estate lawyer for Donald Trump. Of course, the Israeli U.S. ambassador to Israel, Friedman, is Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer. Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, if you can talk about this plan and what Jared Kushner said about the Palestinian leadership and the plans of the leadership not to participate in the Bahrain talks, what they call a workshop?

HANAN ASHRAWI: Yeah. Well, actually, this is quite—yeah, it’s a workshop. Actually, this is quite a large topic, because, in many ways, it encapsulates everything that’s wrong with this administration and their foreign policies and their total disdain for international law and for the rights of the Palestinian people. It’s ironic that somebody like Jared Kushner is talking about or appointing himself as being more concerned about the Palestinian people’s well-being than the Palestinian leadership. Does he want a regime change? It’s been tried before. Is he looking for collaborators? I know that they are trying to get collaborators to go to this conference or to this workshop.

But it’s the American administration that has severed ties, that has closed down our office in Washington, that has closed down the consulate general in Jerusalem, which was opened in 1844, and now turned us into a Palestinian affairs unit within the illegally placed American Embassy in Jerusalem. They have decided to accept Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem, the way later on they accepted Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights. They have attempted to destroy, to defund the UNRWA and to redefine the Palestinian refugees. These are the core issues on which peace is based. They have refused to acknowledge the '67 borders. They have refused to acknowledge the two-state solution—i.e. Palestinian sovereignty, Palestinian freedom and independence. And now what they're trying to say—they have, of course, defunded Palestine completely, including our hospitals, our schools, our infrastructure, including scholarships given to students to study in the States and so on.

So, in a sense, what they’ve done is they’ve bashed the Palestinians. They’ve punished the Palestinians. They think that we have to submit, that we have to surrender, and we have to declare that we are defeated, as Daniel Pipes said and Jared Kushner echoed, that they have to get it into our heads that we are a defeated people.

Our response is that we are not defeated. We may be under occupation. We may be constantly subject to all sorts of punitive measures and threats and blackmail and immoral, illegal steps by Israel and the U.S. But our spirit has not been defeated. And we have persisted. And we are a resilient people. And we will continue, because we have rights, and our political agenda is firmly based on total respect for human rights, for international law, for international humanitarian law and, of course, for international precedent after the Second World War, where the weak and the vulnerable are supposed to be protected by a global rule of law, and the strong and coercive and oppressive powers have to be held in check and have to be held accountable by international law.

So we know what our rights are. Foremost among them is our right to self-determination, to freedom, to dignity on our own land. By trying to tell us, you know, “You have to submit, you have to accept defeat, and we will force you to turn the Palestinian issue of freedom and sovereignty into an issue of dollars and a handout to Palestinian people,” when we can build the best, the most vibrant, robust economy, if we are in control of our own lives, our own lands, our own resources, our airspace, our entry-exit points, our territorial waters—we are capable of having a vibrant economy. We do not want any handouts. What we want is our freedom and our ability to control our own lives and resources in order to give the Palestinian people the prosperity they deserve. There can be no prosperity, no development under occupation. And prosperity doesn’t lead to peace. This has been tried before, and it has failed.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Dr. Ashrawi, I’d like to turn to one of Trump’s key advisers on the Middle East, Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who was also Trump’s former real estate lawyer. This is Greenblatt addressing the U.N. Security Council earlier this month.

JASON GREENBLATT: It is truly shameful that in the halls—that in these halls, there have been nearly 700 resolutions condemning actions of Israel, the region’s only real democracy, yet not one condemning Hamas’s attacks on Israelis or its abuse and neglect of the very people it purports to govern. Forget about Israel for a minute. How does that help Palestinians, especially Palestinians in Gaza? Forgive me for pointing out in the—the elephant in the room, which is that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, not Israel, are the problem here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt speaking at the Security Council earlier this month. You responded to his remarks by tweeting, quote, “This self-appointed advocate/apologist for Israel claims not only to know what’s good for the Palestinians but also claims that he knows them better than they know themselves. Patronising, condescending hubris!” you tweeted, Dr. Ashrawi. So, could you talk about the kinds of people who are advising President Trump, and what you actually expect will happen at the so-called workshop next month in Bahrain?

HANAN ASHRAWI: Yeah. Well, my tweet was not in response to this statement, where, as usual, blame the victim or look the other way, avoid the fact of the occupation itself, avoid the fact that Israel has committed hundreds and thousands of human rights violations and has refused to comply with all U.N. resolutions, every single one of them. That’s why there are resolutions against Israel, not because people choose to discuss Israel, but because Israel persists in violating international law. And this sense of condescending arrogance, that “We know what’s good for the Palestinians. Look at Hamas”—well, we know what are the problems, the domestic issues we have. What we need to do is ensure that the occupation ends and that the U.S. does not become complicit or a partner in the crime of occupation. Now, that’s the real problem.

You have here extreme right-wing ideologues. Trump has put together a team. As you rightfully pointed out, they are either bankruptcy lawyers, or they are real estate lawyers and his brother—and his son-in-law, sorry. “Nepotism” is not a word here. And all of them are committed to Israel. They are committed ideologically to Israel. In religious terms, Israel, to them, is, you know, the gift of God, therefore somebody like Friedman can speak openly and say that Israel is on the side of God. I wonder what God will do without Israel being on its side. I mean, this is ridiculous. This is the first I’ve heard of such a statement. Or even somebody like Pompeo, who says that God sent Trump to save Israel from Iran.

I mean, is this how you make 21st century politics? Is this how you deal with geopolitical realities based on international law, on parity, on the recognition of the imperatives of peace and coexistence and so on? Or do you start invoking biblical text and the Old Testament and so on in order to justify contemporary injustices? And then somebody like Greenblatt and others keep saying, “Well, this is an outdated argument. These are archaic arguments. You don’t go back to your old arguments,” while they’re going back and reciting the Bible to us, a 3,000-year-old text, as being the basis of 21st century decisions. And yet we are not supposed to talk about freedom, human rights, dignity: These are really calcified arguments.

So, there is a certain degree of blind commitment emanating from a very strong ideological fundamentalist faith that has dominated decision-making. And that’s why we feel that this is extremely dangerous. Whenever you bring God into a conflict, you turn it into a religious conflict. It becomes a matter of absolutism, absolute right versus absolute wrong, and therefore you can justify whatever you do to the other because you negate the very humanity and all the rights of the other.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi—

HANAN ASHRAWI: And this kind of team that he—yeah?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to the U.S. denying you a visa to come to the United States?

HANAN ASHRAWI: Again, I’m sorry, I keep smiling whenever you ask me a question, because, I mean, from the ridiculous to the sublime, or vice versa. It’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s no reason to deny me a visa. I exercise my right to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of expression. I thought this is something that the American system totally respects. I don’t see any justification. I have not been given any justification. I haven’t even been given a denial in writing. I was just told that Washington rejected the visa application.

And as you know—I’ve written about this—I’ve been to the States, you know, scores, if not hundreds, of times. I studied there. I have family there. I have, you know, grandchildren, daughter, sister and nephews and nieces and so on.

But this is, again, another way in which they sink to certain personal levels even to punish people who stand up to them, who disagree with them, who persist in defending Palestinian rights. I’m not going to change my positions, my principles and my total commitment to Palestinian rights in order to avoid being bashed by the American administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ashrawi, you—

HANAN ASHRAWI: We have stood up—

AMY GOODMAN: You tweeted—after you were denied the visa by the Trump administration, you tweeted, “I’ve met (& even negotiated with) every Sec. of State since Shultz, & every President since George H. W. Bush.” But I wanted to ask you also about your recent meeting with Matt Duss, the foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders. Can you talk about where you met and what you discussed?

HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, I did, yes, issue a statement. I’ve known Matt for some time, since he was the head of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, and now he’s the senior adviser to Bernie Sanders on international affairs. He’s a very knowledgeable person. He’s somebody who does his homework, in the sense that he studies the issues, he meets the people. And he’s a very thoughtful person, well read, which is a rarity these days. You need people who have knowledge, who do not, you know, sort of move on the basis of ignorance.

And we talked about, of course, Bernie Sanders. We were saying how ironic it was that Palestinians were pushing for a Jewish president for the U.S. when the Israelis were pushing for an extreme evangelical president for the U.S. Anyway, we feel that the position of Bernie Sanders, among others—we’re not singling him out as being the one person. There’s a whole spectrum now, fortunately, in Congress, and in the Senate and the House, people who have the courage to speak out, people who have the courage to call the occupation by its name and who have the foresight to try to address the real issues and to see how to end the occupation, how to bring justice to the Palestinian people, how to make this narrative acceptable instead of people trying to silence and distort the Palestinian narrative and voice.

And fortunately now, within American public opinion and universities, among groups, minorities, women’s groups and so on, we see an emerging sense of liberation, of the ability to speak out, to address justice for the Palestinians without being labeled anti-Semitic and without having the law distorted, like BDS and so on, to criminalize anybody who tries to work in ways that are consistent with his or her conscience in defending Palestinian rights and seeking a just peace in the region.

So, among them, there’s Bernie Sanders. And we have listened carefully, and we see a progression in terms of his position. I’ve met other candidates, as well, who came to Palestine. I met Matt. We had a strong—a good meeting in my office at the PLO headquarters. And we sent messages to Bernie Sanders, as well as we send messages directly also to others, because we believe we can have a real engagement, a genuine, candid contact and discussion and conversation on the issues, because the strident language of hate and distortion and so on is really counterproductive and dangerous to both sides. And that’s why I think the more conversations we have, the more discussion, the more candid talks that we have, the more we clarify the issues, the better would be and the more informed would be decision-making in the U.S.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Ashrawi, before we conclude, if you could just say what you expect will happen next month at the June meeting in Bahrain? Are there Arab countries who are participating? And Palestinians, including yourself, the Palestinian leadership, are they boycotting the secret Kushner plan?

HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, the Kushner plan is not much secret when it comes to the real issues—Jerusalem and refugees and borders and the two-state solutions, and settlements being illegal, and so on. They’ve done everything to prejudge and destroy the real issues. Now they’re talking about economic issues, as they said, and they’re trying to get the Arabs to foot the bill in order to give the Palestinians a handout and in order to integrate Israel economically within the region. So, it is putting the Arab Peace Initiative on its head, asking the Arabs to normalize with Israel, while Israel is still an occupying power, occupying Palestinian land, annexing Palestinian land, occupying Arab Syrian land, annexing Arab land, and so on. This is really rewarding the aggressor and trying to normalize before Israel is brought to compliance with international law, number one.

Number two, I think this whole workshop is much ado about nothing. There’s a lot of talk trying to persuade people that the U.S. has something to say, something to do. They’re going around trying to persuade Arabs to attend. I don’t think this will have any significance now, also given the fact that their ally and best friend Israel is in deep political trouble, and their man in the region, Netanyahu, is still seeking re-election.

So, I would say that they managed to get some Arab countries. They convinced Bahrain to host this, for heaven’s sake. They convinced Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to immediately announce that they’re attending. Even Qatar announced that it’s attending. I know that there are many countries who have other political calculations and interests, and who do not want to stand up to the U.S. And the U.S. can use different means to threaten, bash, cajole, bribe—whatever they want—other countries. This administration has used these tactics.

With us, they use, you know, punitive measures, sanctions. They’re very cruel measures. They can, you know, punish the sick, in terms of defunding hospitals in Jerusalem. Or they can punish students by suspending their scholarships or whatever. So they have done this. They have stopped any funding on the Palestinians, ironically. And then they are saying, “We’re holding an international workshop to see how to make the Palestinian lives better, how to give them more quality of life,” while carrying out an economic interdiction of the region.

Now, we are not stupid. And I think that this not only insults our own intelligence; it’s a real insult to the real requirements of peace and to the international community and to the people who are attending and to the people who are trying to justify their attendance by saying, “Let the leadership do something good for its own people.” Well, get the Israeli boot off our neck. Stop the American boycott and American threats to defund all of Palestine. Get Israel to give us our money that it is stealing and withholding, our customs funds. And that’s what we need. Then deal with the real issues. The real issues are self-determination, freedom, sovereignty, dignity, rights on our own land. That’s what we need. And if you avoid all the real issues and start devising distractions and diversionary tactics, they’re not going to get you anywhere. And I doubt whether the Arabs are willing to foot the bill.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ashrawi, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Palestinian diplomat and scholar, elected an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2009, became the first woman to hold a seat in the highest executive body in Palestine. She was just denied a visa by the United States government to come into this country.

When we come back, we go to Oklahoma, where for the first time a pharmaceutical company, Johnson & Johnson, is on trial for its role in the opioid crisis. The attorney general of Oklahoma calls them a drug, quote, “kingpin.” Stay with us.

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