Blog Post

“[We need the] political will to carry out serious change...not just symbolic gestures” - Dr. Hanan Ashrawi on the Future of Palestine

October 2021

Tarek Masoud, Faculty Director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative (MEI), welcomed Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian politician and activist, for a discussion on the future of Palestine on October 8, 2021.  

In her remarks, Dr. Ashrawi emphasized the importance of Palestinian freedom and advocated for the respect of Palestinian territorial sovereignty, integrity, and continuity. Ending the Israeli occupation, she argues, would ensure that Palestinians have “the right to freedom, to dignity, [and] to live in peace and safety,” a basis from which they could engage in the peace process and “see it to its end.”  

As the first woman elected to the Executive Committee, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) highest-ranking body, Dr. Ashrawi highlighted the organization’s role in advancing the Palestinian cause: “We saw in the PLO the embodiment of our identity, of our history, of our struggle...the PLO represented Palestinians everywhere.” However, she also recognized the PLO’s gradual decline, pointing to the “erosion of fundamental rights” and dwindling opportunities for young Palestinians as key motivations for her 2020 resignation from the body. “We need a new Executive Committee, we need to reformulate the PLO and to rejuvenate it...We need serious reform,” she said. Professor Masoud asked if she was advocating for "the fall of the regime,” as was demanded in Egypt during the Arab Spring. But Dr. Ashrawi maintained that she wasn’t “calling for a revolution,” rather the “political will to carry out serious change and reform, and not just symbolic gestures.”  

Professor Masoud pushed Dr. Ashrawi on the question of responsibility, asking if she thought Palestinian leaders deserved a share of the blame for the struggles of the Palestinian people. Dr. Ashrawi admitted that there is an “internal problem” due to the “rifts” between Palestine’s political groups, most notably Fatah, Hamas, and the Popular Front. She believes that a “national discussion” is a necessary step in building cohesion.  

Despite the complexities and obstacles, Dr. Ashrawi was adamant about the need for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine. “We are still living under occupation...People [are] losing their IDs, losing their homes, losing their lands, their livelihoods, daily,” she continued, “I live it every day.” 

Watch the recording of this event here.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: “[We need the] political will to carry out serious change...not just symbolic gestures” - Dr. Hanan Ashrawi on the Future of Palestine.” MEI Minute, October 2021,