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14 May 2019

Why is the Trump administration afraid of Hanan Ashrawi?

By: Daoud Kuttab
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Ted Koppel, the anchor of American late night serious talk programme, Nightline, came to Jerusalem at the height of the first intifada in 1989.

I remember meeting him and his team at a hotel. He wanted to hold a series of debates that included prominent Palestinian and Israeli leaders talking about the conflict, in order to help the American public to understand this complicated decade-long conflict. He wanted individuals who could help him make the case for his people.

We went over a few names and I remember suggesting the name of an English literature professor at Bir Zeit University, Dr Hanan Ashrawi. She was active with the right to Education campaign after repeated Israeli decisions to arbitrarily close Palestinian higher education institutions, including Bir Zeit University.

She was also known to many because of her involvement in the legal committee to help detained students, and was well liked by all. I had known Hanan for some time - her husband Emile is an avid photographer and a relative of our family, and the the two had met while they were both part of the Balaleen theatre group in Jerusalem.

Ted Koppel's team accepted the recommendation and invited Hanan Ashrawi and she was an instant hit. Her performance would quickly propel her to the top of Palestinian political structures even though she had no official position, and at the Madrid conference two years later in 1991, she was chosen as the official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation headed by Dr Haider Abdel Shafi from Gaza.

Hanan tried to continue in her beloved academic career but had to give it up when she was elected by the Palestinian National Council in 2006 to be a member of the PLO's executive committee, despite opposition from some of its top leaders.

An avid supporter and believer in nonviolence, Hanan has continued to represent Palestinians, and as she said in her most recent twitter message, has met every secretary of state since George Shultz, and every US president since George Bush Sr.

Hanan and Emile have many relatives in the US, where Hanan had received her PhD at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in English Literature. They have travelled to the US many times before and after the US recognition of the PLO without any problem. Her requests for visas have never been rejected.

Until this week.
For weeks, the rumour had been spreading on social media that her most recent request for a visa to speak at a Boston University and other US thinktanks was rejected. On Monday, she confirmed that after years of travelling sometimes three or four times a year to the US, her visa application had been denied, barring her from the US where her daughter and grandchildren are living.

There is no way to divorce the decision to bar Ashrawi, from the current US foreign policy of trying to delegitimise Palestinian nationalism.

Not only has the Trump administration acted against the Palestinian presence (closing the mission in DC), but has also reversed US policy on internationally accepted issues, such as the rights of Palestinian refugees, the unresolved status of Jerusalem and the fact that Palestinian lands are under occupation.

Furthermore, a quick look at the rhetoric of the Trump administration's point man - Jason Greenblatt, is particularly telling: Of his 233 tweets in March and April, nearly 79 percent are either pro-Israel, or anti-Palestinian.

Greenblatt recently attacked a Palestinian school for painting a mural of a well-loved Palestinian national leader who was a supporter of the unarmed first intifada, and has written with  contempt of Palestinians, and patronisingly towards their leaders.

The Trump administration is trying its hardest to force Palestinians to engage with it, after doing everything possible to push them away, and treating Palestinian national aspirations with contempt and disregard.

Perhaps the most vivid example of the Trump team's bankruptcy, is expressed in Greenblatt's tweet, after her visa was rejected, that stated Ashrawi is more than welcome to the White House.

In other words, if Ashrawi wants to visit her daughter and grandchildren or - God forbid, give a lecture at an American University - she is not allowed, but if she wants to break the current Palestinian decision not to engage with this anti-Palestinian administration, then the doors of the White House are open. Such a callous invitation is typical of the chutzpah we've come to expect of the US-Israel alliance.

Of course, America has a sovereign right to decide who it bars from entering its territorial borders, but such an abuse of their powers, against one of the most respected Palestinian public figures, is nothing short of political blackmail.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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