The intransigence of Palestinian moderates:
Saeb Erekat reveals the reality…. in Arabic

Published: 26 July 2009
Briefing Number 243

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Summary: Saeb Erekat, leading voice of the Palestinian moderate wing, and a favourite of the Western media, has stated in an Arabic language interview with a Jordanian newspaper that the Palestinians were offered “the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank” by Israel in 2008, but were in “no hurry to accept”.  In addition, Erekat refuses to demand that Hamas recognise Israel.  He backs the Hamas strategy of “resistance”.  And he demands that Palestinian refugees have both a right of return and a right to financial compensation, which he estimates at “$140 billion”.  This new Beyond Images Briefing provides verbatim extracts from Erekat’s interview, which originally appeared in Jordanian daily al-Dustour on 25 June 2009, and was subsequently translated by MEMRI. 

Key messages: the world criticises Israel for frustrating peace.  But there’s a perpetual silence around the intransigent and completely unrealistic attitudes of Palestinian moderates who are supposed to be Israel’s peace partners.  Meanwhile, ‘friends of the Palestinians’ seemingly do nothing to change Palestinian ideas.  Saeb Erekat has revealed the reality behind the ‘moderate’ façade.  But is anyone paying attention?  

Saeb Erekat as the voice of Palestinian moderates

Saeb Erekat.  Officially he is the head of the Palestinian Authority negotiations department.  Unofficially he is much more than that.   He is featured more often than any other Palestinian in the Western media – on CNN, on Sky, in the world’s leading broadsheets.  As a fluent English speaker, and with an education from Western universities, he is a more appealing interview candidate than Mahmoud Abbas or any other senior figure in Palestinian Fatah. 
In short, Erekat is the voice of the Palestinian ‘moderate’ wing.

When Israel carries out a military operation, it is Erekat whose condemnation is aired.  When Israel announces a new diplomatic strategy it is Saeb Erekat whose views are sought.  It is Erekat who endlessly proclaims that the Palestinians want a two-state solution, and it is Israel which does not.  And just last week, it was Erekat who criticised Israel yet again for “undermining efforts to revive the peace process”, a statement which was reported by the BBC and doubtless many other outlets.

But there’s one interview that did not make it onto the BBC, or anywhere else – an interview which Erekat has just given, in Arabic, to the Jordanian daily newspaper al-Dustour.  The interview, published on 25 June 2009, gives a stark and totally different picture of Erekat’s views, and of the moderate Palestinian wing which he represents, than the views which the Western media so enthusiastically report. 

Lengthy excerpts from the interview have been translated by Arab media monitoring organisation MEMRI, and were published by them on 13 July 2009 in MEMRI Special Despatch 2440 (see Here are key parts.

Even though Israel offered us the equivalent of 100% of the territories, we have been in no hurry to accept

Saeb Erekat: “Some ask what the negotiations with the Israeli side [since the Oslo accords in 1993] have brought us?  First [the Israelis] said we would only have the right to run our own schools and hospitals.  Then they consented to give us 66% [of the occupied territories].  At Camp David [in 2000] they offered 90%, and recently they offered us 100%So why should we hurry, [our emphasis – Beyond Images] after all the injustice we have suffered? The agreement will not be stable anyway, unless it is based on international law and on justice…..”

Beyond Images comment: So, the Palestinians were offered 100% of the territory in 2008, and Erekat asks “why hurry”?  They are holding out for more. It is part of a stubborn drive for the symbolic redressing of injustice.  As a result they reject pragmatism and reject compromise.  It is this Palestinian attitude which is actually depriving the Palestinian people of a long-term solution, and of a better life. And yet, it is Israel which is criticised for perpetuating its presence on the West Bank, and frustrating peace.  (Incidentally, the then head of the Palestinian negotiating team in Camp David and Taba, Ahmed Qurei, says that the Palestinians were offered not 90% but 97% of the territory in 2000-1 (see Beyond Images Briefing 21)).

Here are other key points in Saeb Erekat’s al-Dustour interview:-

The settlements which Israel wished to retain are 6.5% of the West Bank

Saeb Erekat:  “Together, since Annapolis there were 288 negotiation sessions between Israel and the Palestinians.  The areas which the Israelis wanted to keep constituted 6.5% of the West Bank, and in return they offered us areas equivalent to 5.8% as a land swap from Israeli territory south of Hebron, west of Bethlehem and north of Jericho, with the remaining 0.8% being a safe passage corridor connecting Gaza and the West Bank which is 38 kilometres long.” 

Beyond Images comment: This is the territorial element of the Israeli offer which the Palestinians rejected in 2008.  Erekat refers to it as an Israeli “trap”.

We support Hamas goals to create a unified Arab nation state, and first liberate Palestine

Saeb Erekat: “If Hamas’ goal is to establish a unified Arab nation state, or a caliphate, we will pursue these goals even before Hamas does – but first it is necessary to liberate Palestine….”

We do not ask Hamas to recognise Israel; Hamas resistance is “noble”

Saeb Erekat: “Nobody is asking Hamas to recognise Israel or a two-state solution.  Nobody has asked Hamas to change even one letter in its ideological documents….. Resistance [ie rockets, suicide bombs etc – Beyond Images] is a noble thing, and a sacred duty of anyone under occupation, but there is a great deal of difference between investing in resistance and carrying it out…..”

We want both the right of return, and $140 billion in financial compensation

Saeb Erekat: “The problem of the Palestinian refugees is not the result of a volcano [eruption], earthquake, or flood.  Someone caused it.  Before we talk of international law, we must pinpoint the element responsible and Israel must acknowledge this responsibility.

Palestinian decision-makers do not have the right to decide the fate of the refugees; only the refugee himself can decide his own fate.  It is not up to the international community either.  It is the refugee who has the right to choose whether to return to Israel, return to Palestine, or remain where he is – and in all these cases he is entitled to compensation.

It is not the Right of Return or compensation; it’s the Right of Return and compensation. 

Should Israel acknowledge its responsibility, and should the world want to resolve the conflict, there would be a need to establish an international mechanism to bear the cost.  I estimate we are talking about $140 billion…..”   

Other Beyond Images Briefings  

“Moderate Palestinian leaders believe in a two-state solution…” (Beyond Images Briefing 227, 25 December 2008)

For a detailed analysis of Israel’s offer in the post-Annapolis talks, and how the Palestinians rejected it, click here: Beyond Images Briefing 225 (8 December 2008).  Please note that there are small differences between the details of the offer in this Briefing, and the details revealed by Saeb Erekat in al-Dustour.
‘Saeb Erekat: Israel as a Jewish state should be “left to be negotiated”’
(Beyond Images Briefing 90, 9 May 2004)

‘Palestinian statehood: fifty years of missed opportunities’ (Beyond Images  
Briefing 45