DEAD SEA, Jordan — The Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Sunday that his side would only agree to renew peace talks if Israel ceased all settlement activity and openly declared that a future state of Palestine would be created on the 1967 lines with minor land swaps. He sounded exceedingly skeptical about the prospects of a breakthrough in the stalemate.
“We need to know what are the terms of reference for these negotiations. What are we negotiating about?” Erekat told Israeli reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum here. “If you have an Israeli prime minister who cannot utter the sentences two states on 1967 — come on, guys. Stop being politically blind.”
Earlier on Sunday, President Shimon Peres, who also attended the conference, said he was optimistic about efforts made by US Secretary of State John Kerry to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Later on Sunday, Peres is scheduled to appear on a panel together with Kerry, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Jordanian King Abdullah II, dedicated to finding ways to advance the peace process. Peres was said to be holding private meetings with Abbas and other world leaders throughout the day.
“We all agree with President Shimon Peres on the need for two states based on ’67,” Erekat said. “He should focus on convincing the Israeli prime minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu,” to accept that framework.
The Americans,too, added Erekat, must push for Netanyahu to declare “publicly his acceptance of two states based on ’67.”
Despite talk about the imminent resumption of peace talks, Erekat accused Israel of apartheid and suggested that Palestinians would only agree to return to the negotiating table if Jerusalem ceased all settlement construction.
“We were there 20 years ago and we have heard this before; now the Israeli government must make a choice,” Erekat said, referring to the Oslo Accords, which were signed in 1993. “The choices are very clear: Continu[ing] with settlement activity means you want a one-state solution,” he said. “If you don’t want to engage in serious negotiations leading to ending the occupation, what’s developing in the West Bank and east Jerusalem today is a worse apartheid than existed in South Africa.”
If Israel doesn’t cease with its “political blindness,” it will drag the entire region “down the drain,” he added.
Addressing Israeli reporters, Erekat said the Palestinian demand that Israel stop building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank should not be viewed as a precondition to talks but rather as an Israeli duty.
“The Palestinians have no preconditions whatsoever. The Israelis have to understand the difference between your obligations and our conditions,” Erekat said. “I hope that you in Israel will be able to differentiate between point-scoring, blame-game, finger pointing, and obligations. You have obligations; settlement freeze, two states on ’67, releasing [Palestinian] prisoners – these are obligations. And I hope the day will come when the Israeli government will understand the difference between its obligations and our conditions.”