Erekat discusses Israel's Road Map obligations, and the discussions about a joint statement for the Annapolis conference. He warns that Hamas will "take over Egypt" if there is no agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. "I'm not here to project optimism; I'm here to share facts so that you inform your governments," he said.
On 13 November, Dr. Saeb Erakat (SE) met with EU Heads of Mission at the Portuguese Representative Office in Ramallah. Below is a (non-minutes) summary of the meeting, which lasted one hour.
- We have been trying our best with Israelis to achieve a joint document, a joint statement to put indicators to what we do between now and Annapolis and after Annapolis and I think we’re stuck.
- We know that the Quartet is the author of the Road Map (RM) but the Quartet members are not doing anything. The Quartet members need to go to AM and tell him ‘‘these are your obligations’’ just like they should go to the Israelis and tell them ‘‘when will you freeze settlements, when will you re-open institutions in East Jerusalem, and go back to pre-28 September 2000’’? These are their obligations. Some decisions are taken at once, others are a gradual process. Our obligations are elections, an empowered prime minister, empowered minister of interior, security, one authority, one gun. Our obligations are ongoing, security is for the 1st, 2nd 3rd phase and beyond, it’s our life commitment until we die and meet God, He will ask us if we did our security homework. What prevents the Quartet to do its part? We know you have influence because the US coordinates with you, what we want is something to make sure that at least there is a settlement freeze. The Israeli government can spin it any way it wants in order to fend off their domestic criticism and sell it to their public.
- They want to condition any implementation to the RM obligations. There is a tanzim in the Defense Ministry that derails any progress we have with olmert. The same way Mofaz undermined Barak when the latter was prime minister. They run the show. When Blair was here, there was two blocks on the way to Jericho; after he left, there were FIVE. We agreed to remove road blocks, it was stopped by Barak, we agreed to open Erez twice for people in Gaza, it was stopped by Barak, we agreed to bring arms from Jordan, it was stopped by Barak. Even for the day to day issues we agreed on, they violate it. Once our police got into Nablus, they entered Nablus FIVE times in FIVE days. I was part of training the officers in crisis management, their main concern was, they told me ‘‘Dr. Erekat, we are humiliated when they enter; what do we do’’? I don’t know! We spoke about this to the Americans, Europeans and Arabs.
- During AM-EO meetings, core issues were addressed. We told Olmert we do not want a treaty at Annapolis just indicators to know where we are going. We’re not going to get anything at Annapolis, only a promise that we may start tackling core issues after it. Last night, we offered them to have the RM verbatim as the preamble. [SE starts reading the preamble of the RM].
- Israelis rejected inclusion of“ending the occupation that began in 67” and the API but they said ‘‘if you want progress you have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state’’. They didn’t agree on the parallel implementation of the RM phases or even the Quartet to evaluate the parties’ performance. They are going to take us for a ride until we get an invitation without reaching a document.
- Israel’s negotiating behaviors, the US and Europe’ negotiating behaviors must change. Hamas will be over if there is an agreement. Conversely, we will be over and Hamas will defeat us in the West Bank and the Muslim brothers will take over Egypt if there is no agreement. This is the truth and that’s where we are now.
- When I did the drafting, I wanted to adopt Rice’s points, Israel said ‘‘no’’ the US does not speak on our behalf and they gave us their suggested language so I said I’m not mandated to discuss new language.
- is there any bright side at all? We all take your point that the things on the ground are crucial for the aspects of credibility in your street, you need to sell Annapolis for your constituency. We all need Annapolis to succeed, not only for Paris [AHLC meeting] but also for your people. Even with this dark vision, how are you trying to play the success?
- I’m not here to project optimism; I’m here to share facts so that you inform your governments. We spared no effort in going all the way. AM met with EO seven times. Why did we spend meetings with optimism? You, Quartet, are you going to shoulder responsibility or not? The latest poll shows that 62% of Palestinians are not expecting anything from Annapolis.
- Livni said no tender had been issued in settlements since 2004,! I gave her a list [he passes it on] of SOME tenders that they have introduced in settlements throughout the West Bank since 2004. What is it that we have not done? If you have any advice, please tell me. I have the most decent president, eager to go to Annapolis. Tell me please. Is the approach of adopting the language of the RM a problem? ‘‘immediate and parallel’’ is their problem, this is not even negotiations! The last thing you want is for AM to say he was forced to go to Annapolis and agree to a bad document. We need to tell our people this is a good agreement for us. Now, I have to pay the price for Shas, Kadima divisions, Netanyaho…’’ I hardly can survive, I have a lot of problems internally. I cannot pay the price for Israel’s and your complexities.
- What does AM hope to achieve? What will he do in his trip to Arab states?
- AM is on a trip in the Arab world, he shares with King Abdallah of Jordan, the Saudi King and President Mubarak what I am sharing with you now. It doesn’t cost anything to blame Palestinians. We understand the survival elements of the Arab world, we calculate this very well. We need a unified Arab position. Israel wants Saudi but is not willing to mention the Saudi Initiative in the document. They demanded that we don’t share this with you or the arabs but now we have to. We will not repeat CD again. Back then Arafat asked me to get assurances that we won’t be blamed if it fails and Clinton personally assured him of that to get him to come to CD but then he blamed him.
- I want to play the devil’s advocate. This is an Israeli Palestinian affair. What can we do now concretely to push things ahead? It’s a one to one negotiation, and the Israelis refuse to have anyone else play in the negotiations and even the trilateral committee they refused it and refused the US speaking on their behalf. So what can we do?
- First, we didn’t ask the Americans to do anything; they came and consulted with both parties and came up with suggested language. I would not swallow the term ‘‘subject to’’ because Netanyahu will use it to say that someone in a village in Hebron has a WWII gun so you haven’t implemented security. The RM doesn’t call for sequentiality and conditionality. But then we said yes to the US with “subject to”. When we went to the Israelis, they said the Americans are not negotiating for us but they pocketed “subject to”. This style of pocketing is not going to work. Palestinians are better off sitting with Israelis alone. Personally speaking, I like to sit with Israelis alone. I have yet to see a third party play a role that is not biased to Israel. Palestinian negotiators are the most disadvantaged negotiators in the history of mankind. You should do what you said you’ll do in the first phase of the RM. Carry out your obligations.
- If one only reads the Israeli and Palestinian media you would think Israel is optimistic and achieving progress but the Palestinians are not.
- We never said anything to the media, we honored that we won’t discuss details. So I don’t know from where you are getting this impression.
- Yes, but lately you have responded to Israeli articles and the Israelis are claiming that they are achieving their goals.
- Israelis are projecting their victory, they use the media to score points which is a legitimate political tool. Its not advisable for us as Palestinians to go and undermine what we are doing because we would shoot ourselves in our head. I cannot empower Zahar. Livni is motivated personally and I have to work for my own survival. Our internal delegation is composed of SF, AA (who heads the delegation in the preparations for Annapolis), YAR, AH, SK, and myself. Nothing is said prior to the consent of AM. The NSU and us draft the language and will be the coordinator of the negotiations. We go to the Israelis with one position, we are doing our homework very well because we know Israel will do everything possible to discredit us.
- at the beginning AM was saying his attendance of Annapolis is not certain. Is that still the case?
- Until this moment, we did not receive any invitation to go to Annapolis, nor our Arab colleagues. Postpone why? There is no invitation until now. How can we say go or not go since there is no invitation until the 13th of November at noon? We don’t even know the substance of the invitation. Going or not is not the issue now. The Americans are using the invitation as leverage with those states that want to go in order to extract concessions on Iraq, Syria. It is very smart.
- What will happen probably is like what Baker did with Madrid. The US will just send invitations with their suggested language and then the letter of invitation becomes the document.
- We, Palestinians, promised ourselves to focus our battle on substance and not process. We are not going to waste time and resources on process. But what if Saudi Arabia sees the letter of invitation and says they can’t come? if so, Jordan and Egypt cant make it because of their internal situation and the fact that Israel refuses the API and they are committed to the API. In that case, if AM goes alone, he will weight 2 kilos in Ramallah and 100 kilos in Washington.
- But you were optimistic in the beginning. What happened?
- Something went wrong. When AM and EO were meeting, I thought they were making progress. Why is he not willing to put a sentence on the table? What are his internal limitations? He wants to maintain premiership, that’s legitimate but you have to balance between what you can give and not upsetting his coalition. Maybe he thought at this stage about a risk-free ride? They put language that they know Palestinians won’t accept then we look like rejectionists. They say we will talk about core issues after Annapolis. At the same time, there is someone sitting in Gaza ready for a 50-year hudna without negotiations. Israel loves this because they don’t even have to deal with anyone. I told Amos Gilad last night “I wish to bring Marwan Barghouthi to put strategies for both tanzims”. [laughing]
- When they asked for a recognition of the Jewish state, did you try to challenge them by asking them to define who is Jewish?
- My negotiations with the Israelis are so complicated. The last thing to do is to fall in the trap of discussing the nature of the religion of their state and get involved in their internal debates. Its not my business what their religion is, what their flag is, or nation or symbols, or identification. But they cannot ask me to become a member of the Zionist movement. I told Livni ‘‘how can you say Jewish State when 20% of your population is non Jewish’’?
- But there is an allusion in the Palestinian Independence document to the Jewish state?
- No, no. there is an Israeli state with Israeli Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Baha’i.
Sources: Al Jazeera