Palestinian officials in Ramallah have condemned Israel’s recently announced decision to expand by 1,100 Jewish-only housing units the illegal settlement of Gilo built on land stolen from the occupied West Bank villages of Beit Jala, Beit Safafa and Sharafat.
But what they say in public is at odds with their private willingless to hand the settlement over to Israel in its entirety.
Condemnation from “chief negotiator”
A 27 September press release states:
Chief Palestinian Negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat strongly condemned the Israeli government’s approval of 1,100 new housing units in the illegal settlement Gilo, built on the land of Beit Jala in the Bethlehem District. Dr. Erekat described the approval as a “slap in the face to all international efforts to protect the fading prospects of peace in the region.” He added, “Israel responded to the Quartet Statement and French Initiative with 1100 no’s. Netanyahu has embarrassed all those in the international community who insisted that there was a peace partner in Israel.”
Erekat’s statement added, “By its illegitimate actions, Israel wants to guarantee that there will be no land left to implement the two-state solution.”
Gilo was offered to Israel in 2008
Israel’s colonization of the occupied territories is a blatant and grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus constitutes a war crime under international law.
Erekat’s public condmenation of the Israeli action, however, is at odds with the positions put forward in high-level meetings between Palestiian, Israeli and American officials.
In early 2008, Palestinian negotiators offered to let Israel annex all settlements in and around Jerusalem except for one, as part of a “one for one land swap.” But the land swap proposals would have seen Palestinians receiving negligible land in the Jerusalem area; most would have been near Gaza, and south of Hebron.
The landowners of Beit Jala, Beit Safafa and Sharafat would not receive land near their villages in exchange for what was taken from them by Israel.
On 15 June 2008, top Palestinian officials, led by Ahmad Qureia, met in Jerusalem with an Israeli team headed by then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and an American team led by then US Secretary of State Condolozeea Rice.
During the meeting, Qureia stated, according to the minutes:
As for settlements, we proposed the following: Removal of some settlements, annexation of others, and keeping others under Palestinian sovereignty. This last proposition could help in the swap process. We proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa). This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so n [sic] Camp David.
Later in the same meeting, Erekat himself explains that under the Palestinian proposal, Israel would annex 310,000 settlers, or 70 percent of the settlers living illegally on occupied land at that time.
Yet Livni rejected the Palestinian offer as insufficient because it did not include the settlements of Maaleh Adumim, Efrat, Ariel, Giv’at Ze’ev or Hara Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim) which all ring Jerusalem.
Responding to Livni’s complaint, Erekat affirmed what the proposal did include:
Why do I not say the opposite, that there are Zakhron Ya’cov [sic], the French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Ramot Alon, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, Tal Piot, and the Jewish Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem.
“Settlements have cornered us”
It is true that in the same meeting – and others – the Palestinian officials objected to ongoing settlement construction, because, as Qureia put it:
Settlement activities have cornered us and if they continue they will embarrass us before Palestinian public opinion and the Arab world which is urging us to negotiate but at the same time is demanding us not to make the negotiations an umbrella for the continuation of settlement activities.
Currently, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization, both of which are under the control of Mahmoud Abbas, are refusing to return to negotiations until Israel freezes settlements.
The Israeli government has rejected criticism of its expansion of Gilo colony. Ynet reported:
“Gilo is not a settlement nor an outpost. It is a neighborhood in the very heart of Jerusalem about five minutes from the centre of town,” Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said.
Gilo, Regev added, has “staid [sic] part of Jerusalem in every peace plan on the table in the past 18 years and therefore this planning decision in no way contradicts the current Israel government’s desire for peace based on two states for the two peoples.”
Reached by telephone, a testy Erekat denied to The Electronic Intifada that any proposal had ever been presented to the Israelis which would include annexation of settlements including Gilo, and repeated his earlier allegations that the release of the Palestine Papers was part of a plot by the Al Jazeera Network to discredit him. But the record shows this is simply not true as the documents show.
Erekat also alleged that recent Wikileaks revelations that former Al Jazeera Director General Wadah Khanfar had had discussions with American officials about the Network’s coverage confirmed his thesis.
In February, weeks after the Palestine Papers were revealed, Erekat resigned from his post. Yet the “chief negotiator” never actually stepped down. He now explains this by saying that since his resignation was never accepted, it never become operative.
When confronted with the specific documents detailing the Palestinian proposals to Israel and his own quoted words, Erekat asserted that any proposals made were not “official” or binding because of the principle that “until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed.”
Accepting that principle, however, does not change the fact that the Palestinian negotiators already told Israel, back in 2008, that Gilo would be theirs forever, and did so at repeated meetings and in the presence of the US Secretary of State. If that is not “official” then nothing is.
As Erekat notoriously put it, using Israel’s Hebrew name for Jerusalem and the vast colonies outside it, he and his colleagues had offered Israel “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history.”