Erekat: Moving US Embassy to Jerusalem will ‘destroy peace process’

Erekat: Moving US Embassy to Jerusalem will ‘destroy peace process’

After president-elect chooses Israel envoy, Palestinian negotiator says he can appoint whoever he wants, but a changed US stance on the holy city could ‘send region to chaos’

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat in his Ramallah office, November 23, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat in his Ramallah office, November 23, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat warned on Friday that US President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem could “destroy the peace process” and send the region to a “path of chaos, lawlessness and extremism.”

Speaking at a press conference in Bethlehem, Erekat responded to the Trump team’s announcement that the president-elect has decided to appoint David Friedman, a hawkish American Jew, to the position of ambassador to Israel.

“Donald Trump’s announcement of his cabinet… is his business,” Erekat said, but then added: “What is not Donald Trump’s business is to determine the capitals of other nations, especially when it comes to occupied East Jerusalem.”

Friedman, 57, an Orthodox Jew and a Hebrew speaker, has been an outspoken and active supporter of the settlement movement, and has argued that Israel doesn’t face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it fails to separate from the Palestinians. In addition to being a bankruptcy lawyer in New York, Friedman serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, an organization that supports a large West Bank settlement just outside Ramallah.

Erekat said that “no one on Earth is mandated to preempt or prejudge the issue that is there for permanent status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. These are issues that were agreed by an American sponsor, an international sponsor.”

“[In] the peace process, the issues for negotiations [are]: Jerusalem, borders, settlements, the regime, security… and no one should preempt or prejudge, because this will be a destruction of the peace process as a whole.”

Since 1967, official US policy — during both Republican and Democratic administrations — has opposed Israeli construction in areas that the Palestinians claim for their future state. The US and the international community consider West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem over the Green Line illegal.

Erekat noted that “what we care about” is that US policy “continues to consider the annexation of West Bank as illegal and settlement activity as illegal.” He said there was a difference between “the interest of this person or that person” and “the long-standing position that the United States took since 1967, considering the annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal” and its control of the West Bank as illegal.

Trump has “a right to appoint anyone, but he has no right to make decisions on my future,” Erekat said.

Asked by one journalist what the Palestinians can do now that the US “no longer believes” those core tenets, Erekat said “We will see, will he do it? I don’t think they will do it.”

He then sounded a threat regarding the possible ramifications of moving the embassy: “If you were to take these steps, of moving the embassy, annexing settlements in the West Bank – you are sending this region down the path of something that I call chaos, lawlessness, and extremism.

“I think the United States, at the end of the day, is a country of institutions and they’re guided by their veteran interests, and not the interests, I believe, of this person or that person,” Erekat said.

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