Neither Salam Fayyad nor Yasser Abed Rabbo were at meeting with Netanyahu this evening

Palestinian Authority [P.A.] Prime Minister Salam Fayyad did not accompany the P.L.O.’s Chief Negotiator Sa’eb Erekat today to see Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, as previously announced [ten days ago].

The meeting was held in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Official Residence in Jerusalem.

Israeli PM Netanyahu receives 2 Palestinians [center] on 17 April 2012Photo posted on YNet here and also on the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry here – it does not look good for the Palestinians hereinvolved — is that why Salam Fayyad and Yasser Abed Rabbo did not attend?

In the morning Fayyad presided over a meeting of the P.A. cabinet in Ramallah.

By midday, as the P.A. Cabinet meeting was drawing to a close, or soon thereafter, there were hints that Fayyad might not head the delegation that delivered a long-awaited letter signed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

But, there was then total silence for some seven hours.

Sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m., the news broke, via AP [and Tweeted by @diaahadid] that Fayyad had “backed out” of the meeting, and the Palestinian side offered no public explanation.

The first AP report, published on a Seattle news site,  said that “Israeli officials said Netanyahu would accept the letter from whoever arrived”…

The Jerusalem Post reported here that Israeli officials commented: “Fayyad was reluctant to be seen engaging” on day 1000 Palestinian prisoners protested conditions in Israeli jails”.  But, it has been know for a long time that the meeting would be coinciding with the day that is widely marked in Palestinian cities as “Palestinian Prisoner’s Day”… and the hunger strike actions were known in advance as well.

The JPost noted further down in their story that Fayyad’s “last-minute cancellation may cast new light on divisions within the Palestinian political establishment”…

The first AP story, published here, reported that “Shortly before the meeting, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said only he + security official Majed Faraj would attend”. AP wrote that Erekat said: “‘We are on our way’, he said, giving no explanation for Fayyad’s absence”.

Majed Faraj is later identified as the Chief of PA General Intelligence Service [“mukhabarat”, it was later explained, because there are so many security groupings].

[It is not clear who the third man is who’s shown in the YNet news photo, above, but it could be Netanyahu’s negotiations adviser, Yitzhak Molcho].

The Secretary of the P.L.O. Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo, was supposed to accompany Fayyad and Erekat. There was no explanation of why Abed Rabbo — like Fayyad — did not go to the meeting.

Wire service reports said that Fayyad had reservations about participating in the meeting because of concern about appearances, and how it would be viewed.  AFP noted that Fayyad had never announced or confirmed he would participate… And Barak Ravid reported in an updated story for Haaretz, posted here, that “The prospect that Fayyad would not take part in the meeting with Netanyahu was a source of major embarrassment on the Palestinian side over the past two days. Abbas had previously announced publicly that Fayyad would attend, in part to underline the importance of the letter that was being delivered to the Israeli prime minister. For his part, however, Fayyad opposed an exchange of letters, contending that it would not produce results”.

[Ravid — @BarakRavid — sent out a Tweet on Wednesday morning saying “I heard this from at least 3 sources who spoke to Fayyad”…]

It is equally true that the prospect of Fayyad taking part in the meeting with Netanyahu is also a source of major embarassment for the Palestinian side, and as to what Sa’eb Erekat did.

The Israeli Project, in what is perhaps a litmus test for Israeli reactions, said in an email that it viewed as “preconditions” to negotiations what the Abbas letter called “obligations”: “Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was a no-show Tuesday as a Palestinian delegation presented Fayyad’s Israeli counterpart with a letter outlining preconditions to peace talks”. it said.

Palestinians expressed little interest in the meeting.  It was not covered on Palestinian TV [Yasser Abed Rabbo is the current Director].

    UPDATE: Palestinian TV had a 23-minute interview with fast-talking Sa’eb Erekat at the end of its news program on Wednesday, 18 April, a day after the letter presentation. Erekat justified everything he did…

The first report that Fayyad would participate was published in early April, in an AFP story [which suggests that Saeb Erekat was a possible source].  It was then also built up in an advisory sent out by The Israel Project, which we reported on 4 April here.  The DRAFT letter that Abbas signed was leaked to the  Israeli media [Barak Ravid of Haaretz, then AFP + The Times of Israel] — either the Palestinian media did not get it, or they were not interested.

According to Ravid, it was Abbas’ decision that Fayyad should take part.   Then, Abbas himself went on a long tour of unclear imperative to distant spots.  It was earlier announced that any Palestinian government shake-up would not occur until after Abbas’ return…

Ravid’s story in Haaretz also reported that “Fayyad indicated to Abbas, who has been on a tour of Asian nations, that he did not intend to take part in the meeting with Netanyahu. Nonetheless, Saeb Erekat, who heads the Palestinian negotiating team, continued telling journalists, even hours before the meeting, that Fayyad would be there”.

The Times of Israel later noted here that “until the delegation arrived, Netanyahu did not know whether Fayyad would be coming”.

AFP wrote later that “Speaking to AFP shortly afterwards, Erekat expressed satisfaction over the brief encounter. ‘It was a serious meeting’, he said. ‘Netanyahu will study the letter seriously and answer it within two weeks’.”  This is posted here.

AP wrote later, in a separate report, that “Erekat said after the meeting that Netanyahu had promised to “seriously consider” the Palestinian president’s letter. ‘We hope that the commitments on both sides will be honored’, Erekat said. ‘The current status quo cannot be maintained’.” This is posted here.

Erekat’s devotion to the negotiations process is evident — even after he resigned over a year ago, following the damaging series of reports on Al-Jazeera about the Palestinian Papers [diplomatic cables and other notes of the negotiations], he still persisted.  He explained a few months ago that Abbas had never accepted his resignation.

What Erekat is going to get out of this singular pursuit is unclear.

Abbas has, in the process of consolidating his hold on the reins of Palestinian political power, also developed great expertise in manipulating people, and in long-term revenge.

In any case, it’s clear that even if Fayyad had gone to the meeting with Netanyahu, there would not have been any resumption of negotiations then and there — despite what several major wire services are writing.  It was never intended as a negotiating session.

In Ramallah yesterday, when I asked a P.L.O. Executive Committee member about the possible letter delivery today, he rolled his eyes, grimaced, then told me: “Our problems are greater than anyone knows”…

After the meeting, a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement said that “both sides are committed to achieving peace and hope that the exchange of letter will help promote it”…

In DRAFT form, as reported by The Times of Israel, here, the Abbas letter said:

      “Now, as a result of actions taken by successive Israeli governments, the Palestinian National Authority no longer has any authority, and no meaningful jurisdiction in the political, economic, social, territorial and security spheres. In other words, the P.A. lost its reason d’être. In recognition of the above and in furtherance of the peace process and the agreements we signed with Israel, which were premised on international legitimacy, international law, and internationally-recognized terms of reference, we call on the Government of Israel to do the following:
      1- Accept the two-state solution on the 1967 borders with possible minor and mutually agreed upon land swaps of equal size and value;
      2- Stop all settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem;
      3- Release all prisoners, in particular those imprisoned prior to the end of 1994; and
                  4- Revoke all decisions taken since 2000 which undermine agreements signed between Israel and the PLO”.

The AFP report tonight says that the version of the letter that they had seen says: “We stand ready to immediately resume negotiations the minute we receive your positive response on these points”.

That phrase is not included in the DRAFT that the Times of Israel obtained and published on Sunday.

Hamas did not say a word — Did anyone wonder what Hamas might have thought of having Fayyad deliver Abbas letter saying PA has lost its “Raison d’etre” to Netanyahu? [UPDATE: it its later report Tuesday night, AP wrote that “In an interview with the {London-based} al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar … said the letter was a ‘trick’ to fool the Palestinian people that ‘something is going on in the so-called peace process’.”]

As the NYTimes noted in its report, by Ethan Bronner, posted here that “The Palestinian letter also expresses regret that Israel opposes the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to reconcile with Hamas”.

Yes, and it also notes that the Oslo Accords deliberately enshrined the concept that the West Bank and Gaza are integral parts of the same territorial unit.

Having Salam Fayyad deliver a letter that says “the P.A. has lost its raison d’etre” to Israeli PM Netanyahu sends a strong message that the letter refers only to the West Bank, which is under the control of the P.A. in Ramallah — while Gaza under Hamas is a different matter entirely.

In any case, as the Washington Post reported, “Fayyad has also been vocal recently about the Palestinian Authority’s declining power, holding Israel partly responsible for that. But he has insisted that the body not be dissolved — an idea that, according to some accounts, was raised in early versions of Abbas’s letter”. This is published here.

Palestinian President Abbas, meanwhile, was travelling — he’d been in Japan, then Thailand, then Sri Lanka, and it was announced this evening — about the same time Erekat was rushing to hand the Abbas letter to Netanyahu — that Abbas had decided to open a Palestinian Embassy in the Maldives…

[A communique issued after the P.A. Cabinet meeting said: “The Palestinian Cabinet called today during its weekly meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, upon the United Nations to mobilize immediately to exert serious pressure on Israel to release all Palestinian detainees, particularly veteran ones, affirming that at the same time Israel should treat detainees according to international conventions and covenants”… Very tellingly, the Cabinet communique also “welcomed the Quartet’s call to develop the National Authority’s ability to respond to the Palestinian people’s needs, protect its accomplishments achieved by the National Authority institutions and to build on those accomplishments. This is in addition to the necessity to assist the National Authority in confronting its fiscal challenges by fulfilling the needed financial commitments to cover the $1.1 billion in the current year’s budget deficit, as well as the call to speed up the reform of the clearance revenues system. The Cabinet affirmed the importance of having the Quartet actively following-up and creating mechanisms that would guarantee Israel’s compliance to the implementation of these commitments. In addition, the Quartet needs to have Israel commit to a total end of settlement activities including in East Jerusalem and its surroundings”... In other words, while this communique does not give the impression that the Cabinet has lost its “raison d’etre“,  it does suggest that the hard work should be done by the UN, and by the Quartet — not by the PA…]

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