It was no idle threat. Saeb Erekat really did resign his position as head of the Palestinian negotiating team in the talks with Israel. But American pressure reasserted itself, and he was forced to withdraw his resignation. Erekat and his colleague Mohammad Shtayyeh have come under increasing pressure over the past weeks, both from Fatah and Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank, which demanded that they withdraw from the talks and announce that they have reached a dead end. The climax came last week, Oct. 30, when 26 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons.
The release of those prisoners, most of them considered icons of Palestinian resistance against Israel, was intended to garner public support for senior Palestinian Authority officials in general and Palestinian Chairman Abu Mazen in particular. Abu Mazen really needs that public support, because his return to the negotiating table is perceived as a humiliating surrender to American pressure. The Palestinian Authority insisted that Israel freeze construction in the settlements, so that a significant achievement would be reached before the talks began. In the end, it was decided to compromise on the prisoner release.