On the day that Palestinians were marking 41 years of occupation, Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat told journalists in his office in Ramallah on Thursday, “we are a nation that is interrupted – economically, socially, politically, and in every sense. Yet in 2008, there are those who do not understand, even external forces”.
At that moment, there was a cut in electrical power for the second time in a few minutes.
As everyone laughed, Erekat joked: “Even the electricity is interrupted”
“It should have been different”, Erekat continued, “today should have been different…but Palestinians are still Palestinians…So, what are you going to do with us?”
Erekat agreed that the current impasse in negotiations with Israel “cannot stand”.
He was speaking as some Palestinians openly speculated that the end to the negotiations with Israel are near – and saying that this is what prompted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make an unusual call for renewed national dialogue, as if he might have dropped his preconditions, starting with the return of Gaza to Ramallah’s control, nearly one year after Hamas fighters routed Fatah forces.
But, Erekat said in response to one journalist’s question, “Abu Mazen did deliver an initiative yesterday, but it was according to the Yemeni initiative that was launched in the Damascus summit last year. Everybody knows it begins with Hamas rescinding its coup. Everyone knows, also, that Hamas won the last elections – but they have since failed – big time…When was the last time you read the Yemeni initiative? Abbas said [Wednesday evening] that he wants to see the Yemeni initiative implemented. He was very clear”.
In any case, Erekat added, anticipating other unspoken questions, any eventual outcome of negotiations with the Israelis “will be put to a referendum. If Palestinians say ‘yes’, we will implement it from our side. If the Palestinians say ‘no’, then Abu Mazen will say goodbye”.
Erekat said that the negotiations with an Israeli team led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are “serious … and, .for the first time, we have opened all files, and we are now at the prisoners’ file…We are trying to revive hope, but the choice is Israel’s … We have defined the end game, which is to end the 1967 Israeli occupation according to the Road Map. We have serious negotiations for the first time in seven years, and we are taking a needs-oriented approach”.
What is that, one journalist asked? “You know, my needs, their needs. What do you want to know? I’m not going to show you the map”, Erekat replied.
Erekat pointed out that “in Annapolis, we chose a trilateral arrangement, in which there would be a ‘judge’, an American ‘judge’ (on behalf of the Quartet) … The question here is for the Americans and the other members of the Quartet: Isn’t it time for the ‘judge’ to speak out? There is no such thing as a secret ‘judge’…Since Annapolis there have been more settlements, more incursions, more faits accomplis. Now, at a time we are trying to revive hopes for peace, this American ‘judge’ should come out in the open and say who’s complying and who’s not – giving just the truth, just the facts. Otherwise, is it a cover-up for Israeli activities? This cannot stand any more”.
“I really urge the Americans to introduce their comments”, Erekat continued. Decisions on Jerusalem, security, borders, refugees and so on are required from both Israelis and Palestinians. You as journalists should be able to call up and ask the ‘judge’ who is complying on this matter or that. This current situation cannot continue”.
A journalist then asked: “You are saying the Israelis are not serious, so what are you waiting for?” Erekat replied “There is nothing wrong with negotiations, since Adam and Eve. Negotiations are not the end, they are the means. I don’t want to stop negotiations, I want to stop Israeli settlements, I want to stop Israeli incursions. And I want the international community to help us make Israel comply with its obligations under the Road Map”.
Erekat clearly put more hope in the evaluation being made by Lt. General William Fraser – appointed as Mr. Road Map Implementation by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice just before President Bush’s visit to the region in January – than in comments made by leading contenders for the Democratic Party nomination to be the next U.S. President.
On Barak Obama: “I thought he was a man of change…but when he says that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel, I say to him, ‘Sir, you are closing all doors to peace’. I don’t care if he’s pro-Israeli or not. My concern is about those who are pro-peace or not. U.S. Policy hasn’t changed since the ‘70’s. The U.S. Embassy is still in Tel Aviv, and the U.S. policy still says that Jerusalem is occupied”.
To Hilary Clinton: “If someone loses his home, his schools, his livelihood, his parents in New York, what do you call it? We call it a catastrophe – and we have here a catastrophe that has lasted 60 years”.