US letter guaranteed our preconditions, PA negotiator says

The EU published its guidelines outlawing all dealings with settlements in order to entice Palestinians back to talks, Saeb Erekat adds

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Saeb Erekat speaks during a news conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on January 2, 2012. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/ FLASH90)
Saeb Erekat speaks during a news conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on January 2, 2012. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/ FLASH90)

The Palestinians would not have returned to the negotiating table with Israel were it not for an American letter of assurances guaranteeing their main negotiating preconditions, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday.

In a lengthy interview with Nazareth-based A-Shams radio, Erekat said that the US had assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed. Erekat also said that an American-Israeli agreement existed regarding settlements, but did not elaborate on its contents.

(The Palestinians long-time preconditions for resuming talks were that they negotiate Palestinian statehood on the basis of the pre-1967 lines; that Israel freeze settlement building; and that pro-Oslo accords Palestinian prisoners be set free. Israel agreed to a phased release of 104 prisoners, but rejected the other two conditions.)

Erekat also claimed that the European Union’s new directives outlawing all EU cooperation with settlements and other Israeli entities over the 1967 lines were part of a deal reached with Europe in exchange for returning to negotiations

He noted that the Palestinian Authority was currently holding talks with Latin American countries, China, Russia, Japan and the African Union to adopt similar sanctions toward settlements.

“This is an accomplishment,” Erekat told the Israeli radio station. “We would not have returned to the table without a written document confirming these points.”

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were expected to meet in the Palestinian territories for a third round of talks under American brokerage on Tuesday. The first meeting in three years between the sides took place in Washington on July 30, and the second in Jerusalem on August 14.

The Obama administration has so far refrained from revealing the contents of American letters of assurance reportedly delivered to both parties ahead of talks, and has not confirmed sending any such letters. US Secretary of State John Kerry has demanded that negotiating parties maintain complete silence regarding the progress of talks, even including the precise location of meetings.

But in his interview, Erekat blasted the negotiating tactics of the Israelis.

“Ninety-five percent of their negotiating behavior consists of attacking us outside the negotiating table,” Erekat said, referring to personal attacks against him in Israeli media as well as continued construction in the settlements. He added that a number of senior Israeli ministers, including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, have all tried to undermine talks by encouraging construction in the settlements.

“They may yet succeed in doing that,” Erekat warned.

In order to secure an Israeli agreement to release 104 Palestinian prisoners jailed before the signing of the Oslo agreements in 1993, the Palestinian leadership had to commit not to turn to the UN for recognition as a state during the negotiation period, Erekat admitted.

“It was a heavy price to pay, but a reasonable one,” he said. “Every country that respects itself wages battles for the freedom of its sons.”

If Israel failed to release all 104 prisoners — including Arab Israelis and Jerusalem residents — the Palestinians would be free to turn to the UN, Erekat said.

The chief negotiator acknowledged skepticism within the Palestinian camp over renewed talks with Israel, but insisted that negotiations were not an end in themselves but an indispensable means of terminating Israeli occupation.

“No one will gain more than us [Palestinians] from the success of negotiations and no one will lose more than us from their failure, because we want to end the despised occupation,” Erekat said.

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