No Unilateral Declaration of Palestinian State, Says Erekat

JERUSALEM – The Palestinian Authority has embarked on a new strategic drive to get renewed international recognition for the borders of the future Palestinian state. Last Thursday it gained backing for this approach from the Arab League.

Going into a meeting with European representatives in Ramallah on the West Bank to explain the Palestinian strategy, and hours before embarking with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on a three-nation tour of Latin America, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, spoke exclusively Monday morning to IPS’ Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler.

IPS: There has been much talk in recent days of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. What’s the purpose of that move and what lies behind it?

Saeb Erekat: Actually, we’re not planning to declare our state unilaterally, as has been mistakenly reported. What we intend to do is to take to the United Nations Security Council a request that the international community re-endorse the two-state solution based on the pre-June 5, 1967, borders. The key are those borders. Israel is, as usual, twisting our words to suggest that we are about to declare a state unilaterally. We are not planning to do that.

IPS: Still, your initiative is unilateral.

SE: All we are trying to do is to salvage the two-state solution along the ’67 borders. It is Israel which is practicing unilateral steps all the time – through their occupation, through their demolishing of homes, through their settlement expansion policy, through their roadblocks and checkpoints. They’re lying when they try to accuse us of damaging unilateral steps.

IPS: The way [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu was talking Sunday night seemed to be a threat that if you pursue this direction rather than return back to peace talks right away, Israel might respond by another unilateral act of its own – annex settlement blocs, big chunks of the West Bank.

SE: Actually, it’s the Israeli leadership which doesn’t want to resume negotiations with us where they were stopped in December 2008 [with Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza followed by the February Israeli elections which put Netanyahu at the helm]. The Israeli government is simply trying to find a way to put the blame on us. It’s a broken record. It won’t convince President Obama, I’m sure. The world knows what’s going on.

IPS: Have you already convinced the international community of the merit of this strategy?

SE: The Arab world is on board – we got the endorsement of the Arab League last Thursday. I’m about to unveil the idea to the European representatives, and tomorrow President Abbas and I are headed for three nations in Latin America – Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. I believe they’ll all see it’s a good strategy, the only one that can save the two-state solution.

IPS: And Washington? Haven’t you had some disappointments with the Americans of late, what with their backing down on their demand for Israel to freeze all its settlement activities?

SE: We haven’t spoken to them yet about the initiative, but we intend to do so soon, and we hope to get a positive response from the president. We want to continue with the U.S. What can we do? We have no option.

IPS: Wouldn’t it be preferable if Washington, not the UN, would endorse your borders?

SE: The border plan is what the UN Security Council will devise. It’s imperative to preserve the two-state solution.

IPS: Are you worried that Washington might see this as premature or untimely, and thus veto a resolution at the Security Council?

SE: They shouldn’t do that. It would be bad for U.S. interests, damage America’s position in the region. We’re just trying to keep alive the two-state solution which Israel undermines daily with its occupation policies.

IPS: Shouldn’t you wait to see if Washington can’t revive peace talks between you and Netanyahu?

SE: We’ve tried our best. We’ve had 18 years of negotiations. Israel remains the sole authority, the occupying power of our towns and refugee camps, and goes on with its settlements. It’s really the time. No one is against Israel’s right to exist. We’ve recognized Israel on 78 percent of our land. We’ve accepted that our state will be on 22 percent of the land.

IPS: Isn’t it becoming too late for two states? More and more Palestinians seem to be prepared for a one-state solution of Israelis and Palestinians living together.

SE: Even without an Israeli partner we remain, and we will remain, committed to two states. Israelis and Palestinians cannot live together without two states. There is no option but the two-state solution.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler

Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler write for Inter Press Service.