August 19, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 6137

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat's Positions On Israel Show Increasing Radicalization

August 19, 2015
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 6137

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas has confirmed that on July 23, 2015, Saeb Erekat, for the past two decades chief Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiator in the ongoing talks with Israel (though now in an unofficial capacity), had met in Jordan with Sylvan Shalom, the Israeli minister in charge of the negotiations. At that meeting, said 'Abbas, Erekat had stipulated that the PA will renew the negotiations and meet its obligations under previous agreements only if Israel ceases construction in the settlements and releases 30 Palestinian prisoners. Recently 'Abbas appointed Erekat, whom many Palestinians hold responsible for the ongoing failure of the talks with Israel, as PLO Executive Committee secretary-general, replacing Yassir 'Abd Rabbo whom 'Abbas had fired from this post. Palestinian dignitaries and columnists view Erekat's appointment to this post as 'Abbas's vote of confidence in Erekat, and also as a signal that 'Abbas views him as a candidate to succeed him as PA president.

In recent years, Erekat has conspicuously taken inflexible positions towards Israel; he also led the measure to indict Israel at the International Criminal Court. Some assess that the positions taken by Erekat were designed to project a patriotic and combative approach to mask his meager negotiating achievements, while rallying public support for his future PA presidential candidacy.

Erekat's inflexibility vis-à-vis Israel has been expressed as follows: calling for internationalizing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and convening an international conference; supporting an economic boycott of Israel; and depicting Hamas as a movement that does not engage in terrorist activity.

Erekat also accuses Israel of rejecting a two-state solution, of attempting to have 'Abbas removed from his post, and of being a terrorist state like the Islamic State (ISIS). He also maintains that Israel's actions in the July-August 2014 Gaza war were tantamount to extermination of the Gazans.

The following is a review of some statements made by Erekat on a number of issues:

Saeb Erekat (image:

Internationalizing The Conflict

Erekat chairs the committee tasked with collecting documents and testimonial evidence in preparation for prosecuting Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and is active in this matter as part of the PA's work to internationalize the conflict. In a speech to the Palestinian National Council in Jordan, he said that the current Palestinian strategy is to establish the status of Palestine as a country under occupation and to have Palestine join additional international agreements and covenants. "We want an international conference to end the occupation," he said.[1] At his April 2015 meeting with UN representative Nikolay Mladenov, he asked for an international peace conference to be convened that would include the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the other relevant parties under UN sponsorship "in order to set a timetable for the Israeli occupation forces' withdrawal from the state of Palestine to the June 4, 1967 borders."[2]

At his meetings with international representatives in January 2015, Erekat called on the international community "to support efforts to summon Israel before the International Criminal Court in response to the new construction plans in the settlements that destroy the two-state option and conclusively eliminate the chance for reaching peace."[3]

In a March 2015 press announcement, Erekat explained: "Elements, including the U.S., are attempting to dissuade us from turning to the International Criminal Court, and I tell them that we are the victim, and that whoever fears punishment must stop committing crimes. The criminal must be approached and must be obligated to stop the crimes Israel has committed crimes such as land expropriation, imprisonment, house demolition, expulsion, and assassinations. Israel's holding on to PA tax monies is piracy in the full sense of the word. The world must require it to transfer the money. This measure is a war crime We will work to internationalize the Palestinian problem."[4]

When, in February 2014, the PA sought to bring up a draft resolution at the UN on ending the occupation, Erekat warned, "If the U.S. [uses its] veto to thwart the Arab demand that the Security Council set a date for ending the Israeli occupation of the '67 territories, the Palestinians will continue with their activity to join 522 international agreements, and will cease all kinds of security coordination with Israel."[5] These statements by Erekat provoked a harsh reaction from U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who on February 19, 2015 said: "We are, of course, concerned about the recent comments by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. We've said all along that it's important to create a positive atmosphere around these discussions."[6]

In June 2014, the Palestinian website leaked an audio recording in which Erekat harshly criticizes 'Abbas for having refused to join the Rome Statute and the ICC. In the recording, he can be heard saying, inter alia: "'Abbas is 79 years old. How long does he have to live? All he has to do is take a stance and preserve the Palestinian national project. It's all in his hands... [I said to him], this is not your cards in his hands, he should use them. All he has to do is play the U.N. cards... Had he done so, Netanyahu would have been unable to travel anywhere in the world, for he would have been [considered] a war criminal." Erikat also says in the recording that he demanded a vote in the PLO Executive Committee on joining the Rome Statute and the ICC, and that, although 13 members supported Erekat and only four supported 'Abbas, 'Abbas stubbornly resisted making a decision on the issue. In response, Erekat hurled at him: "Netanyahu has stripped you of all authority. You need permission from an Israeli lieutenant colonel at [Israeli Civil Authority headquarters in] Bethel to go to Jordan, and [this officer even] determines how many vehicles will be in your motorcade." He added angrily: "The Israelis deliberately humiliate 'Abbas." [7]    

In February 2014, Erekat warned that, if U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to salvage the negotiations failed, the PA had "a plan of attack [comprising] legal claims against Israel at the Hague [i.e. in the ICC]."[8]

Also, in May 2015, Erekat spoke about "the importance of having the EU boycott all categories of Israeli products."[9]

Hamas Is Not A Terrorist Movement

From time to time, Erekat expresses a conciliatory stance towards Hamas, which led 'Abbas to dispatch him to meet with Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mash'al in Qatar to discuss the joint Hamas-PA delegation to the Cairo negotiations during the July-August 2014 Gaza war. At a Ramallah conference, Erekat said: "I declare, on behalf of President Abu Mazen ['Abbas] and the PLO Executive Committee, that Hamas is a Palestinian movement that never was and never will be a terrorist movement."`[10] He said: "The Hamas movement and the other Palestinian [resistance] factions are not required to recognize the principles of the Quartet... They are not required to recognize either Israel or [previous] agreements."[11]

In an April 2014 position paper, Erekat proposed that an urgent Palestinian National Council meeting be convened, with participation by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to elect a new PLO Executive Committee.[12]

Israel Is Exterminating The Gazans; There Is No Difference Between Israel And ISIS

Erekat has accused Israel of exterminating Gazans in the July-August 2014 Gaza war, and also of terrorism. In September 2014, he said: "The president '[Abbas] has described the Gaza war in 2014 as extermination; this angered the Americans and the Israelis. Twelve thousand [Gaza] residents were killed or wounded; 91 families were obliterated and 50,000 homes were destroyed. The number of those uprooted from their homes totaled a third of the population. If this is not extermination, then what is?"[13]

At a January 2015 conference in Jericho, Erekat said: "There is no difference between the terrorism carried out by the organization of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi [i.e. the Islamic State - ISIS] and Israel's terrorism. The elimination of terrorism requires "dry[ing] up the [Israeli] settlements."[14] In a January 2015 interview, Erekat told the pro-Hizbullah Al-Mayadeen TV: "There is no difference between ISIS, which murders journalists, and Netanyahu, who allowed the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir[15] and who caused the murder of [PA] minister Ziad Abu 'Ein[16]."[17]

In September 2014, Erekat said: "It is necessary to dry up the wellsprings of terrorism. The sights of this summer were terrible: a group of people [ISIS] used the religion of Islam to carry out terrorism and beheadings. We condemn this. From our standpoint, there's no difference between this terrorism and the immolation of the martyr Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The highest level of terrorism is state terrorism.

"It is necessary to dry up the wellsprings that feed terrorism. If decision-makers in the West believe that terror can be vanquished without drying up its sources, they need to reassess the issue, and must dry up the swamp of the Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state whose capital is holy Jerusalem."[18]

Israel Is Trying To Eliminate Abu Mazen

In response to statements by former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman that 'Abbas is not a partner to peace, Erekat stated: "Israel is trying to get rid of President 'Abbas, like what happened with [Yasser] Arafat, because of his adherence to principles."[19] In response to reports of indirect Israel-Hamas negotiations, he said: "Israel wants to get rid of Abu Mazen, just as it previously got rid of Arafat, by launching negotiations with Hamas."[20]

Not A Single Israeli Settler Will Remain In The Palestinian State

In response to statements by Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel would not evacuate a single settlement or settler under a permanent agreement, Erekat said, in January 2014: "Whoever says he wants to leave the settlers is in fact saying that he does not want the establishment of a Palestinian state. We will not allow a single Israeli settler to remain in a Palestinian state."[21]


[1] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), May 12, 2015.

[2], April 30, 2015.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 31, 2015.

[4], March 30, 2015.

[5], October 22, 2014.

[6], January 19, 2015.


[8] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 17, 2014.

[9], May 9, 2015.

[10], April 5, 2015.

[11], June 25, 2015.

[12], April 3, 2014

[13] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 30, 2014.

[14], January 1, 2015.

[15] Muhammad Abu Khdeir was burned to death in July 2014 by a group of Israeli extremists.

[16] PA minister Ziad Abu 'Ein died while participating in a December 2014 protest march against the Israeli occupation, following an altercation with Israeli soldiers.

[17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 3, 2015; January 2, 2015.

[18] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 30, 2014.

[19], June 7, 2013.

[20], June 25, 2015.

[21], January 27, 2014

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