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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.

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''He can't stay in this position, because the Palestinian public is aware of all the facts in these documents,'' says Atieyeh Jawabra, a political scientist at the West Bank's al-Quds University. ''The Palestinain public opinion sees in these documents the concessions made on Jerusalem, borders, and settlements. In the Palestinian mind, these are things that must be stood up for.''

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Fadil Hamdan, an Islamist member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, says: ''His resignation proves that these documents are genuine and this is a big moral problem for Erekat and the negotiating team.''

But Hani Masri, head of the Badael think-tank in Ramallah, stresses that the episode should not be viewed as an exercise in accountability. Erekat resigned because the documents were stolen from his office and not because of the concessions they entailed, he noted.

Election announcement triggered by events in Egypt?

The resignation of Egypt's Mubarak was greeted with joy among Palestinians, who viewed him as siding with Israel against them.

''I'm very, very happy and I congratulate the Egyptian people,'' says hardware store owner Ibrahim Khalifa. ''Mubarak behaved like the son of Israel. This should be the result for any dark leader.'' Much of the anger at Mubarak stemmed from his regime joining Israel in blockading the Gaza Strip in a bid to undermine its Hamas leaders. Egypt is also seen as having acquiesced in Israel's devastating military campaign in Gaza two years ago.

Mr. Hamdan, the legislator, says: ''If there is genuine democratic government in Egypt then Egypt will be a very strong supporter of Palestinian claims and will exercise strong pressure on Israel to end its hegemony over the Palestinians and its continued threats to Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. If Egypt shifts to democracy and allies with Turkey and Iran, this may form a strong pressure on Israel to give up for peace and at least withdraw to the 1967 borders.''

Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement denies there is any connection between the announcement on holding of elections and the revolution in Egypt.

September had already been earmarked as the month when Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's plan to reach independence for Palestinians reaches its end. ''This is about the president in September going to his people and saying I have tried every measure but the occupation and the Israelis are not interested. What do you want to do next? Where should we go?'' said Husam Zomlot, executive deputy commissioner of Fatah's commission for international relations.

Although Mubarak was a close ally of Abbas and a de facto enemy of its rival Hamas, Mr. Zomlot says he is not concerned the dictator's removal will impact on the PA. ''A better Egypt; a powerful, stable democratic, fairer Egypt is definitely a better ally to the Palestinians,'' he said.


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