Erekat: ‘Obama has no credibility in the Middle East'

At least Mideast leaders ‘feared Bush,’ PLO negotiator says; Mitchell urges him not to let opportunities slip away.

Mitchell Erekat 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mitchell Erekat 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
US President Barack Obama has lost all credibility in the Middle East, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat told US envoy George Mitchell in October 2009, according to leaked Palestinian documents released by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian Wednesday night.
In an apparently heated exchange with Mitchell about a settlement freeze, Erekat said he would not be able to convince the Palestinians to negotiate without a full settlement freeze.
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“It’s not up to me to decide your credibility in the Middle East,” Erekat said. “He [Obama] has lost it throughout the region.
When he got the Nobel Peace Prize, I was asked about it in the media and publicly congratulated him. I was attacked for it in the Arab media – just for congratulating like I would congratulate anyone who wins a prize... Believe me, there is no president in the Middle East who wants to help Obama as much as AM [PA President Mahmoud Abbas].”
Mitchell argued with Erekat that the Palestinians negotiated without a full freeze in the past.
“Now with the first president who wants to make an effort – he’s being penalized by you,” Mitchell said.
To which Erekat replied, “Not me. He has [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu. He came to Cairo and said, ‘full freeze.’ We will not convert to Judaism, so if Netanyahu’s charade of two states is followed, it’s going to be one state.”
Later in the meeting, Erekat said that “people in the Middle East are not taking Barack Obama seriously. They feared Bush, despite everything. This is important. BO [Obama] has lost it with the decision-makers, although not the street.”
In another meeting that month, Mitchell said Obama was “completely committed to achieving the objective you want.”
“President Obama is not like previous administrations. In US politics, there never was and there never will be a president as determined to resolve this conflict,” Mitchell said. “So you can argue over words and delay indefinitely, so you lose the most important thing – this opportunity: the presence of a US president completely committed to achieving the objective you want.”
After Erekat warned that this was a final opportunity for a two-state solution and that the best alternative to a negotiated settlement is a binational state, Mitchell replied, “That is your decision. But the fact is that you have a president committed to this issue. All that points to the need to begin negotiations as fast as possible.”
“We won’t have a perfect ToR [terms of reference], or perfect negotiations, or a perfect outcome. That’s life. I understand the frustration and the burden of history, but please, don’t let this opportunity slip by,” Mitchell said.