The PLO “chief negotiator” Saeb Erekat has categorically denied a report in The Washington Post suggesting that the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership that he represents has dropped its insistence that Israel halt settlement construction in the occupied West Bank before resuming US-brokered negotiations with Israel. He also confirmed that the Obama administration is pressing the PA to return to negotiations despite Israel’s rejectionist stance.
Reporting on a speech Erekat gave this afternoon at the Brookings Institution, The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl wrote:
The chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel staked out a new position Tuesday in Washington: “We want to resume negotiations,” said Saeb Erekat, on the basis of President Obama’s recent Middle East address.
There’s just one catch. Erekat, who met Monday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and senior White House officials, said the talks could not begin until Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu formally accepted Obama’s principle that a Palestinian state would be based on Israel’s 1967 border lines, with mutually agreed swaps of territory to accommodate demographic changes.
However, later in his piece Diehl claimed:
The new Palestinian position drew a mixed response from the assembled scholars and former officials. One noted that Erekat did not cite an Israeli freeze of settlement construction as a precondition for talks, as Palestinian leaders have for the last two years. Erekat appeared to confirm that the demand had been dropped; it also went unmentioned in Obama’s May 19 speech.
Speaking with The Electronic Intifada by telephone today, Erekat categorically denied this interpretation. Asked if he had dropped the condition that there should be a settlement freeze before a return to negotiations, Erekat replied, “Absolutely not.” Erekat added:
It’s true that I did not raise the question of settlements, and I did not repeat our position on that, but then somebody asked me about settlement activities. So I said, this is not a Palestinian precondition, this is an Israeli obligation to stop settlement activities, especially in East Jerusalem.
Pressed again whether Israel would have to fulfill this condition before negotiations, Erekat said, “Absolutely.” Erekat also spoke about his meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other US officials:
They said that they want negotiations, that their priority and option is to resume negotiations. They believe that President Obama came along way in his speech in identifying the two states and 1967 [lines]. So we said, fine, that is our option, but get Netanyahu to say openly ‘two states and 1967.’ And all of them said, well, he will not.
Erekat was referring to Obama’s recent speech setting out his Middle East policies in light of the Arab uprisings.
In view of the current Israeli positions, Erekat insisted that any return to negotiations would be a “waste of time” and that the PA still planned to go ahead with its request to the UN to recognize Palestine as a state in September.