Interview with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi - 'If a woman is to succeed in politics she has to bring her gender with her.'
October 13, 2008

All eyes are on the new Kadima head Tzipi Livni. Do you think she will be able to form a coalition government or do you think Israel will go to early elections?

I think both Kadima and Labor and even Shas would like to avoid early elections despite their protestations because it is clear that there is a distinct shift to the right in the Israeli public and Likud has positioned itself to make maximum use of this shift and therefore is pushing for early elections. However Kadima and Labor understand that they are losing some of their seats currently and their support from the public and therefore need time to reorganize. So they might opt for maintaining a coalition government and avoiding early elections and try to create some system that will not rock the boat but will function for a while. So depending on what each constituent of the coalition wants for its own self interest there might be an agreement. That is, if Shas gets the money or the seat that it wants; if Labor gets again the agenda issues on the negotiations table or its own role in government. Shas of course wants guarantees on Jerusalem and negotiations. So itís like serving the cake in ways that would serve the interest of each party and ultimately make it self negate and incapable of taking any decisions seriously or taking any decisive step.

After his resignation, Ehud Olmert recently said that Israel should return the West Bank and east Jerusalem to the Palestinians, something he did not offer during his time in office. Why do you think Olmert chose to make such a statement now knowing he could not make any deals?

As in the nature of all epiphanies in political power, people usually declare them when they have nothing to lose, so as usual, it is too little too late. He knows heís no longer in office. He knows he cannot actively influence decision making but in a sense he can influence public opinion. It seems to me the value of such statements is in making them current, legitimate, and acceptable, and launching a public discourse or debate on issues where some taboos are broken. So despite the fact that it is too little too late, despite the fact that while he was in power he was pandering to the settlers and avoided any kind of confrontation, putting this on the record, at least in the public domain, may have some significance.

Do you think he was hoping Livni, assuming she becomes prime minister, would adopt these statements?

If he didnít do it, and couldnít, I donít know whether heís hoping that Livni will do it. But in some ways heís hoping that his legacy would, in a sense, be vindicated. I donít think he has much love lost for Livni, and he knows that she is going to face a tremendous challenge, even more than he did because added to all the backstabbing within Kadima and the coalition, you also have the added gender factor. So, she has quite a few battles on her hands and I doubt whether she will use this in order to move ahead and take daring, decisive decisions or whether this will serve only to curtail her freedom and to weaken her so that she wonít be able to make any decisions.

In general, how do the Palestinians view Livni, especially given that she has been heading the Israeli negotiations team since Annapolis? How much trust or distrust do the Palestinians have in her?

First of all, she hasnít been negotiating with all the Palestinians. The only people who know her are probably two or three people in the [Palestinian] negotiating team. So itís not a question of personal trust at all. It is a question of assessing her political position, her political record, and her public statements. And thatís how the Palestinian public as a whole judges a politician. I donít believe you negotiate on the basis of trust. You negotiate on the basis of honesty and candor, representing your people and their best interests. So our negotiating team should have focused on that rather than on whether they like or dislike or trust their counterparts; it is irrelevant. For example, sometimes the best agreements are signed between those who do not trust each other because then you leave nothing to chance. Sometimes people who like each other or trust each other avoid certain issues or try to appease each other and so on. So they donít sign airtight agreements. I think what we need now is not trust. What we need is a candid and courageous assessment of requirements for ending the occupation, of disengaging in a real sense after the ending of the occupation as a result of agreements that are based on international law and justice. Thatís what we need. Whoever is capable of delivering that on the Israeli side Ė fine. But it is not a personal call or judgment.

If Livni does become Israelís next prime minister, what kind of impact will this have on her negotiations with the Palestinians, if any?

Her public statements, and right now we judge only by her public statements, state that sheís going to proceed with negotiations, according to her declarations of intent, letís put it that way. She wants to move, and she wants to move rapidly. But also within the public discourse are positions pertaining to the refugees and Jerusalem that are difficult and would formulate obstacles to negotiations. So if not for negotiations for their own sake, Iím sure she would proceed with them. The question is what is her substantive position on negotiations? If you exclude Jerusalem and you negate the refugees, you are not going to get anywhere. Within her coalition she might have to make some sort of compromise with Shas over Jerusalem. She might promise Labor that she will proceed with negotiations and on the other hand she might look the other way like every Israeli leader has before her on settlement activities and their expansion.

Do you connect with Livni because she is, as you are, a female politician working in a male dominated world?

I understand that she has an added burden; I understand that she has more challenges. I may disagree with her politically but as a woman, I know what it means to be a female in an exclusively male club where the attacks can be very vicious, where attempts happen at de-legitimization or exclusion or undermining the standing of a womanÖ Itís very easy to judge women by more stringent standards. Itís very easy to try to bring women down through cruel means and so on. So that is one area in the political domain that I do understand, and I know what she is facing. But I also know that to succeed you must not adopt the current or prevailing male ethos, or attitude, or politics of power and intimidation. If a woman is to succeed in politics she has to bring her gender with her. Attempting to be a watered down version of the male politician wonít get you anywhere because there are always male politicians who will be even more vicious, more cruel, more power driven, rather than [focusing on] consensus, good governance, justice issues etc. If she is going to make a difference as a woman she is going to have to understand that she cannot fight discrimination against women but allow for discrimination against Palestinians. She cannot fight injustice at home but allow for the occupation to continue. She cannot fight for self-determination for women but negate self-determination for a whole Palestinian nation. She cannot fight for her own terrain as a woman and then rob a whole nation of its territory. So these things have to be part of her. She must be true to her gender.