Saeb Erekat leads Palestinian pushback against US plan
Palestinian officials launched an offensive against the Trump administration on home turf this week, with top negotiator Saeb Erekat railing against a peace plan that he says is really cover for Israel grabbing parts of the West Bank.
In a series of public appearances and social media posts, Erekat declared: "Wake up Israel, wake up America, wake up world," as his colleagues readied to face-off with US and Israeli envoys in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday.
Still, it remains unclear whether Palestinian officials have enough support to pass a resolution in the 15-nation chamber, where US and Israeli diplomats have worked hard in recent days to blunt their efforts.
"We have a path," Erekat said at a public appearance. "My president will present a vision for an international conference to re-launch negotiations… We can do it, and we will do it. We have no other alternative but to live and let live."
Palestinians have been tight-lipped about their strategy for tackling the Trump administration's bid to re-frame the peace process away from broadly accepted principles that Palestinians get to establish a state on land seized by Israel in a 1967 war.
The US rethink, unveiled by President Donald Trump to great fanfare on January 28, instead gives Israel much of what it has long sought, including US recognition of settlements in the West Bank and Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
|We can do it, and we will do it. We have no other alternative but to live and let live|
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The Palestinians would get a redrawn, demilitarised state, subject to Israeli control over its security, with tracts of desert in return for arable land. They would get a capital, but not in East Jerusalem proper, as they desire.
Erekat has blasted Washington's "arrogance", "ignorance" and "political blindness", saying Trump had "copied and pasted every single demand" of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "without even bothering to consult" the Palestinians.
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Erekat reaffirmed the "two-state" solution along pre-1967 lines that was agreed under the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 – before some two decades of Israeli settlement building.
Despite predictions that Abbas would launch his own alternative peace plan this week, Erekat held to established norms. He acknowledged that he was being "criticised heavily" back home for "sticking to the two-state solution".
Erekat, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), also jousted with Jared Kushner, saying Trump's son-in-law and architect of the plan was overestimating how much Arab countries backed the proposal.
|Trump had 'copied and pasted every single demand' of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 'without even bothering to consult' the Palestinians|
"I was personally with my president in Egypt a week ago, and 22 Arab countries were present there: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, [the] Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Algeria, and Morocco all unanimously rejected the Trump deal and said we will not deal in any way with this sham," said Erekat.
Erekat also discussed a planned meeting in New York between Abbas and Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli Prime Minister who was willing to make concessions to the Palestinians in a previous round of negotiations in the late 2000s.
Answering a question from The New Arab, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his envoy for Middle East peace, Nickolay Mladenov, would take part in Tuesday's council session.
Ahead of the meeting, council members Tunisia and Indonesia had circulated a draft resolution that "stresses the illegality of the annexation" of occupied Palestinian land and "condemns recent statements calling for annexation by Israel".
In order to pass, a resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes from permanent members the US, Russia, France, Britain and China – meaning Washington can scupper any document that gets beyond the nine-vote threshold.
On Monday, Erekat said he was in "consultation with various countries" on the document, but that it was not yet "ready to be voted" on. Israeli envoys presented the delay as a victory for their diplomatic efforts.
The Palestinians can also propose a General Assembly resolution, where they could well secure a majority of votes in the 193-nation chamber, but could only claim that as a moral victory as such documents are not legally enforceable.
The Palestinians have faced stiff opposition. Israel's UN envoy Danny Danon said Abbas was "lost and confused", while Kushner tried to charm sceptical UN diplomats at an hour-long lunchtime sit-down on Thursday about the US plan.
|[Map source: White House 'Peace to Prosperity' document]|
That same day, Tunisia's UN ambassador Moncef Baati was abruptly recalled to his capital after helping draft the pro-Palestinian UN resolution – the result of Trump administration heaping pressure on Tunis, according to Foreign Policy.
In Israel, hardliners are debating whether to begin extending Israeli sovereignty to the settlements and the Jordan Valley before a crucial national election on March 2, though US officials have urged them against any immediate land grab.
Still, it is unclear whether the Trump administration's re-framing of the peace process will persuade Washington's allies in the Arab world and Europe to stomach some kind of Israeli expansion, even while their stated positions remain unchanged.
According to Erekat, who cancelled an event at a New York think-tank on Monday, the birth of a Palestinian state is inevitable. Palestinians must stand firm against a US plan that significantly shifts the goalposts in Israel's favour, he said.
"The difference between those people trying to put us off track by the so-called vision of peace, vision of annexation and dictation will be how many Israelis and Palestinians will be killed till we go back to the negotiation table and achieve our end game of the two-state solution," he said.
James Reinl is a journalist, editor and current affairs analyst. He has reported from more than 30 countries and won awards for covering wars in Sri Lanka, Congo and Somalia, Haiti's earthquake and human rights abuses in Iran.
Follow him on Twitter: @jamesreinl