Former Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, Hanan Ashrawi, said she will not be running in the first elections for 15 years, opting instead to mentor a new generation of political leaders.
“I want to set an example that people can leave office,” she told Reuters.
“I have been supporting and mentoring many young men and women in different capacities… it’s important that I do that in a variety of ways, and I am,” she said between back-to-back meetings with diplomats at MIFTAH, her civil society organization to promote global dialogue and democracy.
Ashrawi, who was elected to the Palestinian parliament in 2006, declined to say who she was mentoring.
In December, Ashrawi resigned from her senior post in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), citing a need for reform and criticising what she called a lack of opportunities for women and young people.
In her public letter of resignation, Ashrawi said that the “issue is not personal or a career decision. Rather, it has to do with the current reality and future of Palestine, and with the imperative of the transfer of authority and responsibility.”
“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.
She concluded, “I will continue to serve the Palestinian people and our just cause in every capacity outside public office.”
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said that a legislative, presidential and National Council elections would be held in the coming months, as part of a warming of ties between Fatah and Hamas.
The elections will be held in three stages: the legislative on May 22, the presidential elections on July 31, and the elections for the National Council on August 31.
The last Palestinian elections for the Legislative Council were held in 2006, and Hamas won the majority, while presidential elections were held in 2005, and President Abbas won.
Born in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Ashrawi was an English professor when she became a familiar face on television during the first Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s, advocating her people’s quest for statehood.
She was catapulted onto the international arena when Yasser Arafat chose her as the spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the first public face-to-face talks between Palestinians, Israelis and Arab nations brokered by the United States and Russia at the Madrid Conference in 1991.
Ashrawi said she did not find “locking horns” with Israelis especially difficult, but that it took a while to “gain the respect, albeit the grudging respect, of the men with whom you work.”
She recalled her early days of activism, saying she was beaten by Israeli soldiers at protests where she feared for her life, years before coming face-to-face with Israeli officials at the negotiating table.
Ashrawi said her generation faced “real difficulty” opening up a male-dominated world.
“The battle is not to gain the individual respect, but to open up the vista for other women. That’s where the real test is,” she said.
“The worst thing for me is to be in a position where you feel you’re not making a difference, where you are not in a position where you can really affect change,” said Ashrawi.
“Whatever you do, you have to make a difference.”