As Egypt tumult spreads, top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, resigns
The resignation of top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, comes as the Palestinian Authority has called for new elections in the wake of the people's revolution that overthrow Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
Ramallah, West Bank
Top Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has resigned after embarrassing depictions in media leaks of his posture towards Israel, saying he hopes his stepping down will set a model of transparency for the young Palestinian state-in-the-making.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Erekat has been a key player in negotiations with Israel since the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. But he said he bore personal responsibility for classified documents being ''stolen from my office'' so that they could be ''tampered with'' and used in broadcasts of the Al Jazeera satellite channel to show the Palestinian Authority (PA) making unprecedented concessions towards Israel.
''I can't advocate accountability and transparency all my life and then comes the biggest breach in Palestinian national security – the stealing of the documents from my office – and let it be business as usual,'' Erekat tells the Monitor. ''What I want to do is plant the seeds for the future of Palestinian officials. When officials make mistakes, they are out.''
The resignation comes at a time when the Egyptian revolution that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak is sending tremors through the Middle East. Palestinian officials say the Egyptian revolution will add fuel to non-military Palestinian protests against Israel such as already take place against the separation barrier in the West Bank. And the Palestinian Authority announced Saturday it would hold new legislative and presidential elections by September, a step that had been expected but whose timing appeared to be triggered by the ouster of Mr. Mubarak.
Damaging leaked documents
Last month, Erekat accused Al Jazeera of taking part in a campaign to overthrow the Palestinian Authority after the Qatar-based station began to release 1,600 confidential documents known as the Palestine papers.
The leaked files angered many Palestinians, because they alleged that Erekat and other negotiators offered concessions that departed from the Palestinian consensus on a range of subjects, including ultra-sensitive ones such as Jerusalem and refugees. One document had Palestinian negotiators offering Israel to keep all of its East Jerusalem settlements with one exception, while another had the Palestinians proposing a return of 10,000 refugees annually over a 10-year period, far short of the full ''right of return'' for all refugees that Palestinian leaders have long officially advocated.
Erekat's resignation, which still must be accepted by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, will not have any immediate practical impact, because negotiations with Israel are not on the horizon. They broke down in September over Israel's refusal to renew a freeze on construction at West Bank settlements. There are now no known direct peace contacts.
Moreover, Erekat will remain an influential figure in Palestinian politics because he is retaining his seat on the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee and the ruling Fatah movement's central committee. Still, the resignation is seen as a nod to public anger at the PA over the depicted concessions.