A leaked audio recording of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat harshly criticizing PA President Mahmoud Abbas over his reluctance to pursue Israel in the international arena exposed severe fissures within the Palestinian leadership regarding how best to engage Israel following the collapse of US-brokered negotiations in April, and showed profound disdain by Erekat for his president.
In the video, Erekat says Abbas has lost his credibility, slams his “useless” approach, and compares him to Saddam Hussein and Bashar Assad. The top Palestinian negotiator also says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a war criminal who isn’t “worth the bullet” to shoot him.
The source and time of Erekat’s speech were not reported, but in the edited three-minute recording, uploaded to YouTube late Wednesday night by the Awraq News Agency, the Palestinian official accused his president of acting autocratically against the will of a majority of the Palestinian leadership, which voted for a harsher stance against Israel.
“Netanyahu isn’t giving them [the Palestinians] anything. He said that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and they have Hebron. This is the man who wants to make peace with us,” Erekat said sardonically.
“No offense, but Abbas is mistaken too,” Erekat continued, reprising a dialogue he conducted with the president.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas], if you want to move Netanyahu, work on the [application] documents for international institutions. He said: I made a commitment’ [not to apply to international institutions]. What commitment have you made? This isn’t your daddy’s farm! This is a nation, this is Palestine. This is bigger than individuals. He didn’t listen to me. I swear, I submitted my resignation twice.”
Erekat’s harsh comments offered a rare glimpse at the debate within Abbas’s close circle surrounding the Palestinian diplomatic strategy toward Israel.
At the outset of negotiations last July, the Palestinians pledged to US Secretary of State John Kerry that they would not apply for membership in international bodies during the nine-month negotiating period in return for the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. On April 1, Abbas surprised Israel by applying to 15 international bodies and treaties, but has so far refrained from joining more robust organizations such as the International Criminal Court where Palestinians could seek recourse for alleged Israeli war crimes.
PLO official Hanan Ashrawi as early as November 2013 urged Abbas to turn to the UN in response to Israeli settlement construction. Last month, eight international human rights groups called on Abbas to join the ICC. A Palestinian ministerial committee is set to meet before the end of June to discuss joining additional treaties, Ma’an news agency reported on Thursday.
In his comments, Erekat said there could be no hope of reaching a negotiated solution with Netanyahu. The only way to force the Israeli premier to make concessions is by branding him a war criminal in international courts, he said.
“Without a cane to his ass [Netanyahu won't act]. I don’t say shoot him. He isn’t worth the bullet … he’s ideologically corrupt, I’ve known him for 31 years.”
‘Quite honestly, the Arabs don’t believe you [Abbas],’ Erekat said. ‘They either doubt you, or attack you, or are scared of you.’
“Why did Netanyahu engage in these random negotiations if not to build more settlements? … You, Abu Mazen, have the ability to prevent Netanyahu from traveling anywhere in the world, except from Ben-Gurion airport to New York. He’s a despicable, filthy war criminal. Let him take [the land] from the river to the sea. Did he leave you a [Palestinian] Authority anyway? When you [Abbas] travel from Ramallah to Amman you have to call a lieutenant [at the IDF coordination office] in Beit El and tell him how many cars are traveling with you. They humiliate you.”
According to Erekat, Abbas has lost his credibility not only domestically and with the Israelis, but also in the larger Arab world.
“Quite honestly, the Arabs don’t believe you [Abbas],” Erekat continued. “They either doubt you, or attack you, or are scared of you … He [Abbas] is 79 years old. How much longer will he live? All he must do is take a patriotic stand. He can do anything, but it seems like he wants to become like Bashar Assad or Saddam Hussein … this way of thinking is useless. There are cards in your hand — use them.”