Friday, 28 January 2011

Misrepresenting Saeb Erekat

I think this post goes a long way to demonstrate my not-very-positive opinions of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Revelations in the "Palestine Papers" that Washington "wouldn't stand for" (not a direct quote - the quotation marks are to indicate the outrageousness of it dictating this kind of thing) any change in the PA leadership, democratic or not, further point to its rising status as yet another US-backed police state in the region. I'll also say that I'm more or less a fan of Al-Jazeera, and the Guardian is my daily paper. AJ and the Guardian published the papers, and have played a major role in spinning them. A lot of their spin is justified - in particular regarding the jaw-dropping pro-Israeli bias of US figures, even including Obama and George Mitchell.

However I do think that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has been rather unfairly portrayed in some of this coverage. In particular, it's been widely reported that Erekat privately promised to recognise Israel as  a Jewish state while publicly vociferously rejecting such demands. I may not be on totally solid ground here, but from my understanding is that this is far from accurate.

Firstly this shouldn't be confused with the fact that Netanyahu and the Israelis have recently been pushing the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state now, as a precondition for talks or Israeli "concessions" (ie international legal and Roadmap obligations, such as freezing settlements). Neither Erekat nor anyone else in the PA have ever made that concession (which would be meaningless unless it was a public one).

As for claims that he privately agreed to recognise Israel as a Jewish state as part of a peace deal, these seem to rest on two sources. The first is a transcript of a November 2007 discussion in which Erekat said  "If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want." As far as I can tell, the document containing this quote hasn't been posted yet, so there is no evidence that Erekat is doing anything beyond saying it was none of the PA's business what Israel defined itself as.This isn't at all inconsistent with what Erekat and co have been saying publicly. Here is Abbas saying in July last year, six months before the release of the Palestine Papers, that "Israel can call itself whatever it wants. We don't have to recognize those definitions." The other document cited is this one, notes of an internal PA negotiating unit meeting, in which Erekat says in response to a warning that the US will back Israel on the matter: "This is a non-issue. I dare the Israelis to write to the UN and change their name to the 'Great Eternal Historic State of Israel'. This is their issue, not mine." Again, there is nothing here to indicate that Erekat is promising the Israelis anything, as opposed to simply refusing to engage Israel on the issue or be drawn on it, on the basis that it's not a matter for Palestinians to decide; and this meeting was an internal one, and involved no promises to the Israelis or the US. Loathe as I am to agree with the vile Tony Blair, I think he was right today to say that at least in this case semi-flippant remarks for private consumption have been taken entirely out of context. And again it's not inconsistent with what PA figures have said in public, as far as I can see. Any comments or information that would shed further light on this is welcome.

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