PA officials: Palestinian peace envoys haven't quit over Israeli settlement building

Israeli official says instead of "playing games," Palestinians "should negotiate seriously."

November 2, 2013 18:15
3 minute read.
PA President Abbas and Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat [file].

Abbas and Erekat 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Tarek Mostafa)

Palestinian Authority officials denied over the weekend that members of its negotiating team in talks with Israel had resigned in protest against settlement construction and other measures taken by Jerusalem.

A report about the resignation of the negotiating team, headed by Saeb Erekat, first appeared in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

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According to the report, Erekat and Mohamed Shtayyeh, a member of the negotiating team, tendered their resignation to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. However, a source in the PLO Negotiations Department denied the report, calling it “Israeli lies” and saying it was completely untrue.

The PA envoy to Jordan, Atallah Khairi, also denied that Erekat and the members of the negotiating team had quit.

Khairi said Abbas told him during a phone conversation that Erekat was continuing to carry out his duties “in line with the requirements of Palestinian interests.” The envoy quoted the PA president as saying that neither Erekat nor Shtayyeh had resigned.

Wasel Abu Yusef, a PLO executive committee member, said that the report about the resignation of the negotiating team was baseless. He explained that the executive committee, which held a meeting in Ramallah last Thursday, did not discuss the issue of the resignation of Erekat or his team members.

The report about the resignations came amid increased calls by PLO and Fatah officials to suspend the peace talks with Israel over plans to build new housing units in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Hussam Khader, a senior Fatah operative from the Nablus area, called on Abbas to replace the current negotiators with a new team.

Khader said that if the report about Erekat’s resignation was true, the PA president should accept it immediately and appoint new negotiators.

Some Palestinians speculated that the report about the resignation was intended to send messages to the US administration and the Palestinian street. It appeared shortly after the announcement that US Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the region this week for talks with both sides on the current status of the peace negotiations.

“The news about the resignation of Erekat is designed to show the Americans that the Palestinians are very angry with recent Israeli decisions to build in settlements and east Jerusalem,” a Fatah legislator told The Jerusalem Post.

On the other hand, the legislator said, the news was aimed at containing growing criticism among Palestinians of the PA leadership because of the continued peace talks. Some of the criticism had been directed against Erekat personally, he noted.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, took the reports in stride.

“To be frank,” one official said, “this has for too long been the standard operating procedure for the Palestinians: ‘Unless we get what we want, we will jump off the cliff, dismantle the PA, renounce the Oslo Accords, resign.’ This is the way they conduct brinkmanship negotiations.”

Instead of “playing games,” the official said, “they should negotiate seriously.”

Meanwhile, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, when asked about the report in Washington at the daily press briefing on Friday, said the US had “been in touch” with the Palestinian side, and that the Palestinians “remain fully committed to the negotiations for the nine months agreed upon, and they fully intend to participate in the next round of negotiations.”

She said the US remained committed to the goal of a two-state solution emerging out of the current round of negotiations, which are now in their fourth month, and that this was one of the reasons Kerry would be traveling overseas this week.

Kerry is expected in Israel on Tuesday, for talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Bethlehem. He is also expected to discuss the negotiations during stopovers in Amman and Riyadh.

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