Erekat hits back at Indyk’s 'unfair' criticism

Article Summary
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat tells Al-Monitor that former US peace envoy Martin Indyk’s criticism of Mahmoud Abbas’ conduct during the failed nine-month peace talks was “unfair.”

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has rejected former US Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk’s repeated criticism of the Palestinian side during the nine-month talks with Israel. While Indyk has repeatedly suggested that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “shut down” toward the end of the negotiating period, Erekat cited the Obama administration’s refusal to offer any written proposal as undermining any chances of peace.

“I haven’t received any written proposal from [US Secretary of State John] Kerry. We are professionals here. The Americans presented 18 oral points and kept changing them,” Erekat said during an interview in the Palestinian negotiating department’s office in Ramallah. “If I get married, I sign a paper. If I get a job, I sign a contract. Do the United States and Israel not deal with issues in writing?”

In a July panel with The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg, Indyk emphasized that while “Netanyahu moved into the zone of a possible agreement,” by the middle of February Abbas had suddenly “shut down.” In March, Indyk reiterated, “Abbas had checked out of negotiations.” Indyk also criticized the Israeli side in a May speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, slamming Netanyahu for settlement building: “The settlement movement on the other hand may well drive Israel into an irreversible binational reality.”

Erekat said that without a written proposal, he could not adequately report the US proposal to the Arab leadership, especially since Jordan has an official stake in the process. By only providing the American initiative verbally, the Americans fostered a situation of ambiguity bound to create additional tensions. “If later, Martin Indyk will say that I didn’t say that, whom will they believe?” Erekat asked.

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Rejecting the contention of some analysts that Kerry was at fault for spending more time with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Erekat argued that this was natural given in his view Abbas’ moderate positions: “He doesn’t need to convince Abbas. Abbas accepts the two-state solution, recognizes Israel and does not build settlements.”

However, the biggest mistake during the nine-month talks, Erekat said, was the willingness to speak about other issues before clarifying the borders of the two states. “When I am asked what went wrong, I say we did not have a map on the table. We should have begun by delineating the borders.”

The full text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  US Peace Envoy Martin Indyk blames the Palestinian side for “shutting down” at the end of the nine-month talks. What is the Palestinian response to this claim? 

Erekat:  I am surprised. Indyk was a professional. We worked very well together. He knows very well from day one when he was appointed that as Palestinians, we accepted the two-state solution based on 1967 borders, accepted [land] swaps, Jerusalem to be an open city with East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine and West Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

Al-Monitor:  When Martin Indyk presented to the Palestinian side the US proposal, what was the response?

Erekat:  Actually I haven’t received any written proposal from Kerry. We are professionals here. The Americans presented 18 oral things and kept changing them. I asked Martin once, “If you give me something orally and in several weeks’ time we are sitting in France, London, Saudi Arabia or Jordan and then we disagree on something, or you say ‘I didn’t say that to you,’ what would this mean? Please give us your proposal in writing so we can submit it to the leadership and the Arabs. Imagine such a situation where you want to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and you decline to present something in writing.”

If I get married, I sign a paper. If I get a job, I sign a contract. Do the United States and Israel not deal with issues in writing, they don’t have contracts they just deal with everything orally?

Al-Monitor:  Some analysts blame Secretary Kerry for meeting with Netanyahu twice as much as Abbas. Do you think that this demonstrated bias against the Palestinians?

Erekat:  Because he doesn’t need to convince Abbas. Abbas accepts the two-state solution, recognizes Israel and does not build settlements. He knows that the Israeli side even refused to look at a map, refused to even say two states on 1967 lines.

America chose not to present anything because they did not want to be held up, because once you submit something in writing then it is yours.

Al-Monitor:  Some Israelis contend that they were the only ones offering concessions during the talks. Is this true?

Erekat:  Can they show me what they offered me? I want Livni, Molcho to stand up and say, “We offer the Palestinians these things.” I want to hear them say: two states on 1967 lines, Jerusalem, an open city for both, and accept swaps. 

I want to achieve peace because it is in my interests and saves both Palestinian and Israeli lives. I don’t know how you can save lives by building more settlements.

Al-Monitor:  Do you believe it is constructive for Indyk after resigning to repeatedly criticize Abbas and Netanyahu? Are these attacks conducive for future talks?

Erekat:  I hope that Martin, when he speaks, he just tells the truth. Accusing Abbas of shutting down is not fair. What can Abbas do more? I am waiting to see Martin Indyk’s petite proposal. Martin said we will present a one-pager. We told Martin that we will get an answer for you once we get a written proposal. I have a problem, I have to report to Jordan, they are stakeholders, and to Egypt, Saudi Arabia.

I want Secretary Kerry and Martin Indyk to tell the world; did Netanyahu ever accept a Palestinian state on 1967 lines? If he does, why does he continue to build settlements on the lands of Palestinians?

Al-Monitor:  Was it overly ambitious for Secretary Kerry to present a nine-month timetable to solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? Was this unrealistic? 

Erekat:  Nine months is too much time. The question is not time. When I am asked what went wrong every time, I say we did not have a map on the table. We should have began by delineating the borders. The term “map” was a forbidden word to Netanyahu and his team.

It is a mistake of all of us that we did not put a map on the table. My mistake was that I allowed things to happen without putting a map on the table. I won’t discuss anything else. How can I discuss security until I know where my borders are?

Al-Monitor:  What was the dynamic on the Israeli side between Tzipi Livni and Yitzchak Molcho? Were there any internal tensions between them?

Erekat:  I cannot talk about this. I was dealing with the Israeli delegation. I respect my counterparts and will leave it to them to speak about themselves.

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Found in: two-state solution, saeb erekat, peace negotiations, palestine, martin indyk, jersusalem, israel, 1967 borders

Aaron Magid is a Washington-based journalist who formerly reported from Amman. He graduated from Harvard University with an MA in Middle Eastern studies. His articles have appeared in the New Republic and the Daily Star (Lebanon). On Twitter: @AaronMagid

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