Diana Butto asks: how can Sa'eb Erekat retain the title of "Chief Palestinian Negotiator"

In an internet interview, from an unclear and unspecified location, with the new “TV” unit of the Institute of Palestine Studies, Diana Butto — a Canadian-born Israeli-Arab-Palestinian former spokesperson for the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit, who later also worked, for a period, for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad —

“We already knew about Israel’s intransigence, but what’s more interesting for me is the level of desperation, and the ways in which they tried to get the Israeli negotiators to actually like and support them, in order to get a better position”… We never really saw the dialog between the Israeli negotiators and Palestinian negotiators, but what we heard from the Palestinian negotiators all the time was just a clinging to slogans”.

Here is the full interview:

Diana Butto also says, in this interview:
“It reveals that Israel was simply not interested in having negotiations in the first place…

“You see the U.S. role in this — and both of these two actors point out what should be, what is patently obvious … You can’t have a weak party negotiating with a much stronger party…it’s never going to work. If there’s one thing we should be learning about this is that’s we should be moving away from this model of negotiations to something that is very different [she does not give any suggestions].

“We have no transparency in the West Bank. We can’t see how much money, for example, a very small thing, what percentage of the budget is spent on the security apparatus? How much money does the President’s Office have? How much money do they spend when they go out on these trips to the U.S. and the rest of the world? … At the end of the day, this is information that the PA and the PLO have never revealed in open sources to the Palestinian people, which is why people are upset about it, and which is why they []are backpedalling”…

On Palestinian reactions: “I guess I had expected that people were going to be more upset about the papers than anything else … But this is already is a government, a leadership that is entirely unrepresentative of Palestinians, in that they haven’t been elected, certainly the PLO officials have not been elected … I’m not entirely certain how Sa’eb Erekat was appointed ‘Chief Palestinian Negotiator’, and why he gets to retain that title, even after several of the blunders that he’s made in the past. So this is a leadership that’s not very representative, and yet there hasn’t been a massive revolt against this leadership”…

“The two more muted reactions are far more interesting — the first is to blame Qatar … and then the other reaction is one … that I hope will take shape more in the future: that somebody needs to be held accountable for all of these things, whether on the basic level, why are these documents so unsecure? That’s something that somebody needs to be held accountable for, namely Sa’eb Erekat; and for the fact of what’s contained in these documents, somebody should be held to account; the fact that these positions were taken, somebody should be held to account”.

Abbas + Erekat greeted by organized demonstrations of support upon return from Cairo

It’s always been striking how much the Palestinian political style is reminiscent of the Cold War era Soviet bloc, or even of present-day North Korea — though the Palestinians are much looser and more spontaneous…

Today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas returned from a couple of days’ visit to Cairo that just happened to coincide with the big, big, big Al-Jazeera series highlighting discoveries in leaked documents detailing what’s happened in the past couple of years of Israel-Palestinian negotiations. He was greeted by a political demonstration in his favor.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who accompanied Abbas to Cairo, was hoisted, like a bridegroom, on the shoulders of young men in a similar but less glossy demonstration in Jericho upon his return.

[These scenes looked and felt very different from the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square today…]

Then, he gave an interview to Reuters which was posted by Haaretz, in which he said: “Al-Jazeera is inciting against me + my family, “asking Palestinians to shoot me, physically”…

That was even before the third night’s revelations on Al-Jazeera.

In the first segment, a B-movie reenactment of some of the negotiating sessions showed Erekat saying:
“We have had to kill Palestinians to establish one authority, one gun, and the rule of law… We have even killed our own people”.

This was, in fact, reported months ago in the Israeli press.

All Al-Jazeera journalist Clayton Swisher — whose introduction to this issue was as a security guard for the U.S. State Department during former President Bill Clinton’s Camp David talks with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, and the Taba talks a few months later — had to do was simply follow-up on the reports previously published in the Israeli press. He had the Al-Jazeera organization, with the money and staff and other resources, to do it.

Meanwhile, at least one former consultants to the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department’s Negotiations Support Unit (NSU) has been named as a prime suspect in leaking these documents to Al-Jazeera.

In response, the NSU issued this statement: “We deny unsubstantiated reports in Israeli and other media outlets attributing the source of the alleged leak of classified documents to Negotiations Affairs Department advisors. The PLO is currently investigating the issues surrounding the alleged leaking. Contrary to what these irresponsible and unsubstantiated media reports have alleged, no NAD advisor has been arrested or left the country and all continue to carry out their responsibilities. Accordingly, we demand for all media allegations attributing responsibility to any Negotiations Affairs Department advisor, wherever published or broadcast, to be retracted and redacted immediately. Naming such personnel is irresponsible, constitutes willful slander and very seriously puts at risk the safety of innocent individuals. Accordingly, and pending the results of the PLO investigation currently underway, we additionally demand for corrections to be printed and broadcast conspicuously by all responsible media outlets”.

Many Palestinians in Ramallah are asking this question: Why this timing? Why were these Palestine Papers released now? Probably, simply because they were ready…

But, as the third day of destabilizing revelations coincides with post-Tunisia protests in Egypt and Jordan and Yemen (and a copycat in Lebanon, but for different reasons (Lebanon’s was rather more similar to the Palestinian demonstrations today in support of Abbas and Erekat), the volatility of the situation here increases dramatically.

The organized demonstration against Al-Jazeera in Ramallah yesterday, and for Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat today, can also be seen as not-so-veiled threats of chaos and mob action against anyone in the opposition, whoever they are.

In the Ramallah office building where Al-Jazeera studios are in the penthouse on the roof, demonstrators threaten the men filming this video:

The ante has been upped to the max.

All sides believe they are being targetted: Al-Jazeera staff, Saeb Erekat, and at least one former adviser to the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department’s Negotiations Support Unit (NSU) amed as a suspect for leaking the documents to Al-Jazeera.

Next, there could be actual killings and blood shed… Suddenly, regrettably, and most unfortunately, this is now in the air…

Israeli officials, who usually love the chance to get a word in, are uncharacteristically silent. Understandably. The future of the Palestinian leadership is now in the balance.

Though officials are silent, the Israeli media is stepping in. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh wrote today that: “After assuming the role of prosecutor and judge, Al- Jazeera, the Arab world’s most influential TV network, has ruled that the leaders of the Palestinian Authority have betrayed their people and must therefore step down from the stage … Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence. Al-Jazeera’s dramatic show trial, which began on Sunday night, has undoubtedly caused massive damage to the PA leadership in the West Bank. The blow is so severe that it’s hard to see how the PA leadership can ever recover … The TV station has already decided that the defendants are guilty of the three charges against them. The station’s unequivocal message to Palestinians is that Abbas and his men are traitors who need to be removed from the scene, and the sooner the better. It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests. The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.”. This is posted here.

Another JPost story, by Herb KEenon, says that “Al-Jazeera relentlessly continued to pound the PA leadership Tuesday night with its latest dump of Palestinian documents, essentially accusing it of collaboration with Israel in the killing of terrorists [sic]. In a story on its English web site entitled ‘The al-Madhoun assassination’, the network, basing itself on a handwritten notes of a meeting between then defense minister Shaul Mofaz and PA minister of interior Naser Youssef, Al-Jazeera writes that the PA has ‘shown operational willingness to co-operate with Israel to kill its own people, the Palestine Papers indicate’.” This is posted here.

Indeed, in the one-hour special on the Palestine Papers on Al-Jazeera tonight (day 3), a report by Mike Hanna from Gaza was aired, in which Hanna said, “The Palestine Papers reveal the extent to which all Palestinians are held hostage to what is called a ‘negotiating process’.”

But, Palestinian Security Services spokesperson General (?) Adnan al-Damiri was cut off during his appearance during the special program when he said (wearing a suit and a tie, and not a military uniform) when he said: “I can say that the security forces of Palestine did not take part at any time [in planning assassinations of Palestinians] … We are a small, new security force and we are under occupation…”

The situation is absolutely explosive.

If the U.S. and Israel don’t do something to support the Palestinian cause (and not just the Palestinian leadership) right now, all bets are off…

Revolution is in the air.

Al-Jazeera staff in Ramallah fear retribution for Palestine Papers leaks

A small demonstration was held in Ramallah’s central Manara Square on Monday — not against the Palestinian negotiators, but against Al-Jazeera, which is going big, big, big with a special multi-part broadcast that started Sunday night and will continue over a couple of days about documents concerning Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in recent years.

Journalists who were there said there were only some tens of demonstrators in Manara Square – and they were carrying signs denouncing Al-Jazeera (“Al-Jazeera = Zionism” and “Al-Jazeera is collaborating with Shabak”).

This small group of demonstrators then tried to enter the office building where Al-Jazeera has its studios on the rooftop, but “Palestinian police calmed them down”, one journalist reported.

He added that the local Al-Jazeera staff is afraid of the reaction. “They were expecting it, and though they were afraid of an even harsher reaction. They are even afraid for their lives”.

Local Al-Jazeera staff were reportedly distancing themselves, in conversations with their journalist colleagues, from this big Al-Jazeera story, and said it came from headquarters in Doha, Qatar, and not from their offices here.

Al-Jazeera has been working on this for several months – one report suggested three months.

It has been clear that although the Palestinian negotiators had agreed to keep silent about the content of discussions, they were also anxious to put out their side of the story once leaks began to flow from the Israeli side, blaming the Palestinians.

A team of producers and reporters and correspondents has been in the Jerusalem-Ramallah area for the past couple of days. A group of Al-Jazeera staff discussing the program on Saturday over supper in the American Colony hotel were overheard saying that only a restricted small circle of staff knew about this program ahead of time.

They thought, correctly, that this was going to be big — and the satellite channel gave the resources to support it.

They also thought that other documents (perhaps from the Israelis) might also be revealed live, on air, as the program continues for several days this week.

Many outside experts and commentators clearly had been given advance copies of some of the revealed material, Wikileaks style (and sworn to secrecy too), and their critiques and commentaries were ready immediately after the first part of the Al-Jazeera special program aired Sunday night.

The Al-Jazeera International staff were, however, apparently not prepared for the angry Palestinian denunciation.

Al-Jazeera’s bureau and staff have regularly had problems with, and been threatened with sanctions from both Israeli and Palestinian governments here on the ground. But this is the first time they have actually spoken about fearing death threats.