Israel is preparing a major expansion of settlements and to annex areas of the West Bank, warned PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on Thursday. He called on the international community to boycott settlement products, divest from companies involved in the “Israeli occupation” and to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law.
Erekat spoke as Israel published tenders for 1,500 new Jewish homes over the pre-1967 lines, of which 1,100 were for West Bank settlements and 400 homes were slated for the east Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.
“We call upon the international community to assume its responsibilities, including banning all Israeli settlement products, divest from all companies involved directly or indirectly in the Israeli occupation, and take all possible measures in order to hold Israel, the occupying power, accountable for its daily violations of Palestinian rights and international law,” Erekat said.
Israel published the tenders late Wednesday night in response to Monday’s formal swearing in ceremony of the newly unified Fatah-Hamas government. Israel had warned it would take punitive measures against the inclusion of a terrorist group like Hamas in the Palestinian government. But on Thursday, Erekat said, “We believe this latest announcement is a clear sign that Israel is moving towards a major escalation, such as new settlement construction, the annexation of occupied territory and forcible transfer.”
With the publication of the new tenders, Prime Minister Netanyahu has reaffirmed its intent to challenge international law and international peace efforts by further colonizing our occupied country. This time Israel is using Palestinian national unity, a step welcomed by the international community, as their excuse to continue the colonization of Palestine,” Erekat said. Already on Tuesday, Erekat had explained that the Palestinians already possessed the legal tools needed to pursue Israel in the international legal arena for war crimes and for apartheid acts. The Palestinians will use these tools if Israel takes steps against them, Erekat said.
The PLO could do this by activating the 15 international treaties and conventions Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had signed in April, Erekat said.
He spoke to a small group of journalists and diplomats who traveled with him Tuesday to the outskirts of a small Beduin encampment in Area C of the West Bank, just outside of Jerusalem.
“We want to give them [Israelis] a heads-up that we are planning to pursue our case internationally.”
He explained that in a situation of Israeli escalation, Palestinians would write letters to the member states of the four Geneva Conventions, which among other topics, deal with the issue of war crimes.
“We’ll ask them [member states] to shoulder their responsibility vis-a-vis the occupying power [Israel], vis-a-vis the atrocities and the crimes that are being committed against the Palestinian population in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza,” Erekat said. “We think Israelis and their legal [experts] know what this means.”
The Palestinians also plan to pursue Israel through the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which deals with acts of Apartheid, he said.
In 2014, the international community should “not stomach” the use of an apartheid system, Erekat said.
“Instead of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state we should recognize Israel as the apartheid state.”
He explained he had chosen to visit the Jabal Al-Baba Beduin camp because it is located in an area called E1, where Israel plans to build 3,500 new homes, for the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement.
Under that plan, this particular hilltop would have a commercial center and an army post. While plans for E1 are frozen, Erekat and members of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department that led the tour, believe they will be carried out.
They said Israel would forcibly relocate the Beduin from the hilltop to make way for Jewish building.
Forced displacement is a war crime, Erekat said, as is the Israeli demolition of Beduin structures that has already taken place in the encampment.
“We are preparing ourselves for the defense of our people including the option of signing the Rome Statute,” Erekat said. While the Palestinians are prepared to turn to the international court, they are first focused on using the legal instruments afforded them under the 15 conventions they have already signed, he said.
Israel, in turn, has warned the Palestinians that their signatures on these conventions means they are liable for acts of violence against Israel by Hamas, especially rockets launched from Gaza to Israel’s southern cities.
In past weeks, Israel urged Fatah not to unite with Hamas, a terrorist organization bent on Israel’s destruction.
Erekat defended the new unity government, which ends a seven- year feud between the organizations.
“I believe the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem are a single territorial unit. We have an obligation to maintain one authority, one gun and the rule of law. Yesterday marked the beginning of our reconciliation, this is the most cardinal ingredient in our strategy.”
The international community has welcomed the new government and the Palestinians appreciate this, the chief negotiator said.
He said the Palestinians want to make peace with Israel by accepting a two-state solution on the pre-1967 lines. But Netanyahu has refused to accept this, Erekat said.
“I know that [Netanyahu] rejects the two state solution. Mr. Netanyahu is aiming not for the two-state solution, he is aiming for one state, two systems.”
No matter what the situation, he said, Netanyahu will always find a reason not to negotiate.
“I believe if we were to have Mother Teresa as the president of the Palestinians, Montesquieu as the speaker of the Palestinian parliament and Thomas Jefferson as the prime minister of the Palestinians, I am sure that Mr. Netanyahu would band them as non-partners.”
He spoke in the aftermath of a nine-month US-led negotiating process that began at the end of July and ended in April, with no tangible results.
Israel suspended talks in April when the Fatah-Hamas unity deal was announced, saying it would not negotiate with a government that included Hamas.
Erekat said that during those nine months, “the government of Mr. Netanyahu was not negotiating, they were dictating on the ground, so I really do not feel much difference.”
“There is a big difference between being a tough negotiator and a non-negotiator, Netanyahu belongs to the category of brilliant non-negotiators.”