Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb Erekat travels to Tel Aviv to appeal to Israeli audience to give Mitchell a chance

Chief Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat travelled to Tel Aviv Sunday night to plead with an audience of Israeli policy analysts and journalists to give the new American-led peace talks a chance.

“Many believe peace can’t be done now — it’s the elitist and sophisticated way of thinking today”, Erekat told his audience at the Israeli Institute of National Security Studies, adjacent to Tel Aviv University. “I beg to differ — but I’m not trying to export either fear or hope”.

Erekat said that “the Number One priority is a two state solution”.

Proximity talks began last week, Erekat indicated, adding that “hopefully this week we’ll have the second round”. In these talks, he said, “I’m going to demonstrate that for the Palestinian leadership, President Abbas is ready for the end game”.

Contradicting claims published in recent Israeli press reports, Erekat said that during the Annapolis direct negotiations, the Palestinian President had, indeed, responded to an offer made by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

“Olmert made us an offer, and he showed us a map based on the 1967 lines”, Erekat stated. “But Olmert forgot to mention that there was a counter-offer. I was there”. Erekat said that the Palestinian side had presented two maps of their own — one offering a territorial swap of 1.9 percent –countering the Olmert proposal for a 6.5 percent swap (including 0.7 percent for a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza). The second map, Erekat said, showed the built-up areas of Israeli settlements that constitute some 1.2 percent of West Bank land.

Erekat added that the 46 square kilometers of “no-man’s land” should be split down the middle “according to the Peru-Ecuador formula” for their border conflict.

On 18 December 2008, Palestinian President Abbas went to Washington to deliver to President Obama, in front of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Dr. Hadley, a 37-page document containing the two Palestinian maps (and a third, entitled “Projection of the Israeli proposal”, which Erekat said was the Palestinian depiction of the Olmert proposal, reconstituted, he said with a kind of wink, either from memory or from a photograph taken by a portable phone…), as well as “a summary of 288 Israeli-Palestinian negotiating meetings”. Twenty minutes after the presentation, Rice requested that the Palestinian leader send a negotiator to Washington on 3 January. “I was nominated to go”, Erekat said. “We were soon informed that Olmert was also sending Sharon Turjuman on 3 January. But, instead of going to Washington, they went to Gaza [when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead] on 27 December.

“To be fair”, Erekat said, Condoleezza Rice gave the incoming new Administration “an 11-page summary” of our document.

Later, he said, “[Palestinian President] Abu Mazen ased me to put the whole file in front of Obama, and I did”.

Then, Erekat said, “I called Israeli National Security Adviser Uzi Arad [as soon as he was appointed] — three times he scheduled a meeting, but he cancelled each time”.

Erekat also said that “We do need a third party to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us … (And we have chosen the European Union as a third force) … We will not accept your [military, apparently] presence on our state … You made a bilateral agreement with Jordan, and you now have a 600-kilometer border with NO policemen. When you act unilaterally, you get what is happening in Gaza and in South Lebanon .. You control 84 percent of the water, yet in 2009 you had a GDP of some $30,000, while the Palestinian refugees in Aqabat Jaber camp [in Jericho, Erekat’s home town] had a GDP of $900, and they have to buy water from you which, in May 2010, costs 75 shekels per cubic meter”.

Erekat denied that he went to the Arab League to get their approval — “I would never seek any Arab approval, the decision is made in the PLO Executive Committee, but I wanted them to stand with me”, he sad.

The refugee problem should have a “just solution” as specified by the Arab Initiative, Erekat said, while for Jerusalem the Palestinians are willing to discuss all formulas — “we know you do not want to absorb some 300,000 more Palestinians [now living in East Jerusalem]”.

This is all do-able, Erekat said. “In fact, we don’t need negotiations, we need decisions by leaders.” He
then said that the negotiations are, in fact, completed.

But, he said, “in the West Bank there are roads I cannot use, and this is shameful in 2010”.

Democracy succeeded, after the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, but Hamas failed, Erekat said. He added that “Hamas never contested my ability to negotiate, as the Palestine Liberation Organization, but once I have an agreement with you, I’m going to take it to a national referendum”.

Now, he said, “[Either] I have an end-game solution with you and a two-state solution, peacefully, and we will prevail — or we will disappear”.

Asked to elaborate, Erekat said: “if you tie my hands and legs, and throw me into the sea, then you say ‘he’s not swimming, he’s not a partner’, or even ‘he’s drowning, he’s no good’. It took 19 years of research to find out, a man who’s hands and legs are tied, and who is thrown into the ocean, will drown”.

“You don’t know how difficult it is to be a Palestinian today”, Erekat said. “Palestinians sometimes live less than one kilometer away from you, and the maximum distance is 90 kilometers”…

“Please don’t mistake me — I’m not begging peace from you”, he said. “But the Palestinian people’s patience with me is running out, and they are telling me ‘enough is enough for your dignity and standards'”.

He also told the Israeli audience, “you are wrong if you think you can remain the authority over me … Today, I had to seek permission from Israeli commanders for Abu Mazen to cross the [Allenby] Bridge to Jordan” Erekat indicated that dictations, incursions, and threats have to stop — the four months [allocated for the American-led talks] will be over soon, and if the Israeli dominance doesn’t change, “you’ll sweat”, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s speech at Ben Gurion University last summer, in which he made a qualified acceptance of a two-state solution — but no 1967 borders, no return of refugees, mandatory recognition of a Jewish State, no Palestinian armies nor airport — sounded like patronizing domination, Erekat said: “Now, come here, boy, I know what’s good for you”.

This is wrong, and cannot continue, Erekat said. Instead, “you need me to be strong, so that when I take our agreement to my people, I can say, ‘this is good for you’, and NOT ‘this was dictated to me’.”

There will be no unilateral declaration of independence now, Erekat said — “Our independence was declared in 1988, and 102 states recognized it. Today, Prime Minister Fayyad is doing institution-building with Abu Mazen’s program” …

What will happen soon, Erekat said, is that the Europeans will be approached to upgrade relations. “There are 27 countries in the European Union – six have Palestinian embassies, 21 don’t … We will say to them, ‘If you want a two-state solution, why don’t you recognize the Palestinian state, and have a Palestinian embassy in your capital’…”

Then, he said, America will have to decide, if Israel doesn’t accept the 1967 borders, whether it will go to the UN Security Council and ask for recognition of the Palestinian State.

“But”, Erekat told his Israeli audience, “I’d rather get your recognition”. I want to make an agreement with you … I need your recognition, and you need mine … The decisions are ours, the negotiations have finished, and there is no place for an interim solution”…

“There is a chance now –seize it”, Erekat said.

INSS Director, Oded Eran, who noted that he had participated in negotiations with Sa’eb Erekat in the past, said after the discussion that “I see it as not a beginning, but a very important milestone”.

Brig. Gen (Ret.) Shlomo Brom, INSS Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Program on Israel-Palestine relations, commented afterwards on Erekat’s presentation by saying that “just as we still have to study the Palestinians, he [Erekat] still has to study the Israelis. If he understood, really, the fear of Israelis, he would have realized that a third party presence is not sufficient or good enough. He could also have elaborated a bit more on the building-up of their institutions that is going on… And, I was told that Abu Mazen said to Olmert in their first meeting something that energized the discussion, which was: ‘I understand that most of the Palestinian refugees can’t return’, that would have made a dramatic difference…Why don’t they say the truth, that only a small number of refugees will return (to Israel)?”

Leaders on both sides should tell the truth to their own people, Brom added, noting that “Olmert made a big contribution by telling Israelis that he had offered a solution based on the 1967 borders with territorial swaps”.

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