'Fed up,' a top Palestinian bolts
A former top Arafat adviser talks about obstacles to the US-backed peace process.
JERICHO, WEST BANK
Since the first Oslo Accord was reached nearly a decade ago, the Israelis have had at least a half-dozen chief negotiators directing peace talks with the Palestinians.Skip to next paragraph
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But the Palestinians have essentially had just one: Saeb Erekat, a political scientist who became the man the world turns to in order to hear the Palestinian viewpoint packaged into lucid, quotable quips. Dr. Erekat resigned last week, "fed up," he says, not just with the state of the road-map peace plan, but with the regime-change paradigm that the White House is trying to imprint upon the Palestinian Authority (PA).
"Is this regime change that's peaceful? If it's peaceful, then please, hold elections," says Erekat, who spins such a snappy English that it can be hard for reporters' pens to keep pace.
Having earned a master's in political science at San Francisco State University and a doctorate from Bradford University in England, he speaks English more handily than almost anyone else in the PA - and his is a voice that he's betting will be missed. After this week's suicide bombings against Israelis, he says, it was he whom international television networks kept calling in search of a Palestinian official to condemn the violence.
"The Americans must understand: Our situation is different from Iraq and Afghanistan. We live next to Israel, and that means we expect democracy," Erekat says in an interview in his offices here, which initially served as the Ministry of Local Government, and later, as the Ministry of Negotiations.
Now, staffers shrug, they're not sure what the building represents at all - and they are as keen as the next person to know what Erekat is planning to do now.
Most probably, he says, he will launch a campaign demanding that Palestinian elections be held in six months. They have not been held since 1994, when Yasser Arafat was, as a matter of course, elected president.
US pressure on the Palestinian Authority to choose a prime minister to wield power instead of Arafat - primarily at the urging of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - led to the appointment last month of Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. Although both men are known to be close to Arafat, Mr. Abbas has been trying to set himself and his new cabinet apart in a bid to get back to negotiations, which Sharon has refused to conduct with Arafat.
When Abbas and Sharon met on Saturday night along with their inner posse of peace negotiators - the first such meeting after 2-1/2 years of abject violence - Erekat was noticeably left off the invitation list. Miffed, according to most media reports, he resigned.
But Erekat says that has nothing to do with it - and that this decision was long in coming. He says he can't be too specific about the precise reasons - "I don't want to harm anyone," he says. But he shows an obvious frustration with the concept of installing Abbas, an unelected official, as prime minister.
"The Palestinians deserve better leadership," says Erekat, a tall, portly man who has towered over Arafat for years when they appeared together before television cameras.