Ashrawi interview: Crisis of confidence between people and government
Palestine, Politics, 8/7/1998
ArabicNews.com interviewed former Palestinian Minister of Higher Education Hanan Ashrawi, who resigned yesterday after a Palestinian Cabinet reshuffle. Ashrawi resigned over concerns toward corruption in and the effectiveness of the Palestinian government. Minister of State Abdul Jawad Saleh also resigned.
Arabic News: You resigned, what is your position toward corruption?
Hanan Ashrawi: There was a strong call, a demand, for reform, and I had asked for a comprehensive and thorough reform and pervasive reform -- structural, institutional, and legal -- in addition to individual reform.
This covers additional areas, particularly political decision-making. When I refused the new appointment it was because I felt that instead of using this opportunity to show that we can actually carry out this genuine reform, to hold people accountable so that nobody is above the law, to streamline and reform the whole system and rectify all the problems, also to revitalize our political strategic decision-making process.
We see merely an inflation in the number of ministers, more of the same and no political will to address the issues that face us. I said we need internal empowerment, building of institutions -- contemporary democratic institutions -- and the activation of the political will to take serious decisions pertaining to the crisis in the peace process.
So none of these things happened and I felt that in all honesty I cannot remain a part of this Cabinet.
AN: Would it be fair to summarize your position as looking for rule of law and transparency?
HA: That's one thing, yes. But that's not enough. I also wanted to show that we can build efficient, effective and accountable institutions, but also in the political decision-making. I am not satisfied with the way in which decisions are taken in the context of negotiations.
AN: Could you be more specific?
HA: I think it's extremely critical. I felt that we are succumbing to American pressure and not standing up to Israeli violations. And because the US could not stand up to Israel, it put pressure to go back to negotiate to try to sell the Israelis the American initiative, which is below the minimal position of the Palestinian position.
I believe we are in a reactive mode, not a proactive mode. We do not take initiatives; we do not have strategies; we are constantly being pushed into taking positions after the fact to accommodate Israeli intransigence under American pressure.
AN: What are your alternatives? Without US assistance what do you think can be done?
HA: Realistically we cannot always bail Israel and the US out. The problem is the fact is that the US is entirely powerless before the Israeli position, Israeli arrogance, and instead of standing firm and telling the US that it is responsible for its own initiative, it got us to accept the initiative a priori and to make concessions a priori instead of saying "that's it, we will not budge an inch unless the US undertakes its responsibility," because it gave assurances, guarantees commitments that it never carried out.
So instead of exposing this US position and saying we stand by your commitment and not even ours, we immediately shifted and gave the US a way out by starting these bilateral negotiations with the Israelis on the American proposal. It's not even ours.
So we should have stood firm. At the same time, even the American proposal should have been made clear -- it is conditional, and if Israel doesn't accept, even though we know that the US negotiates its positions with Israel beforehand, they (US) were taken by surprise when Israel rejected its own initiative.
And at the same time I believe the main source of empowerment in negotiations and everything is confidence between the leadership, and there is a crisis of confidence.
AN: Could you expand on local politics?
HA: I believe the one way to revive confidence is to build these efficient accountable, effective institutions, is to build a democratic system which is inclusive and comprehensive, is to ensure the rule of law and that we respect human rights and basic fundamental freedoms and pluralism in a way that would allow more people to participate in the national building process. And we ended up with self-serving individuals, making it a system that has no relationship to the people.
AN: If you are offering all these things, who is opposing you?
HA: The question is there's already a political culture that certainly does not respond to popular demand, that views politics as being separate from the people, that has vested interests, and if they feel they are above the law and unaccountable, then in a sense this type of work -- I'm not talking about individuals, I don't like to talk about names and people, I'm talking about issues -- obviously with this set of leadership, there is no way we can build a nation or we can negotiate effectively.
And I believe it's because--and I told the president this, very, very honestly and candidly-- the Cabinet should be streamlined, efficient, and effective, and it should bear the weight of responsibility. It should not be another burden on the president and on the people. And this kind of inflated Cabinet executive authority set up is certainly a burden on the people and on the president.
AN: What was his response?
He did understand that I was very candid, very thorough. We spent hours discussing every single issue I raised in a spirit of mutual respect and candor, total candor, and he understood my reasons.
I think he is working under severe constraints, political pressures, individual pressures, and he has a sense of loyalty which in some ways supersedes accountability.
AN: Sense of loyalty to whom? to his ministers and Cabinet?
HA: Yes. I told him that all ministers have to understand they are appointed, and they are within the law, subject to the law, and subject to accountability, and whoever appointed them has the right to remove them, and it's not a question of personal agenda.
AN: You don't think the timing of this incident would effect negotiations? You don't think this would weaken the president at this time?
HA: I told him this was a chance to really carry out this comprehensive thorough reform, effective reform -- not just individuals in the system -- and to empower yourself externally, to strengthen internal institutions. You can't face external challenges with a growing gap, with a growing crisis of confidence internally. That weakens your position externally, the negotiations with the Israelis, and the position with the Arab world and internationally.
AN: What are your political aspirations, you've been mentioned in the past as a potential candidate for president
HA:...I have no political aspirations. I will continue to serve the people and their cause. The issue is not a Cabinet position or presidential position. The issue is how can you best be most effective in serving the Palestinian cause.
AN: Can you be effective through the Legislative Council?
HA: Not alone, no. I certainly will be effective, I am effective through the Legislative Council, but I think I should continue to be a part of the formulation of the public discourse within civil society and of course politically as well. I will continue to speak for the Palestinian people.
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