Erekat: There will be no Palestinian concessions on percentage of territorial swaps

“We know what it takes to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis” veteran Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said at a press conference on Wednesday.  “We only need President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert to make the decisions…If these two can deliver they will be the most important persons to walk the streets here since Jesus Christ”. 

“Now is the time for decisions”, veteran Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said at a press conference at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, where he was invited to speak to the members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel. 

 Erekat is an expert at speaking in short sound bytes.

 “We like to play with words”, Erekat told the journalists, though clearly referring to various statements made only by Israeli leaders to the effect that, with luck, what might happen this year would be more a “framework”, or “parameters”, of an agreement, rather than the actual formation of an independent Palestinian state. 

Erekat seemed to be indicating that it didn’t matter what the result would be called.

“Signing agreements doesn’t make peace … The only lasting agreements are the fair ones”, Erekat said.

He said he was under oath not to speak about or disclose the details of the current negotiations.  “What I said is that what needs to be done is to take decisions … What is needed is decisions, not negotiations”, Erekat said.

“I’ve never seen the Palestinians and Israelis closer to achieving an end game”, Erekat said.  And, “it’s the Palestinians and Israelis who must make the necessary decisions”, and not a third party, he said.   He did add that “U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is coming in two weeks, and American diplomats are on the phone every hour.  But now it’s the moment of truth — It’s either settlements or peace”. 

“President Bush has no right to discuss with Israel ceding some territory in Palestine.  He can cede New Mexico, maybe, but not here”, Erekat said.  “One day in 1995, Jordan decided to cede 29,000 square kilometers [to Israel, in the context of a peace treaty].  We’re different”.

“Without giving me the percentage of [territorial] swaps”, Erekat said, “there will be no agreement”.  But “with the percentage of agreed swaps, you’ll get an agreement in three months”, Erekat said.  “The end game is defined and the rest is all technicalities, and if you settle them, you’ll get a treaty of 1,000 pages in three months”.

“Some Palestinian leaders are throwing options in the air, Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence, and so will we, etc.  But we are not playing with that”, Erekat said.  “We have been elected to achieve something – we have a mandate – and if we fail to deliver, then what?  Shouldn’t we tell our people the truth?” 

Erekat added: “I don’t want to export fear, but if we fail to deliver in 2008, we will disappear.  There’ll be a big question about the ability of the Palestinian Authority to survive.  I mean me, and what I represent.  And the impact will not be confined to the Palestinians and the Israelis – watch the region!”

Asked to explain what negotiations are taking place with the Egyptians, and with the Yemenis, Erekat replied: “Yesterday Egypt talked with the Israelis, and today with the Palestinian factions…What the Egypt is trying to do is upon the personal request of  President Abbas to President Mubarak.  Egypt has contacts with all the Palestinian factions and the Israelis. Egypt wants ‘tahdiya’ with guarantees that no one will break it.  As far as Yemen is concerned, Hamas must go back to what things were…Hamas must rescind their coup d’etat”. 

Erekat said: “The coup d’etat in Gaza is the worst thing that happened to us since 1967.  Hamas is a Palestinian party, like me.  The difference is that we believe we can achieve peace through negotiations, but Hamas says No, you cannot … Hamas said, since we won the elections, we want to change the previously-negotiated agreements … But anyone in government must accept all the obligations … Any Palestinian government has to be on board with the program: negotiations for peace, based on a two-state solution, aiming at a signed agreement”.

Erekat rejected all the efforts by journalists to arrive at a precise definition of the meaning of “tahdiya” in English  — he said it’s not détente, not cooling off, not cease-fire, not calm, not a truce .

But what should happen, he said, is “a mutual ‘tahdiya‘ between two sides, to stop shooting, everybody is to stop shooting”.

He added: “We accepted the Yemeni proposal, as we accepted the Mecca agreement, and the Egyptian-Cairo agreement, and we said there is no military solution.  We need agreement with Israel, and we will put it to a national public referendum”. 

In response to a question from the BBC Arabic TV, asking whether the problem in the negotiations might, maybe, be with the negotiations team itself, Erekat replied:  “I hear this a lot, by the way.  I’ve resigned, I quit. 46 times.  But the problem is not personalised.  I don’t want my son to grow up to be a suicide bomber.  We’ve established the best negotiations team in the Middle East, our (PLO) Negotiations Support Unit, which has expert advisers from all over the world who assist in developing negotiating positions… In 1992, I made more money as a journalist and university professor than I have in all the years since…and I’m not here for journalists to ask me such questions”. 

Uri Avnery on targetted killings in Bethlehem

Uri Avnery has just written this on the summary executions last Thursday by Israeli forces of four wanted men in Bethlehem and one in Tulkarem:

“WHAT HAPPENED this week is so infuriating, so impertinent, that it stands out even in our familiar landscape of governmental irresponsibility.

On the near horizon, a de facto suspension of hostilities was taking shape. The Egyptians had made great efforts to turn it into an official cease-fire. The flame was already burning visibly lower. The launching of Qassams and Grads from the Gaza Strip into Israel had fallen from dozens a day to two or three.

And then something happened that turned the flame up high again: undercover soldiers of the Israeli army killed four Palestinians militants in Bethlehem. A fifth was killed in a village near Tulkarm.

THE MODUS OPERANDI left no doubt about the intention.

That was not an attempt to make an arrest. That was an execution, pure and simple, one of those summary executions in which the Shin Bet fulfils the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner.

This time no effort was even made to pretend that the four were about to carry out a murderous attack. It was not claimed, for example, that they had anything to do with last week’s attack on the Mercaz Harav seminary, the flagship of the settlers’ fleet. Actually, no such pretense could be put forward, because the most important of the four had recently given interviews to the Israeli media and announced that he was availing himself of the Israeli ‘pardon scheme’ – a Shin Bet program under which “wanted” militants give up their arms and undertake to cease resistance to the occupation. He was also a candidate in the last Palestinian elections …

THE BETHLEHEM killing raises a number of hard questions, but with very few exceptions, the media did not voice them. They shirk their duty, as usual when it concerns ‘security’ problems.

Real journalists in a real democratic state would have asked the following questions:

(a) Who was it who decided on the executions in Bethlehem – Ehud Olmert? Ehud Barak? The Shin Bet? All of them? None of them?

(b) Did the decision-makers understand that by condemning the militants in Bethlehem to death, they were also condemning to death any residents of Sderot or Ashkelon who might be killed by the rockets launched in revenge?

(3) Did they understand that they were also boxing the ears of Mahmoud Abbas, whose security forces, which in theory are in charge of Bethlehem, would be accused of collaborating with the Israeli death-squad?

(d) Was the real aim of the action to undermine the cease-fire that had come about in practice in the Gaza Strip (and the reality of which was official denied both by Olmert and Barak, even while the number of rockets launched fell from dozens a day to just two or three?)

(e) Does the Israeli government generally object to a cease-fire that would free Sderot and Ashkelon from the threat of the rockets?

(f) If so, why?

The media did not demand that Olmert and Barak expose to the public the considerations that led them to adopt this decision, which concerns every person in Israel. And no wonder. These are, after all, the same media that danced for joy when the same government started an ill-considered and superfluous war in Lebanon. They are also the same media that kept silent, this week, when the government decided to hit the freedom of the press and to boycott the Aljazeera TV network, as punishment for showing babies killed during the Israeli army’s recent incursion in Gaza. But for two or three courageous journalists with an independent mind, all our written and broadcast media march in lockstep, like a Prussian regiment on parade, when the word ‘security’ is mentioned” …

This article was sent by email.

"Trilateral" meeting today

The first “trilateral” meeting in the Annapolis process — in which the U.S. envoy on the Roadmap, Lt. Gen. William Fraser discussed with Israeli and Palestinian representatives what could be done about both sides failure to implement what apparently needs to be done — was held in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority was represented by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is not normally part of the negotiating team.

The Israeli side was supposed to be represented by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, but he sent a deputy, Amos Gilad, instead.

Gen. Fraser said he is keeping the Roadmap implementation report secret, but the broad outlines are that the Israelis continue building settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, and the Palestinians are not yet on top of the security situation.

Here is what some news agencies are reporting.

Reuters said that “An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Barak’s absence reflected his skepticism about peace negotiations he once described as a ‘fantasy’. ‘He didn’t feel like going to a meeting and getting scolded’, the official said. Some diplomats have taken to calling his representative Gilad ‘Dr. No’. ‘He always says no’, one of them explained. An aide to Fayyad said: ‘The absence of Barak in today’s meeting showed a lack of seriousness in dealing with the issues in question’. Gilad said ‘rumors about tensions are baseless’. [n.b., this is different than just saying ‘no’…] The Reuters report is posted here .

Agence France Press (AFP) reported that the meeting lasted three hours, and that Fayyad said:
” ‘Numerous construction projects in many settlements are continuing every day. This is not a freeze by any standard’ … The Israeli side responded that construction was only conducted in existing settlement blocs Israel plans to keep as part of a permanent agreement, an official said. Israel’s delegation, led by an aide to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, charged that the Palestinian Authority was ‘not doing enough to fight against terrorism’, the official said. ‘It does not make any arrests and does not give information’ on militants, he said. The US embassy described the talks held at a Jerusalem hotel as ‘cordial but frank’.”

The AFP report added this interesting detail: “An Israeli source said the US delegation questioned the timing of the killings [n.b. of four wanted men — three from Islamic Jihad and one from the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa brigades who were shot while sitting in a car in Bethlehem Wednesday night] but recognized Israel’s right to defend itself. Two of the four gunmen were senior leaders of armed groups”. This AFP report can be found here.

So, the U.S. questioned only the timing of the killings?

Ma’an News agency reported that “The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat told reporters: ‘It would have been very appropriate for Barak to go’, Erekat said. ‘Maybe Barak couldn’t go because he is busy planning more [settlement construction] and more incursions’. Following the meeting, Fayyad expressed frustration at Israel’s failure to abide by its obligation to freeze settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory … ‘New tenders are being issued. New plans are being announced and old ones resurrected. And most of this is happening at the heart of the future Palestinian state: East Jerusalem’, said Fayyad. In the five weeks after the Annapolis conference, the Prime Minister’s office said, Israel issued tenders for some 747 housing units in settlements, as compared with 138 units tendered in the 11 months preceding the conference. The three sides issued a joint statement through the US Consulate in Jerusalem: ‘We examined areas where the parties are not meeting their commitments and the reasons why, and explored ways to accelerate the process and make the parties’ implementation of their Roadmap obligations more effective. We had a cordial but frank exchange of views that helped the participants attain a better understanding of some very complex issues’.” The Ma’an report is posted here .

The Vanity Fair article cont'd

Henry Siegman, who is currently Director of the United States/Middle East Project at the Council on Foreign Relations, has said over the years some of the consistently most interesting and sensible things about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In an interview with Bernard Gwertzman, CFR’s Consulting Editor, published on 7 March, Siegman spoke about the really sensational Vanity Fair article published last week. Interesting, too, that although he says the policy was clear to all who wished to know, he does NOT say, dismissively, (as some journalistic colleagues have) “oh, nothing new”:

“Q (Gwertzman): Do you buy into this view that is in a new Vanity Fair article that the United States planned, in cooperation with Fatah, to cause a coup in Gaza and throw out Hamas, and that backfired, leading to the current split between Fatah and Hamas?

A (Siegman): One does not need an investigative article to make that point to know it is true. The U.S. government made no secret whatsoever from the beginning that it intended to arm Abbas’s security forces, appoint an American general to be in charge of that program, and provide finances for training, equipment, and the arming of these people. They said publicly the purpose of this project would be for these people to have a showdown with Hamas and to oust them from the government. So, this was never a secret. This was always in the public domain.

Q: I never saw that— that they were so blatant to say they wanted Fatah to oust Hamas.

A: Yes, they were precisely that blatant. What happened next is that under the direction of Mohammed Dahlan, who was Abbas’s national security adviser, the Fatah militias in Gaza were instructed to attack Hamas forces and to create a sufficient level of anarchy that would allow Abbas’s security forces to come in and to say they have to restore order and take over the government in Gaza. This never was a secret. In any event, the Vanity Fair article pretty much nails down the story.

Q: When was this decision taken?

The decision, according to the article, was taken immediately after the election in January 2006. As the Vanity Fair story tells it, the State Department people and the White House were in a state of total shock when the election results came in. Hamas was overwhelmingly elected and Fatah was ousted. Incidentally, at this time, Hamas itself was still observing a self-declared cease-fire. They were not sending in missiles or engaging in violence against Israel. I mention this because a lot of people are under the impression that this decision to overthrow Hamas is somehow related to Hamas’ violence. That is simply not true. At the time this decision was taken, there was a cease-fire that Hamas had observed for a year and a half”… The CFR interview with Henry Siegman is published here .

Henry Siegman on Hamas — and Bush, and the Israelis …

Henry Siegman, Director, United States/Middle East Project, in an interview with Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, published 7 March on the Council for Foreign Relations website, suggests that Israel was ready to talk to Hamas — but that the U.S. Administration stopped them:

“Q (Gwertzman): Both the U.S. and the Israeli governments won’t deal with Hamas. How do you get over this? Do you wait until there is a new president?

A (Siegman): There is no choice but to wait for a new president because on this precise issue of dealing with Hamas, without a resolution, no peace process can succeed. President Bush is not going to change his mind — at least that is what I am told by people who are in touch with him or talk to him about it. He is absolutely convinced that Hamas is part of the ‘Axis of Evil’. He believes these are people who are essentially in the mold of al-Qaeda, that they support the globalist, jihadist ambition to take over the whole world and establish a caliphate, and so on.
Those convictions of Bush’s are completely divorced from reality. The fact of the matter is that Hamas and al-Qaeda are totally at odds, and have been from the very beginning. Al-Qaeda doesn’t believe in national liberation movements. They believe only in a religious return under a caliphate to the Islamic territories; the idea of a Palestinian nationalism, or any other, they reject completely. Al-Qaeda has no sympathy for Hamas and Hamas has publicly on several occasions repudiated and rejected the statements and prescriptions made by al-Qaeda’s leaders for the Palestinian movement.

Q: What about the Israelis? The Israelis know Hamas pretty well. When Hamas was in opposition to the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], the Israeli government had no great love for the PLO. Do you get any sense that the Israelis would like to deal with Hamas even though Hamas says it will never recognize the existence of the state of Israel?

A: Well, there was a poll recorded last week in Haaretz that showed a majority of Israelis want their government to reach out to Hamas because they understand that you can’t deal with the problem without Hamas participation. Now there are some well-informed people who tell me that Olmert and others in his government were ready to deal with Hamas, were prepared to respond to Hamas’s offer for a truce and to use the truce to allow a reestablishment of a unity government that would include Hamas and Fatah. But the opposition from Washington, from the White House, is so unyielding that they haven’t been able to act on that”. This interview can be read in full on the website

Pappe on the Mega Prison of Palestine – and the peace process

One of Israel’s “new historians” Ilan Pappe has written a piece entitled The mega prison of Palestine that has been published in The Electronic Intifada on 5 March 2008, in which he writes: “It transpires that not even the most cooperative members of the PA are willing to accept the mega prison reality as ‘peace’ or even as a ‘two state settlement’.”

Pappe, who has written in favor of a one-state solution, left Haifa last year and is now teaching at Exeter University in the U.K.

His analysis continues: “So the model of the most dangerous ward developed: the leading strategists in the army and the government embrace themselves for a very long-term ‘management’ of the system they have built, while pledging commitment to a vacuous ‘peace process,’ with very little global interest in it, and a continued struggle from within, against it. The Gaza Strip is now seen as the most dangerous ward in this complex and thus the one against which the most brutal punitive means have to be employed. Killing the ‘inmates’ by aerial or artillery bombing, or by economic strangulation, are not just inevitable results of the punitive action chosen, but also desirable ones …  Downsizing the number of ‘inmates’ in both mega prisons [the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip] would be still a very high priority in this strategy by means of ethnic cleansing, systematic killings and economic strangulation. But there are wedges that prevent the destructive machine from rolling. It seems that a growing number of Jews in Israel (a majority according to a recent CNN poll) wish their government to begin negotiations with Hamas. A mega prison is fine, but if the wardens’ residential areas are likely to come under fire in the future then the system fails. Alas, I doubt whether the CNN poll represents accurately the present Israeli mood; but it does indicate a hopeful trend that vindicates the Hamas insistence that Israel only understands the language of force. But it may not be enough and the perfection of the mega prison system in the meantime continues unabated and the punitive measures of its authority are claiming the lives of many more children, women and men in the Gaza Strip. As always it is important to be reminded that the west can put an end to this unprecedented inhumanity and criminality, tomorrow. But so far this is not happening”.  Ilan Pappe’s piece can be read in full here.

UK NGOs: urgent need to end sanctions against Gaza

A group of British non-governmental organizations has just called for an urgent end to sanctions against Gaza, and for Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation.

The report, issued collectively, is available on the Oxfam website.

It says that “The blockade has effectively dismantled the economy and impoverished the population of Gaza. Israel’s policy affects the civilian population of Gaza indiscriminately and constitutes a collective punishment against ordinary men, women and children. The measures taken are illegal under international humanitarian law. Israel has the right and duty to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks against its civilian population, but the current policy fails to provide Israel with increased security and has led to increasing polarisation … International efforts should be directed towards securing a swift end to the blockade of Gaza. Israel’s current policy of isolation and refusal to engage with all elements of the Palestinian leadership only closes doors to negotiations while reinforcing the political and humanitarian crisis. There is an urgent need for Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation in order to create and sustain a credible and effective peace process with Israel. The international community must provide the political support to facilitate such an undertaking. To date, failure to address the situation in Gaza has harmed both Palestinians and Israelis and has been detrimental to the broader peace process itself”.

The report also called “on the UK government and EU to ensure that the Israeli government lifts movement and access restrictions throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories to facilitate long-term Palestinian economic development”.

The EU is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority. The UK government is the only one from any European or major Western country to call — as it did at the end of January, and in early February — for a stop to the Israeli sanctions against Gaza, particularly the sanctions affecting fuel and electricity.

This report can be read in its entirety here .

On Women's Day, a reminder of Palestinian Women

“Suffering” is the word heard most often in conjunction with the word “Palestinian” today.

“Suffering” has replaced the word “humiliation”, that was also used more broadly for all Arabs, particularly in the wake of the events in the Persian Gulf from 1990 through the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

Today, the day on which International Women’s Day is marked, the Palestinian Centre [British spelling!] for Human Rights (PCHR) has sent around a reminder that “On International Women’s Day, the Suffering of Palestinian Women Continues“.

The Gaza-based organization then reports that “the military campaign against Jabalya town in the northern Gaza Strip, which continued from 28 February to 4 March 2008. During this military campaign, 110 Palestinians, including 27 children and 6 women aged 19-60, were killed by IOF [The PCHR refers here to the Israeli Occupation Forces]. These women were killed by IOF on one day, when they were inside their homes. For example, Ghada ‘Abdullah, 27, was killed on 1 March 2008 while she was in her kitchen preparing breakfast for her children, when a missile hit her house. Su’ad Rajab ‘Atallah, 60, and her daughter Ibtissam, 25, and Rajaa’, 30, were killed when IOF aircrafts fired 3 missiles at their home. The number of Palestinian women killed by IOF since the beginning of 2008 has mounted to 13. Furthermore, Palestinian women have been impacted by the policy of collective punishment and the siege imposed by IOF against the Gaza Strip, especially since June 2007. In this context, IOF have escalated measures of economic and social stranglehold against the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip, including women. The Gaza Strip has been transformed into a big jail for its 1.5 million Palestinians, who have been denied their right to freedom of movement and basic daily needs”.

The PCHR adds that “sick women, like other patients, have been denied access to medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip. Since June 2007 [following the take-over by Hamas), 7 women have died due the denial by IOF of their access to medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip. Additionally, another 6 women died while being stuck together with other civilians at Rafah International Crossing Point, which had been closed for at least 2 months”.

And, the PCHR does not neglect the problem of societal and family violence against Palestinian women which accounts for 14 of the deaths mentioned in this report, while Israel is blamed for 19 of the deaths.

PCHR reports that that “the suffering of Palestinian women has doubled with the violence practiced against them in the society. They have been subjected to various forms of psychological, physical and sexual violence. Additionally, their right to life has been violated through killing for “protection of family honor.” In this context, in 2007, 14 women were killed”.

So, on the occasion of International Women’s Day today, the PCHR:

“1) Calls upon the international community to immediately intervene to stop crimes and human rights violations perpetrated by IOF, which leave tragic impacts on the Palestinian people, especially women.

2) Calls for lifting the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip as it is a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian civilian population in violations of international law and humanitarian law.

3) Calls upon the Palestinian National Authority to stop violence and the misuse of weapons.

4) Calls for combined efforts by the society and institutions to ensure serious work against all forms of violence against women”.

Uri Saguy to Akiva Eldar on Hamas

Akiva Eldar has an article in Haaretz today reporting the views of Uri Saguy, IDF Major General (res.) Uri Saguy, who headed Military Intelligence from 1991 to 1995, and who also served as GOC Southern Command and as commander of the ground forces, and who, Eldar says, has the ear of the present IDF Commander Gabi Ashkenazi.

Eldar reports that, in answer to a question about whether Israel should talk to Hamas, Saguy said: “Hamas is more dangerous than a [mere] terror organization, because it is also a religious and political organization. It is possible to overcome a terror organization by means of military might, but not a movement that has ideological roots. Even though this may sound like a paradox, our interest is similar to that of Hamas. We both want quiet. They are interested in completing the total conquest of the Gaza Strip, and so it is important to them that we not take control of it. For us it is important to protect the lives of the civilians of Sderot and Ashkelon. Hamas is an interlocutor on current issues, such as a truce and the return of prisoners. Who is even asking Hamas whether we have a right to live here? We have this right without Hamas doing us a favor and recognizing us. We aren’t going to resolve our ideological dispute with the organization, but we are wronging ourselves in that we aren’t speaking with it about the tactical issues. The Palestine Liberation Organization used to be a no less bitter enemy and its covenant denied Israel’s right to exist. Both with [Yasser] Arafat and in Lebanon, we reached truces. Just as we did that with them – with Hamas, too, a cease-fire does not have to be official and contractually binding. The conflicts with the Arab world are like a boxing match that is determined by points, not by a knock out, and from time to time the round ends.” This article can be read in its entirety here .

Sarid on "The Curse of Gaza"

Yossi Sarid has written this in an article published in Haaretz today: “Now, in retrospect, some claim that the disengagement from Gaza was a bad deal. Regret is now the bon ton. But there is nothing to regret. It is easy to imagine what would have happened in the Land of Hamas had 8,000 Jewish settlers still been stuck there, in the crossfire. Thousands of soldiers would have had to protect them, every man as he went out, every woman as she went in, every grandmother and grandson on their way to yoga … The disengagement was actually a step in the right direction, but it was a small, belated, crooked step. Belated, because we waited for the occupation to go bad and fall into the hands of Hamas like a rotten fruit; small, because you cannot separate those which are attached, the West Bank and Gaza; and crooked, because it was wrong to disengage into a situation of abandon, without any kind of agreement, without handing the territory over to an Arab, international or mixed trusteeship. The feigned regret is meant to thwart the great withdrawal that Olmert promised and has already changed his mind about. Not only is there no such withdrawal on the horizon, but even the outposts are now being cleansed and legitimized. Ehud Barak and Haim Ramon are the chief purifiers: they beg the land robbers to evacuate the scene of one crime so that they will be allowed to commit legal crimes elsewhere. Any highway robber would leap at the chance”… The full essay by Yossi Sarid can be read here .