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Chief Palestinian negotiator says US peace plan will 'normalise Israeli apartheid'

Veteran mediator Saeb Erekat says Trump's 'deal of the century' isn't a deal - and is already being implemented on the ground
Saeb Erekat watches as US President Donald Trump announces embassy move to Jerusalem (AFP)

US President Donald Trump's proposed "deal of the century" peace plan for Israel and Palestine is not a deal and is already being implemented by Washington and its allies on the ground, the chief Palestinian negotiator has told Middle East Eye.

Amid mounting speculation that the Trump administration will announce details of its plan within days, Saeb Erekat, a veteran negotiator, said Palestinian negotiators had yet to see an official draft of the so-called deal.

And he said the Americans had become "nothing else than spokespeople for the Israeli occupation" whose intention was to "normalise Israeli apartheid".

'If anyone walked away, it was the Trump emissaries whose plan has nothing to do with a just and lasting peace and a lot to do with normalising the Israeli apartheid regime'

- Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator

MEE reported in March that Saudi officials had delivered a copy of the deal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but he refused to open the document. 

"If there's any plan, this is being implemented on the ground: with moving the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem, withdrawing support for the two-state solution, cutting funds to UNRWA and, eventually, trying to normalise the Israeli apartheid in Palestine," Erekat said.

Erekat's comments come as Jared Kushner, the US envoy to the Middle East and Trump's son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, Trump's Middle East peace negotiator, are meeting with leaders in the region to discuss the plan.

Sources told Israeli daily Haaretz that the Americans aim to convince Gulf leaders to invest in economic projects in the Gaza Strip, including energy projects, as a first step.

A rare meeting earlier this week between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman fuelled speculation about whether a backdoor deal was being made over the peace plan.

Anti-austerity protests rocked the kingdom earlier this month leading one Jordanian official to suggest that Gulf leaders had withheld aid to pressure the king over Jerusalem where Jordan has had custodianship of the holy sites since the British mandate of Palestine in the early 20th century.

Jared Kushner at the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem last month (AFP)
After the meeting, Netanyahu's office released a statement saying that the prime minister "reiterated Israel's commitment to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem".

Asked whether he was worried that Jordan would give in to parts of the deal in exchange for holding on to its custodianship, Erekat told MEE that Palestinian relations with Jordan were "very strong".

"King Abdullah has been clear in his statements calling for a free Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem. We are coordinating everything with the Jordanian side," he said.

'No table to walk from'

Erekat has been involved in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations since 1991 when a friend reportedly passed him a note from Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat asking if he would join the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid peace conference as deputy head of delegations. Erekat refused at first, but then eventually agreed.

He became a Palestinian negotiator in 1995, and was first elected as a member of the Palestinian parliament a year later. He has resigned several times over the years from his role as head negotiator, but holds the position again today.

'Our position is based on international law and UN resolutions. We are not going to accept anything short of that, and nobody could impose anything upon us'

- Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator

Since Trump came to power, Erekat has had several contentious exchanges with Kushner over recent American interventions in the conflict, according to an account this month in the New Yorker magazine.

When Erekat complained to Kushner that the Palestinians were struggling to organise meetings with the Israelis, Kushner reportedly said: "We told them they shouldn't meet with you now."

Erekat responded that it didn't make sense. "It's much better for us to meet with the Israelis," he was quoted as saying. "You're not going to make peace for us."

"You think all of a sudden you're going to meet at your house, and have tea, and you'll be able to agree on something you haven't been able to agree on for 25 years?" Kushner was quoted as responding.

"That's all in the past... Show me what you think is an outcome that you can live with."

According to the New Yorker, Erekat likened the conversation to dealing with stockbrokers: "If I don't take 30 cents on the dollar now, I'll get 15 cents next year."

MEE asked Erekat what the consequences would be if the Palestinians walk away from what the Americans eventually put on the table.

Abu Dis, 4km east of Jerusalem, was cut off from the city by Israel’s wall more than a decade ago (AFP)
"I disagree with your assumption," he said. "There is no table to walk away from. It's not like we were negotiating and suddenly we decided to leave.

"If anyone walked away, it was the Trump emissaries whose plan has nothing to do with a just and lasting peace and a lot to do with normalising the Israeli apartheid regime."

The Palestinian position, he said, is based on international law and UN resolutions. "We are not going to accept anything short of that, and nobody could impose anything upon us," he said.

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In January, a month after Trump announced that the US would move its embassy to Jerusalem, Palestinian President Abbas told the Palestinian Central Council that the Palestinians were being offered Abu Dis, a small East Jerusalem suburb, as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The president didn't expand on which party had proposed Abu Dis, which is 4km east of Jerusalem and was cut off from the city entirely by Israel's separation wall more than a decade ago. Some reports have suggested it was the Saudis. 

Erekat, who is from Abu Dis, said it wasn't a Saudi proposal, but that, in any case, it was a non-issue.

"The boundaries of the city of Jerusalem, our eternal capital, are very well-known. There will be no Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital," he said.

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