Ha'Aretz published an online interview with Palestinian (PA) negotiator Saeb Erekat in which Mr. Erekat took questions from readers. I must admit, I'm somewhat confused by the relative brevity of the interview. As I write this, the website still seems to be accepting questions for Mr. Erekat and I just submitted one, but I'm not sure if he's really still there, it's 6AM his time!
Mr. Erekat answers six questions about 1) settlements, 2) stopping Palestinians with dual citizenship at Ben-Gurion airport, 3) the real chances of improvements for peace under Obama, 4) the impact of Hamas on peace efforts, 5) Israel as a Jewish state and 6) corruption in Fatah.
1) Erekat rejects settlements as incompatible with peace and argues that Israeli suggestions to annex the larger settlement blocks in exchange for other territory in Israel proper is "dictation, not negotiation."
Granted, this type of interview may not lend itself to going into detail, but Mr. Erekat does not explain why the question should be rejected on its face. Naturally, Israel will want to retain its settlements, if for no other reason than that removing them will be costly in every sense of the word. Palestinians naturally want land for a state, but do they want that land, or will any land do? Certainly, in this part of the world, the tiniest bits of real estate can have massive value and so yes, sometimes that land is crucial, but maybe there can be a compromise on some of the land. There is no reason to flatly reject this potential compromise.
2) Erekat calls the detention of Palestinian-Americans (and Canadians) at the border and Israeli refusal to let them into Israel, shameful. He also says that he has no power to do anything about the situation (which is interesting because not to long ago he described Palestinians as being in a position of power.)
The question here is one of a state deciding who they want to let in to their country, and who they want to keep out. Nobody has a right to enter any other country in the world, and I can appreciate Israel's suspicion of those foreigners with Palestinian citizenship for a number of reasons. Some would argue that a Canadian/US citizen, no matter what their origins or dual nationality must be treated the same as any other citizen of that same country. In principle, this is true, but when the dual citizenship is from a group considered hostile to the state being entered, it's hard to blame a country for applying extra scrutiny and limitations on those from the enemy group. India, for example, has similar rules with regards to Pakistanis.
3) Mr. Erekat thinks that after 18 years of negotiation with Israel, not a minute has been wasted. He notes how Israelis and Palestinians now see each other as more than just soldiers or suicide bombers. He also goes on to say that Israeli leaders are at fault for exporting fear to their people and that the had of peace is extended, so they should stop.
The thought that not a moment of 18 years of negotiation with Israel has been wasted is an encouraging one, and Mr. Erekat deserves kudos for saying it. He's right, these processes are long, there have been setbacks, their have been ups and downs, but his optimistic outlook is refreshing. It certainly stands in contrast to the Israeli foreign minister Lieberman who said: "In the 16 years since the Oslo Accords, we haven't managed to bring peace to the region, and I'm willing to bet that there won't be peace in another 16 years, either. Certainly not on the basis of the two-state solution." It's true, there's no peace, but there's more peace and there's progress.
As for the second point about Israeli leaders exporting fear; it would be interesting to hear Mr. Erekat's examples of this. Netanyahu's speech uses language very similar to Erekat's: that Israel is ready to talk peace and to move forward anytime, anywhere. That's quite different than a message of fear. Similarly, it's incumbent upon the PA to stop the hate and denial or minimization of a Jewish presence in Israel on its airwaves and in its schools. The mistrust Erekat sees as problematic in Israel is a two way street.
4) Erekat thinks that Hamas will disappear if he can present a two-state solution to Palestinians. Failing that, he thinks moderates such as himself will vanish. The whole thing, he says, boils down to time. The sooner a solution is found, the sooner change can begin.
This seems like a gross over simplification. More than once Hamas has shown its willingness to use ruthless force against other Palestinians to stay in power, first against Fatah and here, and again, more recently against Al-Qaida elements in the Gaza Strip. Then, there is the oft cited Hamas charter, replete with vicious hatred. As much as Mr. Erekat's optimism is refreshing, it smacks of naivete to suggest that a group like Hamas--or even it's more extreme rivals, like Al-Qaida--will simply vanish overnight if he can produce an agreement with Israel.
5) Erekat says that he really has no interest in what Israel calls itself, and so if it wants to be Israel the Jewish state, that's fine, but for now, all he recognizes is Israel.
This is a somewhat disingenuous response, or perhaps the question was not phrased properly. Generally, what is meant by Israel as a Jewish state is Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Why would Palestinians have a problem recognizing this? Indeed, the term Jewish state appears multiple times in the Israeli declaration of Independence. Palestinian acknowledgement of this will help to assure Israelis that there is no desire to see the Jewish-nation state disappear.
6) In response to a question about corruption within Fatah, Erekat acknowledges that Fatah is not perfect, alludes to a "party court" which will deal with matters of corruption and mostly discusses the sixth conference of Fatah.
Many issues of interest were not raised in this interview (at least not yet, I don't know if it will continue.) It would have been interesting to hear Mr. Erekat's views on what the outcomes of some of the most contentious issues of the conflict are: Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, demilitarization of a future Palestinian state. I asked some of these questions, and if the interview continues, I hope they'll be answered.
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