The head of the Palestinian negotiating team that spent nine months in US-brokered talks with Israel has rejected criticism by former US special envoy Martin Indyk that the Palestinians backed away from the table, and instead accused the US of never putting any proposals down in writing.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, published on Tuesday, Saeb Erekat said that the US mediators to the talks, which fell apart at the end of April, were noncommittal.
“Actually, I haven’t received any written proposal from [US Secretary of State John] Kerry,” he said. “The Americans presented 18 oral things and kept changing them. I asked Martin once, ‘If you give me something orally and in several weeks’ time we are sitting in France, London, Saudi Arabia or Jordan and then we disagree on something, or you say “I didn’t say that to you,” what would this mean? Please give us your proposal in writing so we can submit it to the leadership and the Arabs. Imagine such a situation where you want to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and you decline to present something in writing.’”
“If I get married, I sign a paper,” Erekat continued. “If I get a job, I sign a contract. Do the United States and Israel not deal with issues in writing, they don’t have contracts, they just deal with everything orally?”
Talks started at the end of July 2013 with a nine-month deadline to reach an agreement for the generation-spanning conflict. In a July interview with The Atlantic, shortly after he resigned his position as special envoy, Indyk said that as early as March Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “had checked out of the negotiations” due to Israel’s continued announcements of settlement construction.
However, Erekat said that the time frame was not only not too short, but if anything, too long. The real problem was that the teams didn’t begin by defining the borders of a two-state solution.
“Nine months is too much time,” he said. “The question is not time. When I am asked what went wrong every time, I say we did not have a map on the table. We should have begun by delineating the borders. The term ‘map’ was a forbidden word to Netanyahu and his team.
“It was a mistake of all of us that we did not put a map on the table. My mistake was that I allowed things to happen without putting a map on the table. I won’t discuss anything else. How can I discuss security until I know where my borders are?”
The Palestinian official also suggested that Kerry spent twice as much time with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than he did with Abbas because it was Netanyahu who required the most coaxing.
“He doesn’t need to convince Abbas,” he said. “Abbas accepts the two-state solution, recognizes Israel and does not build settlements. He knows that the Israeli side refused even to look at a map, refused to even say two states on 1967 lines.
“Can they show me what they offered me? I want [Justice Minister Tzipi] Livni, [negotiator Yitzhak] Molcho to stand up and say, ‘We offer the Palestinians these things.’ I want to hear them say: two states on 1967 lines, Jerusalem, an open city for both, and accept [land] swaps.”
However, despite the criticism, Indyk was “a professional,” Erekat said.
“We worked very well together,” he recalled. “He knows very well from day one when he was appointed that as Palestinians, we accepted the two-state solution based on 1967 borders, accepted [land] swaps, Jerusalem to be an open city with East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem the capital of Israel.”
Negotiations finally fell apart at the end of April when the Palestinians joined 15 international bodies — a move they had promised no to take — and the PA formed a unity government with Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist organization; while Israel refused to release the forth, and last, batch of Palestinian prisoners that it had agree to set free as part of the negotiation process and announced construction of 700 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.