'Peace is dead. My people will no longer be victims'

Leading Palestinian moderate warns that the Oslo accords are irrelevant on eve of crucial Clinton-Arafat talks to end the violence
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The Independent Online

Hanan Ashrawi bursts into her home with an energy born of exhaustion, jet-lagged, angry, scornful of Israel and Western journalists in almost equal measure, complaining of toothache, wolfing down chicken, potatoes and hot peppers, her white cat Labneh watching aloofly from the carpet. The future will be difficult. "It's not just the dark night of the soul when you have the resurgence of hostilities and a loss of faith in the 'peace process'."

Hanan Ashrawi bursts into her home with an energy born of exhaustion, jet-lagged, angry, scornful of Israel and Western journalists in almost equal measure, complaining of toothache, wolfing down chicken, potatoes and hot peppers, her white cat Labneh watching aloofly from the carpet. The future will be difficult. "It's not just the dark night of the soul when you have the resurgence of hostilities and a loss of faith in the 'peace process'."

Oslo is dead. That is her message. Only United Nations Resolutions are left.

Palestine's most famous woman has just returned from lecturing American universities on the catastrophe befalling her people, trying to persuade the Gore and Bush foreign policy teams to understand the realities of the Middle East, condemning the powerful US press for its biased reporting of theconflict. A member of the original 1991 Madrid-Palestinian delegation and one of the few Palestinians to speak her mind to Yasser Arafat, Ms Ashrawi's job as an English literature don lets her speak with unique eloquence and contempt.

When I ask if it's all over for Oslo, she nods. When I ask if the UN's 1967 Security Council Resolution 242 - demanding an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory in return for the security of all states in the area and refusing the acquisition of land through force - is now the only possible peace, she nods twice more, between gulps of tabouleh and rice. When I ask if that means the closing down of all Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land and the return of East Jerusalem, her voice sharpens.

"All the settlements will have to go - the moment you accept otherwise, you have legitimised the acquisition of territory by force. The basis of Oslo was 242 and [the reaffirming] Resolution 338, but Oslo violated that. It reinterpreted 242. The Israelis never respected any of the Oslo withdrawal timetable. What is happening now is a result of Oslo. We've been warning this would happen, that there would be an implosion or explosion. And now we are proven right, it's too late and there's a tragic loss of life."

To listen to Hanan Ashrawi - always associated with moderation and humanity - is to experience the historical shock of what has happened in the Middle East these past six weeks. "The Palestinian people feel victimised by this 'peace process'," she says angrily. "The 'process' is reinvented all the time to suit Israel. And America thinks as long as there is a 'process', God is in his heaven. Now the Americans are indulging in crisis management and individual legacies - the people in Washington have come to the end of their careers."

It's also clear Ms Ashrawi would like the careers of several reporters to come to an end. "When I visited The Washington Post, I asked them what had happened to the idea of journalistic integrity. There's now a total disjunction between the pictures of what is happening - the Palestinian casualties - and the language; this is the product of America's processed language and the Israeli spin machine."

She leans back on the sofa in exhaustion. "Now we are all being fed well-worn phrases: 'peace process', 'back on track', 'ceasefire', 'time-out', 'put an end to violence', 'Arafat to restrain/control his people', 'do we have the right peace partner?' This is a racist way of looking at the Palestinians and it obscures the fact that we've suffered an Israeli occupation all along. When newspapers ask if Palestinians deliberately sacrifice their children, it's an incredibly racist thing to do. They are dehumanising the Palestinians. The press and the Israelis have rid us of the most elemental human feelings in a very cynical, racist discourse that blames the victims."

The phone rings - it's like a clock chime in the Ashrawi home in Ramallah, the chirruping of the mobile, the repeated, tiring explanation of why Oslo does not work - and only after a minute of silence can she continue. "I always say Oslo could lead to a disaster or a state. It's not an agreement, remember. It says specifically that it is a 'declaration of principles'. The danger was always that the 'peace of the brave' could turn into the 'peace of the grave'."

When she is relaxed Hanan Ashrawi tells her narrative in sequence. "Let's reduce all this to its simplest components," she says. "Occupation is the cause of our problem. We already made the historic compromise by accepting 22 per cent of Mandate Palestine [the rest now being in the State of Israel]. In 1967, Israel occupied the remaining 22 per cent - 242 deals only with this remaining 22 per cent of Palestine. We said we would be reasonable, pragmatic. But now Israel says it will keep its 78 per cent and see how much it wants to keep of our 22 per cent - in Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and so on. So they want to sign away our rights."

The new "intifada" will continue - "in different shapes, different forms" - she believes. "We are not fond of mass suicide, but we want the right to resist occupation and injustice. Then the moment we say 'resist', the Israelis pull out the word 'terrorist' - so a child with a stone becomes the 'legitimate' target for Israeli sniper fire and a high-velocity bullet.

"Ultimately, there will have to be peace. But any unfair, unjust, partial, imposed peace will be a postponement or an invitation to further conflict."

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