Letter from Dr. Hanan Ashrawi to President Bill Clinton
President William Jefferson Clinton
The White House (temporarily)
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
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
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
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
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
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 a 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
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
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.
Palestinian Legislative Council Member, Jerusalem