Palestinian Perspective On Stalled Mideast Peace Talks

Steve Inskeep talks to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. An Israeli diplomat told Morning Edition last week that a unity government between Fatah and Hamas is unacceptable.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now, let's hear a Palestinian perspective on the breakdown of Middle East peace talks. Israel suspended those talks after the two leading Palestinian parties said they would form a unity government.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The deal involves Fatah, which controls the West Bank. That's the party of President Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah plans to form a government, including Hamas, the party controlling Gaza.

MONTAGNE: An Israeli diplomat told us that week that is unacceptable. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about this now with Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel. He's on the line from Jericho. Dr. Erekat, welcome to the program.

SAEB EREKAT: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you say to people who are not opposed to you, but are baffled that Fatah would embrace Hamas at this point?

EREKAT: Well, we're a democratic society in Palestine. Hamas is a Palestinian political party. As a matter of fact, we have 26 Palestinian political parties. We differ with Hamas socially, economically, many issues. But then, when we differ, we don't result to bullets. We result to ballots because Hamas, almost seven years ago, chose the wrong path of bullets and they made Gaza separate from the West Bank.

And now, what we're saying, that President Mahmoud Abbas will form a national unity government. This government will have a program of organizing the state of (unintelligible) renouncing violence, accepting negotiations under the state solution.

INSKEEP: When you that Hamas took the wrong path seven years ago, of bullets rather than ballots, what evidence do you have, if any, that Hamas has changed its policies on anything?

EREKAT: I'm not - I don't have any evidence. I'm not saying they've changed on anything. All I'm saying is that when we have a government, the government should have a program of organizing Israel, two-state solution, renouncing violence. They used to tell me, the Israelis, what are you going to do with Gaza? You're supposed to be a single territory unit in the West Bank and Gaza, one (unintelligible). Now, Gaza's separate.

I used to tell them, you have a point. Once we reach an agreement, the West Bank and Gaza will be single territory unit (unintelligible) one authority and the rule of law. Now, when we move into battle, bringing Hamas to accept to go back, they're using this as a pretext how can we talk to a government that has Hamas aboard.

INSKEEP: You're making two very interesting points that I want to make sure people are clear about. You're saying that now Palestinians are united under one government or they will be if this agreement is concluded that makes it possible to make a full deal with Israel. That's one point you're making.

EREKAT: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: The other point you're making, though, is that you wish to have peace on the basis of recognizing Israel and a two-state solution. Hamas, of course, has rejected any recognition of Israel. Are you saying that you believe you can bring Hamas to recognize Israel?

EREKAT: No. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that. You know, when you recognize nations, it's not about parties. All I'm saying, that the government that will be formed in accordance with this agreement will recognize Israel, will accept the two-state solution and will renounce violence. And that's the truth. We're gonna take it to a national public referendum to all Palestinians so they can say yes or no to that agreement.

INSKEEP: And you believe that Palestinians on the whole would vote for a peace deal that includes recognition of Israel in a two-state solution.

EREKAT: All public opinion polls done in Israel and Palestine have shown one thing, that 70 percent of both Palestinians and Israelis will say yes to a two-state solution on the state of Palestine living side by side the state if Israel in peace and security on the 1967 line. The one missing element is that Israeli governments have failed to recognize the state of Palestine on the 1967 line and the Israeli negotiators have not agreed at any session to sit down and agree on the recognition of the map of the two-state solution and that's the truth.

INSKEEP: Israeli officials have said, a number of them, some of them have said to me that they acknowledge that a two-state solution is necessary, that a Palestinian state is actually necessary for the long term survival of Israel. And that makes me...

EREKAT: (Unintelligible) Nations are about borders. What defines Israel borders? Israel, today, 66 years old this month, (unintelligible) settlements and (unintelligible) they're building settlements in Jericho. They're building settlements in (unintelligible). They're building settlements all over the place that's supposed to be the Palestinian state, Steven.

INSKEEP: Well, let me get to the question here, which is if both sides agree that at two-state solution is necessary, I'm curious when you get away from the rhetoric, when you're quietly in a room, is there some sense that people on both sides understand what the solution needs to be here?

EREKAT: We both understand that the solution needs to have a map on the table and (unintelligible) this map borders of two states on 1967 lines. We offer the Israelis this. We actually were talking about it in the last session when Mr. Netanyahu decided to break the negotiations because of the agreement with Hamas, which was very unfortunate, very short-sighted, because he know, from all people, (unintelligible) know that it's impossible to reach an agreement with Israel without the West Bank and Gaza.

Mr. Netanyahu has a choice to make. Settlements or peace. He can't have both.

INSKEEP: Dr. Saeb Erekat is chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israel. Dr. Erekat, thanks very much.

EREKAT: Thank you, sir.

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