Palestinians try to downplay coordination with Israel

Some MKs say Israel should have demanded Palestinian concessions to treat Erekat

Several in coalition, opposition say PLO official ill with COVID shouldn’t have been admitted to Jerusalem hospital unless Hamas agreed to return captives and bodies of soldiers

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at the J Street National Conference, in Washington, October 28, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at the J Street National Conference, in Washington, October 28, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Several lawmakers on Sunday condemned a decision to admit senior PLO official Saeb Erekat to a Jerusalem hospital for COVID-19 treatment, saying that Israel should have demanded that the Hamas terror group in Gaza first return the civilian captives and the soldiers’ bodies it is holding.

The call came from a number of MKs, from both the coalition and opposition, after Erakat was brought to Israel earlier in the day from his home in the West Bank city of Jericho. He is being treated at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, which said he is in serious but stable condition in the coronavirus intensive care unit.

Erekat, 65, is considered to be at high risk for complications from the virus. He survived both a mild heart attack in 2012 and a 2017 lung transplant after years of suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that scars the lungs and damages their ability to circulate oxygen.

His transfer to Israel was approved by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh of Gantz’s Blue and White party said Israel should treat him, but only if it received concessions from the Palestinians, calling for Israel to implement a reciprocity policy of “humanitarian in return for humanitarian.”

“Again the opportunity to make a demand is clear: Medical assistance in return for the return of Hadar, Oren, Avrah and Hissam, who are held in Gaza for more than six years, in a clear violation of international law and moral order,” Cotler-Wunsh, said, referring to IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul who were killed and captured by the terror group, and civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who both crossed into Gaza of their own accord in 2014 and 2015.

Clockwise from top left: Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. (Flash 90/Times of Israel)

Mk Bezalel Smotrich of the opposition Yamina party said that providing humanitarian medical assistance “to our enemy” without demanding the return of the Israelis from Gaza is “nether moral nor logical.” He also said Israel should have first demanded the return of the captives.

It was unclear why the MKs believed that the Hamas terror group, which has ruled Gaza since ousting the rival forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, would make such a major concession to save Erekat, one of Abbas’s top officials.

One of the architects of the Oslo peace accords, Erekat has been the PLO’s chief negotiator since 1995. Erekat has led numerous rounds of peace talks with Israel for over two decades and continues to play a central role in Palestinian politics.

Hamas has demanded Israel release hundreds of prisoners in return for the four Israelis and the issue has been a major stumbling block in efforts to achieve a long-term truce with the terror group.

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool/Flash90)

However, Smotrich argued that in a situation like this, “there is no difference between Gaza and Ramallah.”

Israel has routinely treated top Palestinian officials and their family members in the past.

Likud MK Ariel Kallner tweeted that Israel’s willingness to treat “one who hates Israel” is “not a sign of excessive morality. It is the opposite.”

The Palestinian Authority was also reportedly trying to downplay Erekat’s treatment in Israel after it severed contacts with Israel in recent months to protest Jerusalem’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, which were later put on hold in return for signing a normalization deal with the UAE.

Among the steps the PA took at the time was halting referrals for Palestinians to Israeli hospitals, and it now faces a backlash for approving such a move for a senior official.

Erekat recently also spoke out bitterly against Israel’s peace deals with the UAE and Bahrain, which the Palestinians say undermined an Arab consensus that recognition of Israel only come in return for concessions in peace talks — a rare source of leverage for the Palestinians.

“I never expected this poison dagger to come from an Arab country,” Erekat said in August. “You are rewarding aggression. … You have destroyed, with this move, any possibility of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

He was admitted to an Israeli hospital the same day that Israel signed a deal establishing diplomatic relations with Bahrain.

A Fatah spokesperson tweeted Sunday that Erekat was moved to the Hadassah hospital due to complications from the lung transplant he underwent three years ago, and not due to his coronavirus infection.

The official explained that Hadassah was chosen because it is the nearest medical center that has the relevant equipment and medical teams to deal with the specific problem. In addition, due to the coronavirus outbreak is was not possible to move Erekat to a hospital abroad, Ynet reported.

That Erekat’s family asked that he be taken to a hospital in Israel rather than Amman in neighboring Jordan is likely an indication that his condition is quite serious, the report assessed.

Hadassah Medical Center said in a statement that Erekat is in the coronavirus intensive care unit.

Erekat arrived in “a serious condition and required assistance and oxygen at a high rate. In recent hours he is in serious but stable condition.”

Hadassah Medical Center director Prof. Ze’ev Rothstein said: “Mr. Erekat is getting highly professional treatment just like every seriously ill coronavirus patient in Hadassah and the team is doing everything for the sake of his health.”

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