Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has promised to have the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, vote on a law to annex certain areas of the West Bank. He negotiates the extent and the exact location with the Trump administration. Palestinians are excluded from these discussions. Saëb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO executive, who since 1995 has negotiated all the agreements concluded with Israel, such an initiative will lead to the collapse of the autonomous authority chaired by Mahmoud Abbas and will have long-term consequences for Palestinian relations with Israel. Exclusive interview for Point.
Le Point: What does annexation mean for the Palestinian population in general and for the autonomous authority of Mahmoud Abbas in particular?
Saëb Erekat: For us, annexation means one thing: Israel has decided to impose its solution on us. Sit with us around a table to negotiate, it’s over! Never again will we have a negotiated agreement between the two parties. In this regard, a reminder: the Oslo agreement and the interim agreement are based on four elements: 1 / mutual recognition; 2 / the application of UN resolutions 242 and 338 as an objective of the negotiations; 3 / disagreements on issues such as borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, water, Palestinian prisoners will be the subject of negotiations for the final agreement; 4 / and finally, neither of the two parties will take any initiative or adopt any measure likely to modify the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip until the conclusion of the permanent status talks. At the beginning of the month, we repeated our position at the Quartet and at its request. That is to say, we are ready to resume negotiations on these bases, adding that we accept minor border corrections. But the time for diktats has arrived. In the coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz, there is article 29, which precisely defines the ideological basis of this government: annexation. So whether they append a centimeter or 6,258 km2, it’s the same thing. It’s the principle that counts.
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De facto, the annexation continues. Israelis build where they want and when they want. But, in the event of annexation, within a few days or a few weeks, what will happen?
If they want to annex, it means they are ready to destroy the Palestinian Authority. Hear me right! This does not mean that we will decide to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, but that it will not be able to cope with the effects and the impact of the annexation. It will collapse. It will be destroyed. Currently, she is responsible for wages, education, health, garbage collection. All things that will be Netanyahu’s responsibility. That said, the destruction of the Palestinian Authority has been underway since 2010, when it resettled military administration across the West Bank and Gaza. Since then, it has not concluded any agreement with us. And my job then consisted in receiving their documents and presenting our requests to them. I became the intermediary between my people and them. Him, Netanyahu has taken the right to give me three answers, with the choice: yes, no, or “we will examine the thing”. Well, now it’s over. He has the budgets. He collects taxes. He will pay wages, collect garbage; he will take care of our children in the streets. He will be responsible for each Palestinian or Israeli killed.
Realize: I am the one who promised the Palestinian people that when I recognized Israel, renounced violence, accepted the two-state solution and negotiated, it would be independent, free and in its own state. Trust me: if the Israelis annex, I will stay in my house, in my office in quarantine forever, because I will be too ashamed. How can I face my compatriots? For them, I would be the one who did this, that, all these things … and what did we receive in return? Annexation! Today, members of my own family refuse to shake my hand. Among the population, there are also some who refuse to greet me because I have recognized the State of Israel.
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From 1995, you were the main Palestinian negotiator. Already in 1991, you were one of the heads of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid conference. In fact, you are the memory of the peace process …
Yes, it’s true. But, since 2017, I no longer have an Israeli negotiator in front of me. But from the Americans that Netanyahu brought in: David Friedman, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, Avi Berkovitz. These people are from another planet. I have 612 pages of minutes with them. I could make a book of it. What they say, what they think is incredible! They want me to join the Zionist movement, to accept the principle that everything east of the Jordan Jericho, where I live, is considered the historic land of the Jewish people. Basically, they want us to be involved in the legalization of the occupation.
I would love to see Jews, Muslims, Christians living together in perfect equality – one man, one voice!
However, the Trump plan proposes the creation of a Palestinian mini-state.
It’s a diktat! It is not a peace plan, but a project of annexation and apartheid, which fixes in advance the outcome of the talks on all subjects and demands our surrender. This is contrary to all of the agreements between the two parties. After that, do you really believe that over the next hundred years a Palestinian will agree to negotiate with an Israeli?
What do you think the Palestinian street reaction to the annexation will be?
Today, I think the vast majority say, “OK! You don’t want a two-state solution, so prepare for the Palestinians’ fight for a binational state with equal rights for all. Which, moreover, is a very civilized concept. I would love to see Jews, Muslims, Christians living together in perfect equality – one man, one voice! But you and I know it is impossible. The Israelis will not accept it. That said, there is another Palestinian speech: “Look! No occupation in history has been made without the occupier paying the price. They, the Israelis, cannot escape the rule. They cannot continue to kill our children, our loved ones, without feeling the cost. “
Personally, I continue to think that the only possible solution is a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living, in peace and security, alongside Israel. I know very well that, on this subject, I am in the minority among the Palestinians. And I also know that Netanyahu is against it. Because what he wants is a single state with two legal systems. That is to say apartheid.
What do you expect from Europeans? They haven’t helped you much so far …
I expect one thing from them, that they will say to the Israelis, “If you annex, it will have consequences. We will impose sanctions. Things will change. Trade with Israel will not be the same. Special agreements will not be renewed identically. If Netanyahu understands that this is serious, he will not proceed with the annexation.
You know, last week, I organized a rally in Jericho. Diplomats from 48 countries were there to support us. In doing so, I wanted the Palestinians to hear them say, “You are not alone. Do not despair. We are all with you. “