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Longtime Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi resigns

One of the best-known spokespeople for the Palestinian cause in the Western press, Ashrawi calls for reform in Palestine Liberation Organization in her resignation letter

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi at her office in Ramallah, January 31, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
PLO official Hanan Ashrawi at her office in Ramallah, January 31, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi announced on Wednesday that she had submitted her resignation from the pan-Palestinian organization.

In a letter publicly confirming her decision, Ashrawi said she’d notified Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in late November, and the resignation would take effect by the end of the year. Abbas accepted her resignation in a laconic statement on Wednesday evening.

According to widely circulated reports in Arabic-language media, Ashrawi was frustrated by the Palestinian Authority’s recent decision to renew security coordination with Israel after months of disconnect, a decision she allegedly said was made by Abbas alone.

The PA severed ties with Israel in May in protest of an Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank in accordance with US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan. Coordination between the two sides did not resume until the victory of US President-elect Joe Biden over Trump, which soothed Palestinian fears that annexation was still on the table.

Ashrawi said only that she and Abbas had “a candid and amicable discussion” when discussing her departure.

“Regrettably, news of my resignation was leaked from ‘senior sources’ in a misleading and irresponsible manner that led to conjecture and rumors,” Ashrawi said.

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi (Ahmad Gharabli/Flash90)

Ashrawi is a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee — the most powerful body in the organization recognized by the international community as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

In practice, the role of the PLO has diminished considerably since the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority. The PLO still exists in a largely symbolic manner, but the PA controls affairs on the ground in the West Bank.

“I believe it is time to carry out the required reform and to activate the PLO in a manner which restores its standing and role, including respecting the mandate of the Executive Committee rather than its marginalization and exclusion from decision-making,” Ashrawi said in her resignation letter.

“The Palestinian political system needs renewal and reinvigoration with the inclusion of youth, women and additional qualified professionals,” she added.

Along with her late colleague former PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat, who died of COVID-19 in November, Ashrawi had long been one of the Palestinian cause’s most visible advocates in the Western press. Her eloquent, academic English — Ashrawi received her doctorate in comparative literature in the United States — made her eminently accessible to Anglophone journalists seeking the official viewpoint in Ramallah.

After decades of pro-Palestinian activism, Ashrawi became the spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid peace talks with Israel. When the Palestinian Authority was formed in the mid-1990s, she became a minister in the nascent PA government before her resignation in 1998. Ashrawi was later elected to the Palestinian parliament in the 2006 elections on former prime minister Salam Fayyad’s Third Way ticket.

While considered a moderate in Palestinian politics, Ashrawi’s strong support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) made her a controversial figure in Israel. Her longtime association with more hardline figures, such as former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, also led to accusations that she was a convenient, moderate public face for less palatable elements of the Palestinian cause.

Ashrawi has been an advocate for accountability in Palestinian governance, having founded the Palestinian branch of Transparency International, known as AMAN.

Ashrawi said Wednesday she would remain active in Palestinian public life outside of the PLO when her resignation goes into effect at the end of December.

“I will continue to serve the Palestinian people and our just cause in every capacity outside public office,” Ashrawi said.

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