Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Palestinian negotiator Erekat: "I am a fact on the ground."

Palestinian lead negotiator Saeb Erekat recently took several questions concerning the peace process from readers of Israeli daily Haaretz. The transcript is in somewhat broken English (it's difficult to determine whether the errors are poor translation from the original English or Erekat's limited English abilities), but certainly readable - and very telling of the general Palestinian position on several major issues.

Here are a few informative, intriguing, or flat out hilarious quotes from Erekat:

On Israeli settlements:

"Negotiation is about giving and taking, but those Israelis who want to advocate the settlements, they are making peace with themselves and not with me."

On religion in the conflict:

"If you read Judaism, Islam and Christianity very carefully, you will find that the three religions advocate peace, saving lives, healing, forgiveness ... Why is it that the most vicious calls to conflict come from mosques and synagogues?"

On American mediation and the Obama administration:

"Obama will make not peace for us, it is Palestinians and Israelis that will have to make the decisions. Americans will help, but Palestinians should not make a mistake. If peace is to be made, no one will impose a decision upon us."

On democracy in the Arab world:

"The bigger picture in the region is how we go - do we go in the vehicles of [Osama] bin Laden or the vehicles of democracy?"

"Two things will determine the future: Peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and democracy in the Arab world. Anyone who says Arabs are not ready for democracy is a racist."

(Edward Said would certainly agree with Erekat's frank comment that the Western belief that the Arab world is not ready for democracy is more an example of the West's Orientalist beliefs than any anti-democratic Arab culture.)

On Hamas:

"That's what we are challenging Hamas with - we want to go to the ballot, not the bullet. And that's why we need an end game with Israel. If I have an end game agreement showing the two-state solution, Hamas will disappear, if I don't, I will disappear. That's the fight. It's about me saying it's doable, through peace."

(The Israeli government and the Obama administration should recognize this reality immediately. The longer Palestinians sit in occupation, the stronger Hamas will become and the Israelis will then truly not have a negotiating partner.)

On recognizing Israel as a Jewish state:

"I'm not going to call the shots for you. I'm not going to stop you from circumcising your boys, I'm not going to stop you from going to synagogues. You can call yourself whatever you want. If you want to call yourself the biblical, united, eternal, holy, milk and honey land of Jewish Israel, submit your name to the UN. Your name is the State of Israel."

(For clarification, Erekat is here referencing that Israel has generally had trouble defining itself between religious and secular principles. He finds it unbelievable that Palestinians would be asked to characterize Israel when Israelis have largely been unable to do the same.)

Erekat's best line:

"By the way, I am a fact on the ground, I don't intend to disappear. Many people thought I would disappear. Wake up. I am here and here to stay. My generation is extending its arms to you, saying let's be good neighbors. You are eating up the same territory that I am supposed to build my state on."

Based on personal experience and readily available Palestinian opinion polls, I believe it is pretty clear that Erekat's statements reflect the sensitivities of the Palestinian public. Israelis and Obama take note.

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