Hanan Ashrawi is a name familiar to anyone who has even casually followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as she has been at the forefront, particularly the media forefront, of the campaign to put Palestinian grievances front and center on the world stage. Ashrawi, like her counterpart Saeb Erekat, is American-educated, fluent in English, and has immense talent in presenting Palestinian terrorism and irredentism in a vocabulary that grates, as minimally as possible, on the western ear.
On Monday night she spoke at Emory University, and updated her repertoire to take in the latest developments. The Second Lebanon War, she said, “proved [Israel] could not defeat a nation fighting for freedom.” Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy that is encamped in southern Lebanon, is a nation? That is fighting for its freedom by abducting IDF soldiers in Israel? That’s a novel take. Regarding Palestinian politics, she said: “Violence and extreme ideology of Israel feeds violence and extremism on the other side. And that’s what led to the election of Hamas.”
Ashrawi is a prisoner of one of the great imperishable cultural dementias of the Arab world—namely, the imperative always to blame everything on Israel, no matter how implausible, no matter how ludicrous, no matter the extent to which doing so undermines your own interests and credibility and contributes to the spread of a mania that has been singularly detrimental to the advancement of the people you claim to speak for. This is why it was such a shock, in the summer of 2006, to see several Sunni regimes denounce Hezbollah for instigating a war with Israel. Granted, those statements were far more expressions of concern over Iran’s outsized ambitions in the region than defenses of Israel, but still—they indicated that a ray of sunlight, however fleeting, had appeared in the Middle East. Ashrawi is having none of that, and prefers the good old days of the intifada, when Israel was the first and only object of Arab scorn in the Middle East.
In her speech Ashrawi bemoaned the economic decrepitude of the West Bank and Gaza, and wallowed in the feelings of hopelessness she says have cast all of Palestine into shadow. If Ashrawi wishes to locate the cause of these problems, she need only look to the Palestinian terror war of 2000-2005, a war Ashrawi spent barnstorming the western media, explaining away every suicide bombing and act of Palestinian depravity as the understandable responses of a helpless, victimized people. She said at Emory that “there is a very clear power asymmetry. One side holds all the cards, all the power, and the other side is entirely helpless.” Think about that choice of words for a moment: entirely helpless. Ashrawi is an advocate for the permanent infantilization of her people and the complete denial of their moral and political agency. (I suppose she gets more time in front of the cameras this way.)
The true liberation of Palestine—I’m not holding my breath—will require in its first act the rejection of cynical hustlers like Ashrawi, who have made careers out of sending the Palestinian people down one dead end street after another, only to appear later on television screens, decrying their suffering. Free Palestine, indeed.