'Gestures not enough to restart peace process'

PA negotiator Erekat: Israel should meet obligations previously made to freeze settlement building, free Palestinian prisoners.

Saeb Erekat 370 (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Saeb Erekat 370
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
A package of goodwill gestures would not be enough to restart the stalled negotiations with Israel, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Thursday during a tour of east Jerusalem with foreign diplomats.
He spoke less than a week before US President Barack Obama is scheduled to arrive in Israel. Obama plans to speak with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during his three-day visit about ways to renew the negotiations between them.
In preparation for that visit it is assumed that Israel has prepared a series of confidence building steps it would take to help lay the ground work for renewed talks.
But as Erekat stood under the spring sun in the Beit Safafa neighborhood, he said, “We do not ask for confidence building measures. We do not want to hear this term. We want the Israelis to carry out their obligations from past signed agreements.”
Erekat said Israel had an obligation to freeze all Jewish building in east Jerusalem and in West Bank settlements, including to accommodate natural growth.
He also called on Israel to free Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and to re-open the Orient House located in east Jerusalem, which housed PLO activities in the 1980s and 1990s. Israel closed the Orient House in 2001 and has not reopen it.
Thursday’s trip was organized by the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, and Erekat said he would have preferred to have used the Orient House for the event.
Instead he spoke with the diplomats in a large green tent, set up on a sandy lot near the construction site for Israel’s new Route 4 highway.
As he talked, the sound of drilling and cranes digging up dirt could be heard in the background.
Palestinians have objected to the project because it is built on Beit Safafa land, cuts through the neighborhood and will serve as an access route to settlements.
Palestinians also say that Israel does not have a right to build anywhere in east Jerusalem.
Erekat, who also went with the diplomats to the Givat Hamatos neighborhood, said the goal of the plan to build 2,600 housing units there, half of them for Arabs, as well as other east Jerusalem construction projects, was to prevent east Jerusalem from becoming the capitol of a Palestinian state.
“There will never be a Palestinian state without east Jerusalem being the capitol, that is the Palestinian truth,” he said.
Israel’s goal in building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank is to torpedo the two state-solution, Erekat said.
Israel must stop settlement building, because it is obligated to do so under agreements it has signed, and not as a gesture or a confidence building measure, he said.
Israel “must make up its mind [between] settlements or peace,” he said Erekat called on Israel to recognize that the pre-1967 lines is the basis of the border for the two-state solution.
He asserted the Palestinian right to pursue Israel in international courts to stop its activities in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The building in Beit Safafa constituted a “war crime,” Erekat claimed.
“Those who sorry about the courts, should stop committing crimes,” he said.
One should not ask the victim not to head to court, one should tell the perpetrator to stop their actions, he said. “The logic is that you go to those who committed the crimes and tell them to stop.”
It was important to pursue Palestinian statehood diplomatically and legally and not through violence, Erekat said.
“You do not fight extremism with guns. You do not fight ideas with guns and bullets. You fight bad ideas, evil ideas, with good ideas.
“This region requires two things, peace between Palestinians and Israelis and democracy in the Arab world,” Erekat said. “No one benefits more from a peace process than the Palestinians. No one is harmed more from the absence of peace.”
Since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was elected in 2009, he has urged the Palestinians to work toward peace through negotiations. He has asked for talks to be resumed without preconditions.
As a gesture to the Palestinians, Netanyahu instituted a 10- month moratorium on building starts in West Bank settlements from November 2009 through September 2010.
The moratorium led to a few meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2010, but there have been no direct talks since then.
Israeli governments have long insisted that united Jerusalem is Israel’s capitol, and that in a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, east Jerusalem as well as some areas within the West Bank, known as settlement blocs, will remain part of Israel.