Dr. Saeb Erekat is Minister of Local Government in
the Palestinian National Authority. He is also head of the Steering
and Monitoring Committee and headed the Palestinian negotiating
team on Hebron. He spoke with Daoud Kuttab in an
exclusive interview for the Palestine-Israel Journal after the
signing of the Hebron Protocol.
Daoud Kuttab: Are we closer to a Palestinian State now that
the Hebron agreement has been signed?
Saeb Erekat: I do not think that one can measure progress toward a
Palestinian State by the Hebron agreement. I think the Protocol and
Hebron should not be exaggerated, should not be blown out of
proportion. Had it been done with the previous government, it would
have been completed and implemented without any fuss. I think we
are closer to reaching a Palestinian State, not because we have
reached the Hebron Protocol agreement, but because of many other
factors on the ground: the reality that if Israel wants to achieve
peace in the region, the solution is a Palestinian State with East
Jerusalem as its capital.
Does the fact that President Arafat said that the second half of
Israel [the Likud bloc - ed.] has agreed to a withdrawal, mean we
are closer to a Palestinian State?
I do not think it is appropriate for us to start engaging in a
discussion of the ideologies of the various political parties in
Israel. We should concentrate on a statement by Arafat on what he
wants after the Israeli elections: to try and make peace with all
the Israelis. I think that the leaders in Israel, within the left
and the right, should really try now to make ladders for the people
to descend from up in the skies to the ground of reality, giving up
concepts like no to a Palestinian State, no to Jerusalem as its
capital, no to the return of refugees, because these are the real
keys to a genuine peace in the region. The fact that the Likud
government has accepted territorial compromise is a major change in
its ideology. The difference between the Labor government and the
right in Israel, the Likud, as we have heard it from them for many
years, concentrated on territorial compromise. Once the Likud
accepted territorial compromise, there is a change, but it should
not yet be seen as the test of the real intentions of this Israeli
government. What is the real test?
I think, above all, it is further redeployment, permanent-status
negotiations which will commence next month [March 1997].
For 40 years Israel refused, in its own political discourse, to
talk about permanent status. Now for the first time they are
conducting a very deep discussion. Are you optimistic over the fact
that they are at least talking about these issues?
I am glad they are talking about it, that this discussion is taking
place in Israel and I hope that this discussion will take the path
of realism. I hope that the Israeli people will be taught by the
Israeli leaders and policy-makers what it takes to make peace with
the Palestinians. On the one hand, it is good that they are
discussing permanent status, it is good that they are discussing
the issues of Jerusalem, a Palestinian State and so on. On the
other hand, what is not good is that they seem to want to determine
our future for us. They are settling the permanent-status
negotiations before they start. This is very dangerous. The
Israelis cannot make peace with themselves as partners.
I understand from this that you are referring to the
Eitan/Beilin document and you think this is not a helpful
Yes. I cannot stand guard over Mr. Eitan and Mr. Beilin, but they
should realize that if they want to have peace, they have a partner
called the PLO; they have a partner called Arafat; they have a
partner called the Palestinian people. The issues should be
negotiated between the two sides. A document like this becomes a
dictate, as far as we are concerned, and they should avoid
dictation. There is a difference between negotiation and dictation.
If they would say that this is our starting negotiating position,
it's their right. They can come to the negotiations and project any
negotiating position, but they can't negotiate between themselves
and tell us to take it or leave it.
You led the negotiations on the Hebron Protocol and it seems
that the Palestinian position was tougher than in any other
negotiation. What changed from the previous negotiations in Taba
I think that the world has changed. We had a new reality with these
negotiations. We had a new reality with this new government. There
was a big change in Israel. There was a big change in the whole
peace process. I remember the first day I sat with Binyamin
Netanyahu's political advisor Dore Gold back in July, 1996, after
the Israeli elections. He said he came from a non-Oslo
constituency. I had to tell him you are a democracy, and as a
democracy you must be committed to the previous government's
decisions. I do not think you have the right to be selective in
what you accept and what you reject.
As to the nature of the negotiations, had the Israeli side agreed
to implement the guidelines of the Hebron agreement as they were
signed on September 28,1995, they would not have had all these
problems. But they insisted on modifications. At one point they
told us they cannot implement Hebron without these modifications.
This really increased our concern, and we were more suspicious of
the intentions of the Israeli government than at any time before.
These were negotiations with no trust, no confidence between the
two parties whatsoever. Every time we looked at each other, we
wondered what each would pull out of the hat the next minute,
despite our mutual need to reach the agreement. There grew in
Israel the feeling that Israel needs this agreement in order to get
out of the pressures that are being exerted on it internally and
externally. We needed the agreement to make sure that the peace
process will continue. Because we do not trust the Israeli
government, we wanted a linkage between Hebron and the other issues
of the agreement.
Some people say it was healthy for the negotiations to have
continued because you were involved in the process of educating the
second half of Israel. Do you feel the change after months of
I think it is unfair to say that one party is educating the other.
With time I realized that what negotiations mean is one's ability
to bring an equation of two wins; both sides must win. As such, we
need to bring a win-win situation. A win situation must take into
consideration the concerns and interests of both sides, not
Do you think there is a win-win situation with the
They haven't started yet. I think what we have been negotiating for
the past five years can be termed as appetizers. Our real
negotiations are about to begin, and these are the issues that will
either make or break the peace process. We need a conceptual
framework for the permanent-status negotiations. The ingredients
for a win-win situation are based on a two-state solution and I
think that what is being discussed in Israel now is not whether the
Palestinians should have a state or should not have a state, an
entity or not an entity. What they are discussing is the size, the
capital, what should be included, whether it should be armed or not
armed. So the fundamental principle has been accepted in Israel
that the basic ingredient is a two-state solution - Palestine next
Now, if we are able to set this basic foundation for
permanent-status negotiations, then first comes the question of
settlements. Do the Israelis want to create another Bosnia in the
next 25 years? Haven't they seen the example of the Croats, the
Christian Bosnians, the Muslim Bosnians? I think settlements are
not only illegal, they just can't go with peace. It's either peace
or the settlements. Israel can't have both because with both, the
land is torn asunder and then you are going to have two educational
systems, two security systems, two legal systems, two farming
systems, two road systems, etc.
That's exactly my point. That's not peace. About Jerusalem, the
whole world recognizes East Jerusalem as occupied territory. And
the uniqueness in Jerusalem is that no side should expand at the
expense of the other side. So the Israeli side or the Jewish
Quarter must not expand at the expense of the Christian and Muslim
part; otherwise, there will be bloodshed. The Israelis must come to
their senses and realize that for the Palestinian Christians and
Muslims and for the Arab Christians and Muslims, there will be no
peace whatsoever without East Jerusalem being the capital of the
Palestinian State. This is a historical fact. The Israelis are
practicing in Jerusalem a fait-accompli policy, an attempt to
settle the issue by means of force. That will ruin the peace
process. Confiscating the ID's of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is
a very dangerous step. So is the extension of the boundaries of
Jerusalem to include Ma'aleh Adumim to the east, and Gilo toward
Bethlehem, and Giv'at Ze'ev toward Ramallah and El-Bireh. They
think that with a policy of force on the ground they will have
peace with us? On the contrary, if the Israeli government continues
like this, we are going to have a major explosion. These issues
will be responsible for pushing the Palestinians and Israelis into
a state of confrontation. This is something we want to avoid by
preserving and maintaining this peace process. I wrote them six
letters about this matter in the three weeks after the Hebron
agreement was signed, and there was no response.
And about the refugees?
For the refugees we have UN Resolution 194 and this will be the
basis of negotiations. They must realize that as they have the
right to return all Jews, they can't deny the Palestinians the
right to return, legally or ethically. No one can deny the
Palestinians the right to return to their home.
Borders we said very clearly: the June 4, 1967, boundaries.
The Jordan Valley, they might want that for security
They can forget it. What does it mean, for security reasons? Don't
they have a peace treaty with Jordan now? Why would they want the
Jordan Valley after they signed a peace treaty with Jordan? The
whole of the Jordanian border, as they both have said, is a border
of peace and there are no enemy soldiers on either side. Security
is a pretext to swallow more Palestinian land, to have more
Is the option for a binational state negotiable?
What do you mean?
I mean one state in Israel and Palestine where everybody has
It is secular, not binational. We introduced the notion of a
secular state four decades ago. To be honest with you, my personal
understanding is that ethnicity, religion, language, culture have
been the classical recipe for civil war all over the world. So,
let's build on the basic ingredients for two separate states - with
good fences, because good fences make good neighbors.
Do you foresee good economic and social interaction?
Once we have established the fences of goodwill between Palestine
and Israel, it will be a priority for us to have the best
relations, economic, educational, and so on, and to foster the
fullest possible cooperation between a Palestinian State and the
State of Israel.
1 This is an agreement between some Labor and Likud Knesset members
on the Israeli position on permanent status. Among other points, it
has most of the settlements under Israeli sovereignty and the
Palestinian capital outside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.
The parties didn't reach an agreement as to whether the Palestinian
entity will take the form of statehood or self-rule - ed.