For more than 20 years, Saeb Erekat has been the main Palestinian negotiator in the “peace process” with Israel. This week (writing in the New York Times) he attacked the ability of the United States to be the “sole broker” or even an “honest broker” in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Erekat is an amiable man most of the time, as I can attest after countless meetings with him over the last 15 years or so. He knows his brief and is quick and intelligent. On the down side, he will say or write anything at all to advance what he thinks is the Palestinian cause. Anything at all.
The best example of this trait is his role in announcing “the Jenin massacre” in 2002. Reacting to terrorist attacks, Israel had entered the West Bank and sent troops into the Jenin refugee camps in which many of those attacks had been organized. There a battle ensued, in which 54 Palestinians, mostly gunmen, were killed, as were 23 Israeli troops. As the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs noted in its account of the “Jenin Massacre” controversy,
Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erakat charged during a CNN interview on April 10, 2002, that Israeli troops had killed “more than 500 people.” On April 12, he repeated the charge on CNN: “a real massacre was committed in the Jenin refugee camp.” He added that 300 Palestinians were being buried in mass graves. On April 15, Erakat continued his charges: “And I stand by the term ‘massacres’ were committed in the refugee camps.” He also began to refer to Israeli actions as “war crimes.”
From this one incident we learn just about all we need to know regarding Erekat, propaganda, truth, and the abuse of the media. It’s worth mentioning the price Erekat paid for all this: none at all. He continues to be a leading Palestinian spokesman, negotiator, and diplomat.
In his Times op-ed, Erekat says President Trump and his negotiators, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, have disregarded Palestinian positions and been hopelessly biased. His timing was unfortunate, because in the very week when his piece appeared the president told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom that
I think both sides will have to make hard compromises to reach a peace agreement. . . . We are going to see what goes on. Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace. And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace. So we are just going to have to see what happens.
That statement does not seem particularly biased. Trump also restated what he did and did not do on Jerusalem:
I wanted to make it clear that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and as for specific boundaries, I would support what both sides agreed to.
Because the Palestinians do not even state a claim to West Jerusalem, Erekat’s insistence that Trump had somehow disqualified the United States as a mediator by stating the obvious (that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital) is to say the least unpersuasive. More bizarre is his claim that Trump “gave Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, veto power over the two-state solution.” Of course Israel has a veto, as does the PLO: the United States has repeatedly said it would not cram a solution down the throats of unwilling Palestinians and Israelis.
Erekat returns in the Times to the usual, and sad, Palestinian victimhood trope, criticizing Trump for failing to recognize “the painful compromises the Palestinians have made for peace, including recognizing Israel and trying to build a state on just 22 percent of the land in the historic Palestine of 1948.” It is striking to call those “compromises”: the first requires Palestinians to do no more than recognize reality, and the second to make their best efforts on behalf of their people. Trying to build a state that can live in peace and engage in economic and social development would not normally be called a huge sacrifice.
Erekat’s message in the Times is that peace efforts must now be multinational, with the United States joined as equal partners by the European Union, Russia, India, Japan, South Africa, and China, and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will soon address the U.N. Security Council on this point. Good luck with that. There is zero chance that such a group could be formed or could possibly do anything to promote a peace agreement. This is not a serious proposal for moving toward peace, but a fantasy designed to forestall any real pressure on the PLO for compromises it does not wish to make.
Erekat concludes by writing that “we are planning to move toward national elections in which all Palestinians, including our diaspora, can take part, with the goals of better representation, more support for our refugees and strengthening our people’s steadfastness under occupation.”
But Abbas has refused to hold elections in the area he controls, the West Bank, since 2006, despite repeated promises to do so. Note that his “national elections” will include the diaspora. This suggests that the “national elections” will not be Palestinian Authority presidential and parliamentary elections that could threaten Abbas’s hold on power. Instead they will be PLO elections that would include Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon controlled by his Fatah party, or living in Jordan as Jordanian citizens, and might include Gaza—where elections would be prevented by Hamas unless the PLO agreed to permit Hamas to join the PLO and participate.
So Erekat’s statement about elections may include an indirect threat to allow Hamas to join the PLO, which would be more menacing if it were credible. But like holding PA elections, allowing Hamas to join the PLO might threaten Abbas’s political power—so we can presume it will not actually happen.
At bottom, Mr. Erekat’s tantrum in the Times is a set of excuses for avoiding serious negotiations. In fact Abbas has done this for nine years now: Not once during the Obama years or the first year of the Trump administration have the Palestinians been willing to sit down with the Israelis for serious talks. The excuses vary: settlements, Jerusalem, Netanyahu, violence, and now Greenblatt, Kushner, and Trump. Erekat writes that Trump “has taken Israel’s side in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle while dismissing the roles of international law, international organizations and American diplomatic tradition in the Middle East peace process” and by so doing “has disqualified America from being the sole broker in that effort.” Are Erekat’s claims credible? Just remember the “Jenin massacre.”
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard