Hanan Ashrawi: US visa denial is new low in American-Palestinian relations

The Palestinian official tells The National she was to travel to America to see her daughter and grandchildren

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 24, 2015 Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi speaks during a press conference in Ramallah. The senior Palestinian official has been refused a visa for the United States, she said on May 13, 2019, amid worsening relations between the two sides. Ashrawi, a longtime aide to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, announced on Twitter she had been turned down without being given a justification.
 / AFP / Abbas MOMANI

A veteran Palestinian negotiator has called the US denial of her visa a new low in relations between Ramallah and Washington after the Trump administration’s decision appeared to signal a new phase of political pressure on the embattled leadership of the Palestinian people.

Hanan Ashrawi, the 72-year-old outspoken critic of Israel and US President Donald Trump, announced late on Monday in a viral thread on Twitter that her visa was rejected with “no reason given”.

Speaking to The National by phone, Mrs Ashrawi said she believed her criticism of the US administration and the officials involved in crafting President Trump's much-vaunted peace plan – specifically Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt – was behind the decision.

“This is a new low. To deny visas, this is really petty,” the senior official said.

The Christian member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee and passionate advocate of Palestinian rights said she travels to the US regularly and, on this occasion, had hoped to visit her daughter and grandchildren in Virginia. She had a planned meeting with the Middle East Project, a US-based think tank, and invitations to speak at several universities. The US visa rejection is the first she has ever encountered.

“I have a daughter, sister, and nieces all there. All of my husband’s family are in the States,” she said. “I have been going there for years all the time, three or four times a year, and I have never been denied a visa.”

A State Department official told The National on Tuesday that it could not discuss individual visa cases but that "a consular officer reviews the facts of the case" and decides on the eligibility of that visa based on US law. "Visas may be denied only on grounds set out in US law," the official said.

But Mrs Ashrawi said there could be no other cause for the refusal except the deteriorating relations between Ramallah and Washington, and her sharp remarks about President Trump and his Middle East team.

“It’s clear that the US administration is vindictive and they do not accept criticism,” she said. “This is part of a pattern. There is no logical reason why they should deny me a visa.”

Palestinian officials have implemented a public boycott of US officials in protest at President Trump’s decision to relocate the US embassy from the coastal Israeli city of Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem.

Mrs Ashrawi applied for her visa at the consular office at the US embassy in Amman, Jordan, because the US has moved their embassy to West Jerusalem, effectively recognising the city as Israel’s capital. That office notified her of the decision.

The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967 then annexed years later, as the capital of any future sovereign state in peace negotiations. Officials in Ramallah say that US policy under President Trump favours Israel.

His administration has since closed the PLO office in Washington, cut all aid to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees and chosen not to condemn continued Israeli settlement building, deemed illegal by much of the world, in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The acrimony has only deepened as US officials prepare to roll out a plan worked on for more than two years that Palestinian officials say is likely intended to pressure them into surrendering to Israel’s occupation.

Mrs Ashrawi has frequently sparred on social media with Mr Greenblatt, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawyer she referred to on Sunday as an “apologist” for Israel. He is a supporter of Israel’s settlements, which have been widely condemned as illegal under international law.

As an adviser to President Trump in 2016, he said that settlements were not an obstacle for peace. He has routinely condemned Palestinian leaders for not being open to President Trump’s plans, casting blame on them for the plight of the Palestinian people.

Laughing about Mr Greenblatt, she said that he invited her to the White House in February for discussions.

“He said his door is open, he said he would like to talk to us,” she said. But she added that both he and Mr Trump’s other key Middle East official, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, are “certainly quite negative about the Palestinian leadership”.

She accused them of wanting Palestinian officials to use “passive language” and of having a “love” for the Palestinians being viewed as negative. “This is not me,” she said.

The Palestinians have pre-empted the unveiling of President Trump’s plan by pointing out that US officials are trying to hold them accountable for its failure before its details have been revealed.

“They don’t know that we are quite pluralistic and independent,” she said.

But she said the reaction to the news had been largely supportive despite “vicious” abuse from Israeli “apologists” and “extremists” online. “On the whole the vast majority have been quite critical of such a move. On the other hand, I don’t feel victimised, I don’t want it to be like I am suffering,” she said.

“This is just this administration and it’s a first time thing,” she continued. “People think it reflects badly on the administration, not me.”