Erekat: It's time for direct decisions

PM’s spokesman: Why are the Palestinians afraid to try talks?

Mitchell with Erekat and Abbas 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mitchell with Erekat and Abbas 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel has been offered a framework for the most expansive peace agreement ever, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority has claimed.
Saeb Erekat says he gave the Obama administration an outline for a peace agreement that goes far beyond any previous Palestinian offer.
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“During the proximity talks we submitted to Senator Mitchell all our positions visa- vis the permanent core issues, i.e borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, security, end of conflict, end of claims, with maps,” Erekat said, referring to Obama’s Middle East enjoy George Mitchell, who has been engaged in months of shuttle diplomacy between the two sides.
“We have delivered farreaching proposals in order to reach the end game,” the negotiator said, while refusing to elaborate on the details of the proposals.
“Public relations will not make peace, we’ve been there before. Now it’s time for direct decisions required by Palestinians and Israelis.
“Unfortunately we haven’t heard a single word from the Israeli side,” Erekat added. “The key to direct negotiations is in the hands of [Prime Minister] Bibi Netanyahu. The minute he accepts to stop settlements and to have terms of reference for these negotiations on two-state ’67 [lines] with agreed swaps, we will have direct negotiations immediately.”
Over the weekend Erekat told Haaretz that the proposals constituted “more than” what PA President Mahmoud Abbas offered to former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
In the previous negotiations, Abbas and Olmert agreed on the principal of a territorial swap, in which Israel would formally annex a small percentage of the West Bank so as to include the larger Jewish communities built in the region. In exchange, Palestinians would be given an equal amount of Israeli territory.
Abbas is widely believed to have offered Olmert a land swap involving 1.9 percent of the West Bank. It is not known what percentage Abbas has offered in the more recent negotiations, but estimates have ranged from 2.3% to 3.8%.
Last year Netanyahu ordered a 10-month freeze on new construction in Jewish communities in the West Bank after intense pressure from the American government.
Abbas has since refused to enter into direct talks with Israel without a permanent freeze on such construction, and set the Israeli acceptance of the principle of an Israeli- Palestinian territorial swap based on the 1967 armistice lines as a precondition for peace talks.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu, day one upon entering office, called upon the Palestinian leadership to negotiate a peace agreement with him,” said Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev.
“We’ve been calling for 18 months for peace talks. We have no preconditions whatsoever.
We’re willing to start now, today, negotiating with the Palestinians.
“If Israel was looking for excuses not to negotiate, we have many,” he continued.
“Just over the weekend, rockets from Gaza were fired into Israel. The Palestinian government is theoretically responsible for what happens there. The Palestinian media is unfortunately still full of incitement.
“We have many reasons why we could find excuses not to negotiate, but the point is no, we have our concerns, we will bring them to the negotiating table and we urge the Palestinians to do the same.”
“We haven’t just talked about peace we’ve done tangible steps,” Regev said. “This coalition under Prime Minister Netanyahu has initiated an official policy of two states for two peoples. This coalition under Prime Minister Netanyahu has led to the taking down of more roadblocks, more barriers than ever before, allowing the West Bank economy to grow by some 8.5% in 2009. This coalition under Prime Minister Netanyahu instituted for the first time a settlement freeze in the West Bank... So let’s be clear here: this government has shown that it’s serious about peace.
“Let’s say the Palestinians do have their doubts,” Regev added. “Try us! Why are you afraid to try us? Only through negotiation, which will be complex, which will be difficult, which will have its ups and downs, but only through negotiation can we hope to solve the very difficult issues that are on the table.”
The Palestinian president has come under growing international pressure from the Obama administration and a number of Arab leaders to relax his demands.
Over the weekend the Arab daily Al-Hayat reported on sources saying that Obama sent Abbas a letter threatening to stop working to extend the Israeli construction freeze if Abbas continues to set preconditions for direct negotiations.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO central committee, was meanwhile quoted by Al-Quds Al-Arabi as saying that Obama had threatened to cut ties with the PA if Abbas did not agree to direct talks with Israel. She denies the report.
“Al Quds Al Arabi really doctored my interview and it gained a life of its own,” she said. “There are no secrets here: President Abbas told us that he presented the Americans with the written Palestinian position on all core issues. He got no response from the Israelis.
“People say negotiation is the only way to stop settlements but the settlements have not stopped – on the contrary they have expanded, particularly in and around Jerusalem,” Ashrawi said. “So we can talk forever and get nowhere, particularly if the Israelis have the free hand to do whatever they want while negotiations are going on.”