Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat was interviewed by one of the territory’s radio stations A-Shams radio stations this morning and said that the only reason they returned to the table was that US had assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed. He also said there was a side deal between Israel and the US on settlements but would not reveal the details.
Since Obama and Hilary Clinton made the settlements an issue the Palestinians had made freezing the settlements a precondition for resuming talks (they had negotiated with Israel during the Bush administration without that precondition. In May 2012 President Obama agreed to the demand that that negotiations would begin basis of the 1949 armistice lines, and since the Obama presidency the PA demanded that all pre-Oslo accords Palestinian prisoners be set free.
According to the Times of Israel, Erekat also claimed that the EU’s new directives outlawing cooperation with Israeli entities over the 1949 armistice lines were what Europe anted up to get them back to the table. He added that the PA is currently holding talks with Latin American countries, China, Russia, Japan and the African Union to adopt similar sanctions toward settlements.
“This is an accomplishment,” Erekat told the radio station. “We would not have returned to the table without a written document confirming these points.”
The Obama administration has so far refrained from revealing the contents of American letters of assurance reportedly delivered to both parties ahead of talks, and has not confirmed sending any such letters. US Secretary of State John Kerry has demanded that negotiating parties maintain complete silence regarding the progress of talks, even including the precise location of meetings.
But in his interview, Erekat blasted the negotiating tactics of the Israelis.
“Ninety-five percent of their negotiating behavior consists of attacking us outside the negotiating table,” Erekat said, referring to personal attacks against him in Israeli media as well as continued construction in the settlements. He added that a number of senior Israeli ministers, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, have all tried to undermine talks by encouraging construction in the settlements.
“They may yet succeed in doing that,” Erekat warned.
Now keep in mind this entire interview may be just a ploy by the PA, to gain support for the negotiations which are unpopular in the PA-controlled territories (and even less popular in the Gaza strip). This wouldn’t be the first time negotiators from either side have lied to the press.
There is the possibility that the claim is true but Kerry never told Israel what was in the letter. That seems beyond the scope of what even this administration, as unfriendly to Israel as it is, would do. But then again the Obama Administration has surprised me before.
If these two elements revealed by the PA negotiator are true, then the Netanyahu government is going to be in real political trouble now that they’ve leaked out. If the story is true perhaps that’s what is really behind Saeb Erekat’s statement, a way to end the negotiations by forcing Netanyahu to trash the guarantees. It would serve two purposes, end the talks (as the PA side has never shown a desire to make peace) and it would make Bibi and Israel look bad.
Either way the Netanyahu government is having a (kosher) cow right now.