Palestinian chief negotiator grilled in hard-hitting interview

In a tough interview, Erekat sought to defend himself and Abbas on issues ranging from their dealings with the Trump administration to the peace process, corruption, and PA human rights violations.

By Benjamin Kerstein, The Algemeiner

The Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said last week that his government was out of ideas vis-à-vis peace talks with the Israelis in the Trump era.

“I’m gonna recline my feet,” he declared during a contentious interview on the show Conflict Zone, “because I’ve done everything humanly possible to make peace.”

Facing a series of withering questions from hard-nosed interviewer Tim Sebastian, Erekat sought to defend himself and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on issues ranging from their dealings with the Trump administration to the peace process, corruption, and PA human rights violations.

Interviewing Erekat at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum for the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, Sebastian charged that as a result of the PA’s boycott of the Trump administration, “you will have disqualified yourself from any role in the peace process,” and asked, “you keep on waiting for someone better to come into the White House?”

Erekat shot back, “What shall I sit with them to do? Thirty-seven meetings, they refuse to say two states on ’67, they moved their embassy, they closed their consulate, which they established in 1844 in Jerusalem…”

“You’re out of ideas?” Sebastian asked.

PA negotiator: I’m gonna recline my feet’

“I’m gonna recline my feet,” Erekat said, “because I’ve done everything humanly possible to make peace.”

“I’m asking what your next move is, Saeb Erekat. You’re not talking to anybody, you say there’s no point talking to anybody,” Sebastian asserted.

“I’m talking to you, I’m talking to the Europeans, I’m talking to the Russians,” Erekat protested.

“And you can’t get a deal without the Americans, you know that,” answered Sebastian.

Erekat then blasted the Trump administration, “This White House requires giant statesmen, not real estate agents.”

“They think by twisting my arm,” Erekat added, “by blackmailing me, by cutting $844 million aid to me” they can force the Palestinians to “sell Jerusalem.”

“Of course not!” Erekat shouted.

Appearing to portray Trump as a danger to the entire world, Erekat said, “Anyone who puts his ideology, his convictions, above his thoughts will doom us and him.”

Erekat ‘worried about Europe, Latin America, Africa’

While he is worried for the Palestinians, Erekat added, he is also “worried about you in Europe, I’m worried about Latin America, Africa…”

Questioned about Palestinian politics, Erekat asserted, “You can say anything about us. We are a full democracy.”

“I did not come and president Abbas did not come to be the president by a tank,” he said. “He came by elections. He won by 61 percent of the votes. I won by 57 percent of the votes.”

“He is 13 years into a four-year term,” Sebastian remarked of Abbas, and asked when the PA will hold elections.

“If we have elections without Gaza what will you say, Tim? We are separating? You think we can have a state without Gaza?” Erekat asked.

Sebastian then noted, “in Gaza you’re actually helping to cause hardship,” pointing to PA cuts in funds transferred to Gaza and other aggressive policies toward Hamas.

“That’s not true,” Erekat said. “I have an overloaded wagon of complexities.”

Turning to the issue of human rights, Sebastian noted that the PA security forces had arrested and beaten protesters, “and you tell me how democratic you are.”

‘I’m not perfect’

“Well look, if you want me to be perfect, I’m not perfect,” Erekat said.

“This is very far from being perfect, isn’t it?” Sebastian responded.

“You mentioned one demonstration and some people were beaten up, that’s right, and then an investigation committee was formed the day after by President Abbas, an ongoing investigation,” Erekat protested.

“But how many demonstrations do I have on a daily basis?” he asked. “Every single day!”

On the issue of corruption, Erekat said, “Do we have corruption? Yes.” But he pointed to the fact that, “Last year, four Palestinian ministers were in front of the court of corruption. I think it’s the only time in the history of Arab and Islamic countries. But to go on and exaggerate this much. That’s too much,” he said, waving his hands in the air.

Sebastian asked about a report by the Palestinian anti-corruption organization AMAN that found hundreds of salaries were being paid to workers at Palestinian Airlines, and noted, “There is, of course, no Palestinian Airlines. … It’s a big fraud, Saeb Erekat.”

“Not hundreds,” Erekat said. Asked if AMAN got it wrong, he responded, “Of course. Nobody pockets any money.” He pledged to review the issue with the organization.

Sebastian then asked about a recent Human Rights Watch report that found 147 incidents of “shocking abuse” by Palestinian security forces. Erekat protested that a committee had been formed to “investigate every single matter.”

“You say this every time. You have exactly the same answer,” said Sebastian.

“The people who committed these atrocities will be held accountable. That’s my promise,” Erekat replied, then said, “Security figures in certain areas were fired. They were demoted.”

“How many?” asked Sebastian.

“I really can’t…” said Erekat.

“It doesn’t mean anything unless you have a number,” asserted Sebastian.

“I will get you the number,” Erekat replied.

Interviewer: ‘Aren’t you ashamed?’

Pressed further on the issue of human rights abuses, Erekat cried, “When it happens we stop it! We admit it! We don’t hide it! We don’t find excuses! We don’t buy people!”

Sebastian pointedly asked Erekat, “Aren’t you ashamed of all this?”

“In some cases I’m ashamed, yes,” Erekat said, but added, “Sometimes I can’t because I’m a young Authority. I’m 23 years old. I cannot differentiate between freedom of expression and incitement.”

Asked what a future Palestinian state would look like, Erekat responded, “The future Palestinian state would look like the discussion that’s going on now. The future of the Palestinian state will be the future of democracy, human rights, women’s rights, accountability, transparency, and the rule of law. This is my promise.”

“So very different from what you have now,” Sebastian noted dryly.

Watch Erekat’s full interview with Sebastian below: