WASHINGTON — The Palestinian Authority is taking its case to international bodies because it believes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not support a two-state solution, longtime Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday afternoon at the annual J Street conference in Washington, DC.
In a challenge to the Obama administration, Erekat emphasized that “those who say they believe in a two-state solution should not recognize one state” in international institutions. “They should recognize two states.”
“We have realized that Benjamin Netanyahu is not a two-stater,” Erekat said. “And that is why we thought to ourselves what do we do to save the two-state solution, and so we went to the United Nations.”
Although the US has long opposed any UN recognition of state status for the Palestinian Authority, Washington has signaled that things might be changing. Following Netanyahu’s pre-election comments which were interpreted as a disavowal of his commitment-in-principle to establishing a Palestinian state, the Obama administration has intimated that the longstanding policy at the United Nations might be changing.
But a change of policy for the administration is likely to incur steep opposition in Washington. On Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that if the UN supported any move to recognize Palestinian statehood, Congress would consider defunding the international body.
Erekat complained that opposing Palestinian appeals to the International Criminal Court was tantamount to telling a victim of a crime “don’t go to court.” The US continues to oppose Palestinian appeals to the ICC – but the US is generally wary of the ICC’s jurisdiction whether or not Israel is involved.
Erekat dismissed Netanyahu’s claims that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not a viable partner for peace. “I hear some Israelis saying we don’t have a partner. We’ll have to wait to create a new atmosphere,” Erekat complained, referencing comments made by Netanyahu in recent months. “To these people, if Mother Theresa were to be the president of the Palestinians, [Charles] Montesquieu would be the speaker of the parliament and [Thomas] Jefferson prime minister, if they were to speak for two states and 1967 boundaries they would still be a terrorist.”
Erekat stressed that Abbas has “recognized the right of the state of Israel to live in peace and security on the 1967 lines.”
Erekat’s address was enthusiastically received by the crowd at the national J Street conference. His line, “Occupation corrupts. We have to stand tall to end this occupation” was met with a standing ovation.
“I think he was super-focused and spoke to what a lot of what people felt. I was impressed by the level of activism and voices here,” said conference attendee Eric Yellin of the Center for Emerging Futures. “He was very direct and clear in his message which was amazingly well-accepted about the urgent need to solve the unbearable reality for the Palestinians, and talking from the perspective of the Palestinians that it is the Palestinians who must suffer and will lose if no solution is reached.”
Speaking before Erekat, Ambassador Martin Indyk, the lead US negotiator for the most recent round of failed peace talks, said that any final agreement will require mutual recognition of “Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people and Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people.”
In that final agreement, he said, “Palestinians will have the right of return to their state of Palestine but will not have the right of return to the state of Israel.”
Telling J Street attendees not to lose hope in the possibility of the two state solution, Indyk stressed that the parameters of a peace plan are already clear, citing mutually agreed territory swaps that could “accommodate 75 to 85 percent of the settlers where they live today.”
“Withdrawal to secure and recognized borders will leave Israelis more secured than they are today,” he said.