Skip to content
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Hanan Ashrawi and the Palestinian Liberation Organization

Filed under: Palestinians

Hanan Ashrawi and the Palestinian Liberation Organization
Yasser Arafat and Hanan Ashrawi (Twitter/Terry Allen)

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi resigned from the PLO following Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of her request to become the head of the negotiations team with Israel after Dr. Saeb Erekat’s death.

Ashrawi sharply attacked Mahmoud Abbas for distancing PLO institutions from the decision-making process and demanded a democratic election process. However, she hid the real motive for her resignation.

She was the first woman elected to the PLO Central Council, a member of the organization’s executive committee, and an independent representative. Last week, Ashrawi announced her resignation from the committee following her meeting with the PA Chairman, at which she handed him her letter of resignation letter. Contrary to some estimations that Abbas would reject her letter, Abbas informed her a few days later that he would accept her resignation.

The PLO Executive Committee. Chairman Abbas is flanked by Erekat and Ashrawi. 2018
The PLO Executive Committee. Chairman Abbas is flanked by Erekat and Ashrawi. 2018. (Arab American University)

Thus, Ashrawi ended her long career in the PLO. She burst into the Palestinian and international consciousness as a talented spokesperson (fluent in English) for the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference in 1991 following the first intifada’s outbreak. Over the years, she advanced in the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, reaching high to the top of both, mostly because of her sharp verbal skills. Ashrawi led attacks on the State of Israel and was a prominent feminist and Christian activist in the traditional Palestinian society.

Over the years, she has participated in negotiations with Israel, been elected as a member of the Palestinian Parliament, established a Palestinian human rights organization, and served as Minister of Higher Education in the Palestinian government.

After Mahmoud Abbas accepted her resignation, she went to the media and accused the PA Chairman of pushing the PLO executive committee out of the decision-making process, promoting his associates, and effectively neutralizing the body that was supposed to make the decisions for the Palestinians.

She cited as an example Abbas’ decision to resume the Palestinian Authority’s civilian and security coordination with Israel without consultation with the leadership of the PLO and that Abbas did not name a replacement for Erekat as the director of the PLO executive committee so that he could continue controlling the organization.

Ashrawi used her resignation to highlight herself as a combatant for democracy and PLO reforms and called for elections that would change the Palestinian political system with goals set on integrating the younger generation, men and women alike.

The Real Reason for Ashrawi’s Resignation

Hanan Ashrawi contends that the reason for her resignation from the PLO Executive Committee is because of Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to renew civilian and security ties with Israel on his own and the dictatorial manner in which he runs the PA. However, according to senior PA officials, her resignation was due to only personal motives and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of her demand to be appointed Dr. Saeb Erekat’s successor (who died of Coronavirus) as head of the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel.

Senior Fatah officials wondered: Where has Ashrawi been until now? Only recently she was suddenly struck with an enlightened understanding regarding the “dictatorial” ways Mahmoud Abbas runs the PLO and the Palestinian Authority?

Ashrawi also did not get along with former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who suspected her of subversion because of her extensive ties in the United States and the international community. According to a senior PLO source, Mahmoud Abbas was equally displeased with Ashrawi – and that is an understatement. He suspected her desire to replace Erekat as a move for political power to place herself among the heirs to the leadership of the ruling Fatah movement.

According to a senior PA official, Mahmoud Abbas is in no hurry to appoint a replacement for Erekat as head of the negotiating team with Israel. Senior PA officials estimate that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will require six months to a year to resume negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. Biden places the Corona pandemic and the severe economic crisis as priorities before the Middle East.

At the moment, Mahmoud Abbas is considering the appointment of Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh as the head of the negotiating team with Israel. It is unclear, however, if Shtayyeh is willing to give up his position as prime minister.

A senior PA official commented that the head of the negotiating team with Israel is a very sensitive position, and Erekat’s replacement must be a confidant of Mahmoud Abbas. Ashrawi is clearly not in this position. It is also noted that the new negotiator must have good personal relations with Israeli leaders with an ability to build trust, know Hebrew, and be able to manage a large team with dozens of members, including senior PA officials.

“Hanan Ashrawi has these skills,” the senior official said, “however the powerful axis of the PA, headed by General Majed Faraj and Hussein al-Sheikh, is not ready to receive instructions from her since Ashrawi does not even belong to the Fatah movement.”

Journalist Daoud Kuttab, a close acquaintance of Hanan Ashrawi and of Christian descent, published on several websites on December 14, 2020, his support for her. Kuttab stated that Ashrawi represents the Christian Palestinians who “are a fundamental part of the Palestinian national struggle.”

In the article, he backed Ashrawi’s criticism of the decline of the PLO that is empty of all function and content. She expressed the need for a democratically-elected leadership representing the younger generation (13 million Palestinians) in the territories and the Palestinian diaspora.

There is nothing new about Daoud Kuttab’s article. In recent years, hundreds of such pieces were published by Palestinian journalists, academics, and politicians in the territories and around the world, reporting on the weakening of the PLO and of Mahmoud Abbas’ dictatorial control since 2005.

It appears that Daoud Kuttab’s article is mainly intended to express sympathy and support for his friend, Hanan Ashrawi. Unfortunately, he chose to ignore the main reason for her resignation as cited by senior PLO officials: Mahmoud Abbas rejected her demand to replace Erekat as head of the Palestinian team to negotiate with Israel. Even in Palestinian politics, in the end, everything is personal.

Ashrawi against Morocco

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas made a strategic decision to no longer attack Arab countries that choose to join the process of normalization with Israel. Accordingly, he instructed senior PA officials and the Fatah movement not to make media comments regarding the normalization of Morocco with Israel.

However, Ashrawi, who resigned from the PLO, recently interviewed on a U.S. television channel and sharply attacked Morocco’s decision to declare normalization with Israel and President Trump’s decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty in the Western Sahara, saying it contradicted UN resolutions.

Ashrawi’s remarks provoked a great deal of anger in Morocco, and she was met with harsh criticism on social media.

Many internet surfers called her remarks a “provocation.” Abdessamad Bencherif, director of the al-Maghribia TV channel, wrote on his Facebook page: “Do you want to incite the Palestinian street against Morocco and mobilize the anger and rage against it? Does the Palestinian problem need it? You are wrong when you link the Western Sahara problem to the Palestinian problem, and you hurt the Moroccan people’s love for Palestine.”

One political activist wrote: “We will not accept your intervention in the internal affairs of Morocco; we will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Palestinians.”

It appears we shall be expecting sharp public criticism by Ashrawi of the PA and its head – a criticism she never voiced while she held positions in the PLO. This criticism may be justified on her part, and Ashrawi believes in it, but it stems mainly from her personal anger against PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who refused to appoint her as Saeb Erekat’s replacement as head of the negotiating team with Israel.