Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat- High-ranking Palestinian sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas transferred the task of leading the Palestinian negotiating team from Ahmad Quray, alias Abu-Ala, to Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO’s negotiations department.
When Asharq Al-Awsat directly asked Erekat about this move, he said: “Yes, Of course I am the head of the Palestinian negotiating delegation.” However, he refused to give any reason for the removal of Quray who, according to Palestinian sources, continues to present himself [as head of the team] since September last year.
But the office of Quray denied the removal of Quray. An official in Quray’s office said no decision has been taken in this respect. He added that the decision on the appointment of Abu-Ala as head of the delegation can only be revoked by another decision.
Nevertheless, it was learned that Abu-Mazin did not issue a written decision, but only excluded Quray and did not accompany him to recent meetings with Israeli and US officials.
The Palestinian president reinforced the reports that said he removed Quray when he announced back in September that the negotiations with the Israeli side were continuing under supervision by the senior negotiator. The Palestinian president’s statement was understood as a reference to Erekat, who is known for holding this title.
Meanwhile, sources close to Quray told Asharq Al-Awsat that Abu-Ala is still in charge of the final-status negotiations, while Erekat follows the track of negotiations that deal with day-to-day issues. According to the sources, there is a third track, followed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and it deals with implementation of the road map.
People close to the Palestinian president charge that Abu-Ala used to take unilateral decisions in the negotiations. However, sources close to Quray said: “There are no negotiations in the first place. Abu-Ala holds the view that the Annapolis process failed and did not achieve its objective because of the Israeli stands.” They added: “The Israeli elections froze these negotiations and the war on Gaza put an end to them. Therefore, Abu-Ala recently announced a halt to the negotiations.”
With regard to the removal of Quray in September, the same sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the month of September saw a major disagreement between Abu-Ala and Abu-Mazin over stands taken by the former on the negotiations.
The sources said: “Since that time, Abu-Ala blocked the endorsement of an agreement that was proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” The sources added: “This agreement was likely to be presented to former US President George Bush, so he, in turn, would announce it at the United Nations. However, Abu-Ala rejected it and refused to go with Abu-Mazin to Washington afterward.”
The sources say that the Americans have boycotted Quray since September because they hold him responsible for the hard-line stand during negotiations, in line with the accusation that the Israelis leveled at him.
Concluding their statements, the sources said: “In any case, Abu-Ala does not insist on this post. Unlike the delegation members, he rejected many proposals that were presented by the Israelis.”
At a meeting in September last year, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert directly accused Quray of impeding efforts to reach an agreement. Afterward, Olmert called for speedily reaching an agreement on principles between Israel and the Palestinian [National] Authority [PNA]. He warned that the cost of any delay in reaching such an agreement would be unbearable.
During his meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos in the middle of September, Olmert said: “Some PNA leaders pressure Abu-Mazin to refuse to sign an agreement on principles with Israel. They loved the negotiations but do not like the moment of reaching an agreement.”
It is recalled that Israel previously revealed its plan for a comprehensive agreement, which the sources said was rejected by Quray.
The plan says that Olmert made a commitment in front of the PNA leadership to evacuate 60,000 settlers from among approximately a quarter of a million settlers. He also undertook that Israel would withdraw to the 1967 borders and that he would annex part of the settlements to Israel in exchange for giving the Palestinians alternative lands in southern Gaza.
With regard to Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert undertook to divide it by giving the city’s eastern suburbs to the Palestinians, while the holy sites would be run under an international authority.
As for the refugee issue, Olmert made no commitment on the return of the refugees to the state of Israel. It was said in Israel at the time that Olmert would pass on these commitments to the prime minister who would succeed him.