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”. 

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