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Ashrawi wishes Arafat good health -

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Ashrawi wishes Arafat good health

Reporter:

TONY JONES: Well joining us now from Ramallah is Hanan Ashrawi.

And we thank you for taking the time to join us.

And can I get you, first of all, to give your response to the news that Yasser Arafat has slipped
into a deeper coma?

DR HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: Yes, it is indeed a very sad state of affairs
and a cause for serious concern.

We knew that his situation was critical, but obviously he did take a turn for the worse overnight
and we can only wish him good health.

The problem is there's such a lack of information here that we do not yet know the cause, we do not
have a proper diagnosis, we do not have a proper prognosis and people are extremely alarmed.

TONY JONES: Do you suspect now, as some Palestinian officials are privately saying, that he will
now inevitably die, that his time is effectively nearly over?

DR HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, people have been trying to come to terms with the fact of the President's
mortality, somehow you end up taking him for granted, taking the presence leaders for granted, but
since we have seen him so frail and so weak and in need of medical attention, people are coming to
terms with that issue, although it is also extremely sad.

It will still be very traumatic at the national level because he is, after all, the father of the
nation.

He is, after all, a historical figure, a symbolic figure, a larger than life figure and somebody
who is seen as being very immediate to his people and therefore they have the sense of possession,
possessiveness about him.

No, it is sad, yes, and I hope that he does pull through, but if he doesn't, nevertheless it is
going to be very traumatic, very painful, collectively.

TONY JONES: Hanan Ashrawi, do you have any idea at all why the Palestinian Government has been
unable to get concrete and regular information about what exactly is wrong with him and what his
actual condition is?

DR HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes, we do know.

It seems, first of all, the diagnosis that we have, three possible diagnosis, from the medical
teams that came to Palestine gave us three options, but then they needed further tests in Paris.

In France, the law says that the wife, or the next of kin actually, has the right to determine the
amount and the nature of the information made public and, of course, the people who will visit, so
Suha Arafat has been controlling the flow of information and the number and identity of visitors
and it led almost to a state of siege, if not censorship, and filtering information and so on, and
that has fed the rumour mill, so to speak, that has created lots of conjecture, lots of rumours and
speculations and this has been entirely counter-productive.

Now we talk to the French authorities.

President Arafat is not a private person - he is a public figure, he is head of state - and
therefore, given all the...aside all the personal, emotional, whatever, family issues, there is a
public side to this and there are matters of state that have to be attended to and there is a whole
nation, people who have to know, who have the right to know what's happening and I think they will
be able to see him today, the delegation is going to see him, and we will have more immediate,
direct news later today probably.

TONY JONES: In fact, Hanan Ashrawi, I can tell you, we have just received wire service report that
the Palestinian delegation has arrived now at the hospital and we can assume from that that the
French Government has overruled this previous situation and that they will be seeing him very
shortly, if not right at the moment.

DR HANAN ASHRAWI: Right.

TONY JONES: Your response to that?

DR HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes, it is important that they do see him.

We knew that they were going to be able to see him today and I'm glad that they are there by his
bedside.

As I said, these are his own comrades, his own friends, people who have been with him all these
years and, at the same time, they are next in line, second in command, and they form the executive
and the legislative of the Palestinian Authority.

I'm hoping that they will be able to address us openly and candidly and give us a clear assessment
about his medical health, about what they saw first hand, about what they heard first hand from the
doctors, and this will go a long way towards allaying the fears of the people.

Even if the news is not good, at least it's reliable, that's what we need, and at least they will
have seen him.

And in a sense, it is a sort of part of the closure, part of national healing maybe even, that they
were able to talk to him.

TONY JONES: Do you have any idea at all why Suha Arafat has behaved as she has and why she made
that extraordinary outburst, accusing the, well, accusing Yasser Arafat's successors effectively of
trying to bury him alive?

DR HANAN ASHRAWI: I wish I could read her motives.

I have known her for years.

I was stunned.

I was very, very surprised that she would do something like that.

Frankly speaking, she's been out of the picture for years, she hasn't even been with her husband
the last three years.

And just to exercise power like that and then to come out with a statement that is so inflammatory
was entirely unexpected.

Some people say that she has old scores to settle.

Some people say that there are personal interests or there are financial interests or I don't know.

Maybe it could be out of genuine concern for him at the personal level and she lost sight of the
public and political levels, but...and I don't want to speculate, really.

I just think it was extremely unfortunate.

She made a very bad choice.

Her public statements were extremely negative and, as I said, they backfired.

The people did not react to her.

They felt that she was trying to create rifts where none existed, she was trying to polarise the
people and she was sort of sowing trouble, that's all.

I think we should put this behind us, whatever she said for whatever reasons, and we should move
ahead.

This is the time for national unity, for responsibility at the individual and collective level, for
institutional work, for legal work.

We cannot afford to fall apart or to start an internal struggle or disagreements or strike.

We need to pull together to show that we can sustain a good system of governance, based on legal
systems and just laws and, of course, with transparent and accountable institutions.

This we owe to the President as well as to the people at large.

TONY JONES: Hanan Ashrawi, it sounds like you do see this passing of Yasser Arafat as a chance, as
a window opening for a new democratisation of the Palestinian Authority.

Is that a fair assessment of what you are saying?

DR HANAN ASHRAWI: Not really, no.

I think it is the time to take up the challenge because his passing isn't going to be easy.

He hasn't passed, but should he pass away, it's not going to be easy and it demands of us serious
work and to take up the responsibility in a way which would be accountable.

Yasser Arafat has always been a historical figure, a force for cohesion, for unity, and therefore
his absence would leave a vacuum.

You have to replace that vacuum with institutions and with the law rather than with the personality
and the charisma of the individual.

That's what I'm saying.

So we shouldn't succumb to grief, to despair, to a sense of loss of bearings of compass.

He wouldn't want to see such a collapse.

On the contrary, I think the only replacement for Arafat wouldn't be another larger-than-life,
historical, charismatic person - we don't have that - but what we have would be institutions and
legal systems and collective responsibility that should keep in place in order to prevent any type
of collapse or power struggle.

TONY JONES: So you think that in the early stages at least of the transition, that you will see a
form of collective authority, collective rule to replace this individual who has kept so much
power, retained so much power for himself?

DR HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes.

Yes, this collective rule would not be haphazard.

It has to be based on, of course, institutions.

The PLO executive will be taken over by the second in command, Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas.

The Cabinet will continue to function with the Prime Minister, Abu Ala, Ahmed Qurei.

The Legislative Council has a Speaker of the House and he should continue with his job.

The fact that the organisation has to have its own elections also, to have, to elect their own head
and, of course, the - should anything happen to the President, then you need a 60-day transition
period in which the Speaker of the Parliament will takeover and supervise elections - free and fair
elections - for the President.

And for the Executive Committee, you need the National Council or the Central Council, to elect the
new head of the Executive Committee of the PLO.

So there isn't one person that will fulfil all these jobs, but there will be a pluralistic system,
in the sense that every single post that he had will be filled by somebody in accordance with the
law.

He held quite a few posts, some of them symbolic, some of them quite actual, wielding tremendous
power.

For example, also, the National Security Council.

Abu Ala is his deputy in the National Security Council - he will, for a transitional period, hold
power there.

But at the same time, the new, the elected president will replace the old one.

So, in a sense, the system, the legal system and the individuals are all in place, but President
Arafat as an individual cannot be replaced, even though his posts and roles may be filled by
others.

But the only mechanism available for any replacement at any level would be free and fair elections
and I cannot overstress or overemphasise the need for the conditions that would allow the
Palestinians to exercise their democratic rights to elect the new leadership.

TONY JONES: Let me ask you this finally - you know, of course, just how much Yasser Arafat is
distrusted by the present US administration and, of course, by the government in Israel.

Do you think it also may open up...his passing, that is...may open up another window, a window for
or towards a potential new movement towards peace?

DR HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, I think it was also unfortunate, short-sighted and politically
irresponsible to personalise the peace process and to personalise the relations between and among
countries.

Sharon personalised this initially by sort of selecting Yasser Arafat as the scapegoat, blaming him
for everything, including Sharon's lack of will to move on the peace process.

And, of course, the Americans took their cue from Sharon and decided to ostracise Arafat, even
though they claim to be democratic, but they refuse to accept the democratic choice of the people
who freely elected President Arafat.

So anyway, at this point, they have to understand that there is a need for a genuine peace process
and for positive, constructive intervention by the Americans.

It's not a question of personalising the issue.

It's a question of understanding the imperatives of peace and there has been irresponsible lack of
understanding, distancing and allowing the lethal dynamic to run its course, which has created
further bloodshed.

Personally, I think Sharon was trying to avoid negotiations from the beginning, was trying to blame
Arafat for Sharon's own shortcomings and I don't think he has the political will to move ahead.

This remains to be seen.

At the same time, the American administration has kept its distance, allowed Sharon to call the
shots repeatedly.

Now is the test for the second-term president, whether he does have the political will and the
ability to intervene effectively and to launch a peace process that will have substance,
credibility and impact on the ground.

TONY JONES: Hanan Ashrawi, we know you are in for a very busy day and we thank you very much for
taking the time to come and talk to us tonight.

(c) 2006 ABC