Saeb Erekat, longtime negotiator for the Palestinian Liberation Organization and secretary-general of the PLO died Tuesday at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Ironically, although he encouraged people worldwide to boycott Israel, he spent the last four weeks of his life in an Israeli hospital, where he knew he would receive only the most excellent of care.
He will be mourned and eulogized by many. I, for one, will not be tearing my cloth and weeping. One might do well to ask what Erekat’s contribution was to the cause of his people, or to that of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
(November 10, 2020 / Israel Hayom)
Erekat had been the chief political negotiator standing by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in July 2000, as well as the main negotiator standing by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. How did his wise counsel work out? No one could better describe it then US President Bill Clinton, in his 2004 autobiography, My Life, where he wrote, “Right before I let office, Arafat, in one of our last conversations, thanked me for all of my efforts and told me what a great man I was, ‘Mr. Charmian,’ I replied ‘I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one.'”
As Clinton wrote, “When he left, I still had no idea what Arafat was going to do. His body language said no, but the deal was so good I couldn’t believe anyone would be foolish enough to let it go … Arafat never said no, he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes. Pride goeth before the fall.”
In 2008, Erekat was again lead negotiator for Abbas when the negotiations fell through with Olmert, who made the Palestinians an offer that included unprecedented concessions, including in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem, where Olmert proposed placing some of the most sensitive holy sites under international control. He described the offer to give up Israeli control of the Old City as “the hardest day of his life.”
This exemplifies the sort of hardened maximalist psychology of the Oslo years. All of those exceedingly generous offers were turned down because at its core its maximalist appetite could not be sated.
When it came to the Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity Plan,” which set up a specific map delineating the borders of a two-state solution, Abbas was counseled by Erekat not to even meet with the US representatives Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, or Ambassador David Friedman, to discuss it, despite the fact that the vision called for an independent Palestinian state, and would have pumped $50 billion into the Palestinian economy.
After the plan’s introduction in January, there was an uptick in violence. Erekat linked the violence directly to Trump’s plan, saying, “Those who introduce plans for annexation and apartheid and the legalization of occupation and settlements are the ones who bear full responsibility for deepening the cycle of violence and extremism.”
His unyielding attitude on Jerusalem, the communities in Judea and Samaria, and the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees was matched by a stubborn adherence to the notorious “pay for slay” scheme, in which the Palestinian Authority rewards prisoners and the families of the so-called “martyrs” with generous stipends for killing Israeli civilians. The more they kill, the greater the allowance. This amounts to incentivizing terrorism.
When the Israeli government introduced a law seeking to curtail this practice, Erekat said, “This is a very dangerous decision that amounts to the cancellation of the Palestinian Authority, and is piracy and theft. … Israel is stealing the land and money of the Palestinian people, and that is a result of the decisions of President Trump, who supports Israel.”
Israel’s decision to withhold the funds propted Erekat to counsel Abbas not to take any Israeli money, whatsoever. In an editorial in Haaretz, he wrote, “Will this affect the functioning of our government? Yes. But this is a price that we are willing to pay for the dignity of our nation, killed, injured or imprisoned during over 50 years of the Israeli occupation.”
That is precisely what he thought of his people. He would rather fill his people’s heads with maximilasist fantasies of returning to their great-great grandfathers orchards and vineyards in Haifa, and keep them in a state of perpetual impoverishment, rather than see them live in dignity.
And when the Abraham Accords were signed, Erekat called it, “a killer of the two state solution.” After the deals were inked, he counseled Abbas to urge the Arab League to isolate the UAE and Bahrain because of their peace treaties with Israel. However, much to the Palestinian’s chagrin, the Arab League roundly rejected this demand.
This all-or-nothing philosophy has not served the Palestinian people well. It is this uncompromising adherence to these highly intractable principles that has caused many in the Muslim and Arab world to abandon the Palestinians.
Irrespective of what some in the left in the American political landscape claim, the Sunni Muslim people and their governments are beginning to wake up and realize that after 72 years, Israel is here to stay, and that they are not the enemy. And that the road to peace and prosperity in the region does not run through Ramallah.
There is an exciting revolution that has been running across much of the Arab and Muslim world, transcending Palestinian rejectionism. The moderae Sunni state realize that Arab nations can benefit from their partnership with Israel, including with respect to cybersecurity, high-tech, agriculture, and medicine, and that their common enemy, Iran, is not waiting for peace with the Palestinians.
Beyond that, there is an eagerness, particularly among Arab youth for direct people-to-people, normal contact. After 72 years of enmity and of their leaders using them for either nationalistic or Islamist purposes, there is a realization that the Arab world is not a monolithic object whose “bodies can be used as bullets in the war machine,” as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser once said.
Finally, it must be noted that it is a sad reflection of the state of our “woke” institutions in the United States that Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government had offered a prestigious position to Erekat. Ironically, the master of the “Just Say No” philosophy was to teach, of all things, the “art of diplomacy.” One used to believe that diplomacy involved the art of compromise.
Saeb Erekat and those who mourn him represent the past. Let us hope that a Biden administration will not return to those retrograde days where unrealistic Palestinian fantasies of the destruction of Israel will be indulged.
It would serve all of us well for President-elect Biden not to resuscitate the failed paradigms of the past, and to bury that chapter of failed diplomacy along with Erekat.
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