The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, June 07, 2002  

Time for a Palestinian Prime Minister

It has become abundantly, and painfully, clear that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has no intention of meeting with, let alone entering negotiations with, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Unconstructive as that stance might be on its own, it is further compounded by Sharon’s inability -- or reluctance or disinclination -- to propose an alternative.

Oddly enough, the Palestinian Authority’s newly established constitution may just hold the key to solving this dilemma. John K. Cooley, former Mid-East correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, writing in that paper today (“Palestinians Need Hanan Ashrawi”), suggests Sharon meet with Hanan Ashrawi, whom he proposes as Palestinian prime minister -- a new post in a new cabinet.

Arafat, as head of state, already has been urged by influential Palestinians to appoint Ashrawi to the position as head of the Palestinian government. Cooley argues Ashrawi could move the Palestinians toward democratic principles and clean up the corruption that lingers in some quarters of Arafat’s leadership.

She’s certainly qualified for the post. Educated at the American University of Beirut and with a doctorate (in comparative literature) from the University of Virginia, Ashrawi created and then ran the English department at the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University, later becoming dean of the faculty of arts. Not easily intimidated, “Ashrawi found herself physically barring her classrooms to raiding Israeli soldiers who sometimes came to beat and arrest her nationalist-minded Arab students,” Cooley reports.

This experience led Ashrawi to establish the Human Rights Action Project, a post from which she served as a critical point of contact between the Palestinians, Israeli, and foreign diplomats, academics, and journalists. Ashrawi was spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 to 1993 peace talks, was a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and served as minister of higher education and research in the Palestinian Authority from 1996 to 1998.

Ashwari is from Ramallah, which provides her with genuine bona fides among Palestinians in the West Bank, and is from a Christian family, thereby offering the Israelis a non-Arab negotiating partner.

Yes, Cooley recognizes Ashwari would face significant challenges. “She might face tough opposition from senior or Muslim Palestinians annoyed or envying the respect she commands among Westerners and Israelis -- or simply because she is a woman and a Christian,” he writes. He doesn’t mention that past statements by Ashwari aggravated the Israelis and made her persona non grata among many influential American Jews.

“But,” he says, “giving her a large share of responsibility for ending violence and moving to a peaceful, two-state system might prove the bold move that could help bring a longed-for peaceful closure.”

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