Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat – Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that the Palestinians have yet to be given any details related to the US-Israeli agreement pertaining to the resumption of the negotiations. Meanwhile, reliable sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that in return for the guarantees offered to Israel, the Americans might offer the Palestinians guarantees related to support, the establishment of the state and its borders, and the status of Jerusalem.
Erekat cast doubts on Israeli reports on the agreement and its contents. He said that he will not be trapped into commenting on and taking stands on Israel’s test balloons. He added: “We will state our position when the Americans hand us something”. However, he went on to emphasize that the Americans know the Palestinian stand in advance and that this stand will not change. Erekat was referring to the PA’s refusal to return to the negotiations without a total stoppage of settlement building activities, including such activities in Jerusalem. On a document of guarantees to the Palestinians, Erekat said: “I do not know; I honestly do not know what the Americans are planning; we have not received anything”. The Americans have not set a date to convey to the Palestinians answers on previous questions related to settlement building activities and the state.
In a related development, Nabil Shath, member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said that the Palestinians cannot wait long. He added that the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee will be held either at the end of this month or in the first two days of next month. Reliable Palestinian sources, however, doubted that such a meeting would be held before the Palestinians receive the US reply. The sources told Asharq Al-Awsat, “We will wait for the American stand first”. The Palestinians doubt that a breakthrough may be reached if the negotiations were to resume within the three months when Israel may stop settlement building activities. In statements to the Palestinian radio, Shath said: “The additional three months during which settlement building activities will cease will not necessarily result in an agreement on the permanent borders between Israel and the future Palestinian state”. He added: “(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu does not peace and does not want a peace process. He does not want negotiations but he wants to perpetuate the fait accompli”. Netanyahu’s remarks on Sunday [21 November] have reinforced Palestinian suspicions. He said that he will not give priority to talks related to the borders because this issue will be discussed as part of a broader discussion dealing with the important issues.
Erekat held Israel fully responsible for the suspension of the direct talks. During a meeting with Ambassador David Hale, US deputy envoy for the peace process, and US Consul General Daniel Rubinstein, Saeb Erekat said: “The talks will resume when Israel stops all its settlement building activities, including in east Jerusalem”. Erekat refused the attempt to tie US-Israeli strategic relations to the Palestinian track. He recalled the 1973 doctrine of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that Israel should be militarily stronger in quality and quantity than all the Arabs combined. Erekat also emphasized that the PLO’s right to knock on the doors of the United Nations – including the Security Council and other international institutions – is a Palestinian affair that is not related to US-Israeli agreements or other agreements. He said: “This is an issue that is determined only in accordance with the supreme interests of the Palestinian people and the independent decision of the PLO and its institutions”. Erekat reiterated that the present time is the time for decisions, not negotiations. He said: “The purpose of the peace process, as defined by the international roadmap, is to end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967; to establish the independent state of Palestine with east Jerusalem as its capital; to resolve all the final status issues, particularly the issue of the refugees in accordance with the pertinent resolutions of international legitimacy; and to release all the detainees when any final agreement is signed”.
Erekat wondered if the Israeli government is genuinely interested in reaching a comprehensive peace agreement on all the final status issues. He said: “Why are the settlement building activities and the construction of the annexation and expansion wall continuing? Why is the creation of facts on the ground, especially in east Jerusalem and its environs, continuing? Why is the siege of the Gaza Strip continuing?” Regarding the Israeli Knesset’s decisions to hold a referendum on withdrawal from occupied east Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Erekat affirmed that such decisions do not create a right nor do they make a commitment: “If Israel wants comprehensive, just, and lasting peace to prevail one day, it knows that this cannot be achieved unless the Israeli forces withdrew from all the Arab lands occupied in 1967 – including east Jerusalem, the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and the remaining occupied Lebanese territories – and solved all the final status issues (Jerusalem, the borders, settlement building, the refugees, water, security, and release of the detainees) in accordance with the pertinent resolutions of international legitimacy”.
In the same context, the Palestinian government issued a statement on Monday following its weekly meeting chaired by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in which it said: “The total and complete cessation of settlement building activities in the occupied Palestinian land, headed by Jerusalem and its environs, is the basis of a serious political process that ends Israel’s occupation of our land and that ensures to our people their national legitimate rights, including their rights to return, self-determination, and establishment of the independent state of Palestine on the borders of 1967 with east Jerusalem as its capital”. The Palestinian government refused to make a connection between the process to freeze settlement construction activities and any guarantees or conditions that undermine the national rights of the Palestinian people as confirmed in international legitimacy resolutions and the principles of international law, in a reference to Israeli reports about US guarantees to obstruct any Arab or Palestinian move in the Security Council to recognize the state of Palestine.