Erekat denies PA unilateralism plans

Erekat denies PA plans t

saeb erekat good pic 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
saeb erekat good pic 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinians will not unilaterally declare an independent state, but rather seek a UN Security Council resolution endorsing a two-state solution along the pre-1967 lines, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Israeli officials said Erekat was backtracking on earlier statements calling for a unilateral declaration of independence, even as he said that Israel was "twisting his words." The Palestinians want the Security Council to set the borders of their future state and those of Israel along the pre-1967 lines, Erekat said. "What we are seeking is to preserve the two-state solution," he said. "One state is not an option." In light of the deadlocked peace process and continued Israeli actions that jeopardized any possibility of a two-state solution, Palestinians felt that they had no choice but to appeal to the international community for help through the Security Council, Erekat said. "We want the Security Council to declare that the two-state solution is the only option and that it would recognize the state of Palestine on the '67 borders and to live side by side with the State of Israel," he said. One senior Israeli government source said that Erekat's comments were an effort to backtrack on the plan to unilaterally declare a state, following the refusal of either the US or the EU to support the idea. Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said before a EU foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday that regarding a Palestinian state, "I don't think we are there yet. I would hope that we will be in a position to recognize a Palestinian state, but there has to be one first. I think that is somewhat premature." At the same time, Bildt said, we are "discussing other steps to demonstrate our support for the Palestinian aspirations more than we have done so far, and clearly there is a need for that." The senior Israeli government official said it was clear from the whole process of negotiations with the Palestinians over the past 16 years that the final borders needed to be negotiated, and "could not be set unilaterally." Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said this week that a unilateral Palestinian declaration would have "no significance," but that such a move would break the "ground rules" and leave open to Israel "a whole range of possible responses." He did not elaborate. Erekat said that a request for the UN Security Council to specify the pre-1967 lines as the future border between Israel and a Palestinian state was consistent with Security Council Resolution 1515 from 2003, which adopted the principles of the road map and a two-state solution, but did not specify what the borders would be. Security Council Resolution 1397 from 2002 was the first to affirm a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state next to Israel. "What we are asking the world to do is to specify the borders of the state as the 1967 border," Erekat said. If the UN Security Council already passed a resolution that endorses a two-state solution, why could it not say that this solution would be on the 1967 line? he asked. "I want to make sure the Israeli people understand that we are not speaking of a unilateral declaration," Erekat said. "This is not an option." He blamed Israeli leaders for reports that the PA was seeking a unilateral declaration of statehood, saying they were "always trying to twist our words." Erekat said that while Israel's borders have yet to be finalized after 61 years, in the interim the country has changed the facts on the ground by continuing with unilateral steps such as settlement activity in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The decision to turn to the Security Council, he said, was affirmed last Thursday at the Arab League's meeting of foreign ministers, and was necessary to prevent Netanyahu from "undermining the two-state solution" by continued settlement activity. The Palestinians have not yet set a date by which they planned to turn to the Security Council, Erekat said. At this stage, he said, they were consulting and seeking support from countries around the globe for the resolution. Statements by the US and the European Union rejecting Palestinian pursuit of unilateral statehood were not relevant, he said, because they did not correctly address the Palestinians' true goals. He noted that the bulk of the international community has never recognized Israel's right to the West Bank or east Jerusalem. Erekat said he did not believe that a Security Council resolution would stop the Palestinians and the Israelis from coming to a later agreement that would slightly modify the border through lands swaps such as those suggested in past negotiations. What it would do, he said, was give the Palestinians an accomplishment to point to after nearly two decades of a diplomatic process from which they feel they have received nothing. "I do not have anything now. The Israelis are still the authority," he said, adding that Israel continued building settlements and demolishing homes in east Jerusalem. "Unfortunately we have an Israeli government that refuses to resume where we left off [with prime minister Ehud Olmert]," Erekat said. "What should we do while the Israeli government is busy with fait accompli actions" but to turn to the Security Council to preserve the option of two states? he asked. One senior Israeli diplomatic source said it was ironic that the PA, which turned down Olmert's offer just a year ago, was now "nostalgic" for that offer and trying to force the new Israeli government to take it up. In Cairo on Tuesday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said that this plan was the only way to secure a state for his people. He spoke with the media after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who urged him not to make good on the threat he had issued earlier this month to step down after a presidential election he had set for January 24. But last week, in a move that made it hard for Abbas to quit, election officials postponed the vote indefinitely. Many senior Israeli officials are still taking Abbas's resignation threat very seriously, convinced that Israel would be worse off without him. Some are urging the government to take a strategic decision to bolster Abbas such as further easing movement in the West Bank, cutting in half the number of IDF raids into areas under PA control and placing more areas of the West Bank under the control of Palestinian security forces. PA forces are deemed to be operating effectively. A few have even urged the government to consider increasing the flow of goods into Gaza, which has been restricted solely to humanitarian aid since Hamas violently took over the area in 2007. Proponents of easing Israel's blockade of the Gaza crossings have argued that this would reduce the reliance on goods smuggled into the area through Hamas-controlled tunnels from Sinai, thereby increasing support for Abbas. American officials are also anxious for Israel to bolster Abbas. They believe that the economic and security progress the Palestinians attributed to measures instituted by Prime Minister Salaam Fayad would be lost, unless palpable momentum is achieved and conditions are created under which peace talks can take place. Netanyahu on Sunday night, in an address at the Saban Forum, called on the Palestinian leadership to take "courageous" steps for peace, and said that once talks are resumed, "we can surprise the world." But he warned the Palestinians that unilateral steps on their part would be met by similar measures on Israel's side. AP contributed to this report.