Erekat in TA: I'm optimistic about talks

Chief PA negotiator admits: Our mistakes "could fill volumes."

ErekatInTa311 (photo credit: Ron Friedman)
(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
In a rare direct address to the Israeli public, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday reiterated the Palestinian Authority’s desire for a just peace with Israel based on the two-state solution.
In a speech before diplomats, academics and journalists at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Erekat said the time for negotiations was over, and the time had come for making decisions.
“I know that many in Palestine and Israel today doubt the possibility that peace can be achieved. I beg to differ,” said Erekat.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There can be a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with land swaps and solutions for the refugees,” he continued.
“Many people thought that there was no progress with the negotiations that have taken place over the years because Palestinians and Israelis have eyes that only see things that are not achieved. But I believe that Palestinians and Israelis, over the last decade of negotiations, have come a long, long way.”
Erekat said he had no hope or desire that the sides would adopt each other’s ideologies, religions or historical narratives, but that he did sincerely believe that a two-state solution was a realistic option and that since the terms of the agreement were known, it was up to the leaders of both sides to make the crucial choices.
Erekat added that the talks with special envoy George Mitchell started where the talks between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former prime minister Ehud Olmert ended.
“The Americans cannot make peace for us. Americans cannot make the concessions that are required by Palestinians or Israelis. Americans cannot make decisions for Palestinians and Israelis,” said Erekat. “Many people say that the proximity talks after 19 years is a regression, that Palestinians not sitting face-to-face with Israelis is a step backward.
“That can be argued, but another argument in the science of negotiations is that proximity is when two sides exhaust everything they have – they have turned over every stone, they cannot conclude what they are trying to achieve. Then comes a third party to do four tasks: to go between, to facilitate, to arbitrate and to mediate,” he asserted.
“In the end, though, it is up to the two parties to make the decision,” he said, declaring that “the Palestinian leadership, Mahmoud Abbas, is fully ready for what it takes to achieve the endgame.”
Speaking about the Arab Peace Initiative, Erekat turned the famous saying that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” around and directed it at Israel, garnering laughter from the crowd. But he also admitted to Palestinian mistakes.
“You could fill volumes on the mistakes we have made, but you must understand, we are a very young authority,” he said.
Talking about the sides’ security arrangements under a final agreement, Erekat said that “limited arms doesn’t mean limited dignity. We will not accept Israeli presence in the Palestinian state.”
Erekat said that the two-state solution was the ideal solution, but also hinted at the alternative.
“I am not going to waste my time talking about interim solutions. If at the end of the day, as Palestinians, we are willing to accommodate Israeli requests and end our nakba [catastrophe], and you still insist that my hometown Jericho should be called Yeriho and Nablus be called Shechem, talk to me. I’m not scared,” said Erekat. “Now it is the moment of truth. Israelis need an end to conflict. Israelis need to understand that there is a leadership that is willing to [meet] the requirements for peace.”
Talking about the rift between Gaza and the West Bank, Erekat said the sides were working on finding a solution, but would not be able to do so without an agreement with Israel.
“If we have an endgame solution, we will prevail; if not, we will lose,” he said.
Responding to a question asking why the Palestinians required Arab approval to enter proximity talks, Erekat said the Palestinians did not and never would seek Arab permission, but wanted the support of its neighbors, chiefly Jordan and Egypt.
Erekat said the PA would not declare a Palestinian state unilaterally, but that everything was currently in motion for having the necessary institutions in place. He said Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s state-building plan was also Abbas’s plan and that they hoped to receive formal recognition of statehood from all the countries in the European Union.
When asked if the PA would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Erekat shot back, “Why are you asking me to join the Zionist movement? I don’t want to be a Zionist... Your name is the State of Israel. I recognize you as the State of Israel. If you want to call yourselves the Eternal, United, Historical, Biblical, Hebrew Nation of Jews from now to the future, who cares?”
He stressed that “I’m not here begging peace from you; I’m just telling you a story. The Palestinian people’s patience with me is running out. If you want to maintain the position of occupier under a different name, it won’t happen.”
Erekat urged Israel “to seize the chance. Mitchell and [US President Barack] Obama deserve to be given a chance, but they can’t make the concessions. It is up to us.”