Erekat: PA to dissolve if no deal with Israel by end of year
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Erekat: PA to dissolve if no deal with Israel by end of year

Chief Palestinian negotiator scoffs at Netanyahu's suggestion to delineate border of settlement blocs, says talks unlikely

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

File: Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at a press conference after an emergency meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on August 11, 2014. (AP/Amr Nabil)
File: Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at a press conference after an emergency meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, on August 11, 2014. (AP/Amr Nabil)

The Palestinian Authority will dissolve itself if a peace agreement with Israel resulting in two states is not reached by the end of this year, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday.

Speaking on a panel in Jerusalem titled “Time for international legitimacy,” organized by the Palestine-Israel Journal, Erekat said that a committee established by the PLO Central Council in its last meeting in March decided to place an ultimatum before Israel as a last resort.

“Israel will have to make a choice before the end of this year: either we have a contract and partnership that will lead to a two-state solution, or Israel will be solely responsible [for the areas and the people] from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean,” he said. “This cannot be sustained.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened in the past to “return the keys” to Israel for Palestinian civilians living in the West Bank. But while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed his willingness to relaunch peace talks without conditions, appointing Interior Minister Silvan Shalom to spearhead them, the Palestinians have shown no great enthusiasm to do so.

“Do we expect negotiations with the government of Mr. Netanyahu? No. He stopped the negotiations, you all know that … What are you going to negotiate [about] with Palestinians? Ukraine?” Erekat wondered facetiously. “Can you [Netanyahu] utter the number 1967? Can you put a map on the table?”

Erekat scoffed at Netanyahu’s latest suggestion to delineate the confines of the settlement blocs to be kept under Israeli sovereignty in any peace deal.

Illustrative photo of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, December 17, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, December 17, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“When I heard that, I looked in the mirror to see if I have a neon [sign] saying ‘stupid’ on my forehead,” he said. “He wants us to legitimize the illegal settlements? No! … We are a state under occupation on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as our capital.”

Netanyahu reportedly told EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini last week that Israel is prepared to resume negotiations with the Palestinians and to define boundaries for the major settlement blocs in the West Bank. In a marked departure from his long-held stance, Netanyahu reportedly showed willingness to reach an understanding with the Palestinians that would involve Israeli territorial concessions in the West Bank.

Later last week, Netanyahu said he welcomed the general idea behind the Arab Peace Initiative — a regional agreement between Israel and the moderate Arab states.

Meanwhile, Ambassador John Gatt-Rutter, the outgoing EU representative to the Palestinian Authority, alluded at the panel to the possibility of a downgrade in European-Israeli relations if Israel fails to return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.

“There is a suggestion in the media, in the public domain, of a certain relationship that is going through difficult times,” Gatt-Rutter said, in reference to Israel. “I think that impression could have an impact on the calculations that the leaders have.”

Despite the bleak chances of success, the European Union will become more involved in brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, the European diplomat said.

Gatt-Rutter’s comments came on the heels of a visit to Israel last week of European Union foreign policy chief Mogherini, who also underscored the need to resume peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as soon as possible. The status quo — in which the leadership of both sides has not conducted diplomatic talks in over a year — was “not sustainable,” she said.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, May 20, 2015 (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, May 20, 2015 (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Despite the inclusion of the EU alongside the United States in the Middle East Quartet — a grouping of states and supranational entities mediating the peace process and headed until last week by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair — Europe has played second fiddle to the US in the peace process, a position soon to change, Gatt-Rutter promised.

“We are absolutely determined, more than ever, to play a political role at the table,” he said.”What we would ultimately bring to the table is the strength of our relationships with both sides.”

The fact that Mogherini’s first overseas trip in office was to Israel and the Palestinian territories, despite the other urgent regional crises, proved the level of European commitment to the peace process, he argued.

Defunct peace talks could be revived by increased European involvement alongside the Americans, the ambassador said.

‘If we and the Americans could coordinate our actions and our positions, that could be quite a serious contribution,’ he said

“If we and the Americans could coordinate our actions and our positions, that could be quite a serious contribution,” he said. “There have been sporadic attempts in the past, but they’ve [only] been sporadic. In reality, it’s fair to say that there’s only been one-third party at the table. We’d like to be at the table [as well].”

A recent French draft document subjecting renewed peace talks between the sides to a 18-month timetable has reportedly been shelved following American pressure to wait until a final agreement is reached between the P5+1 and Iran on the nuclear issue later this month.

Gatt-Rutter said that in order for talks to be credible, especially in the eyes of Palestinians, an “endgame” must be defined. He did not elaborate on what parameters Europe will put forward ahead of talks, however.

Gaza is also an issue which Europe has never adequately addressed, he noted. “No one’s ever had a real strategy for Gaza,” he said, “and as a result of that absence of strategy we see … nothing but problems. We need to think of Gaza much more in political terms than in humanitarian terms.”

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