Palestinian negotiator: 'Defining moment' is here

AP News
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Posted: Nov 09, 2009 4:32 PM

The chief Palestinian negotiator on Monday warned Israel that if it does not take peacemaking seriously, it will find itself dealing with the militant Hamas instead of moderates like him.

Negotiator Saeb Erekat and other Palestinian officials have been quoted as recommending dismantling the Palestinian Authority, set up in interim accords with Israel to prepare for creation of a Palestinian state. Erekat said that plan has failed because "18 years of negotiations since the two-state solution was raised have gone nowhere."

"We have reached our defining moment," he said. "We are still trying to convince the Israelis to stop (West Bank) settlement activities" and accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and if progress is not made, "we will have to take other steps." He would not elaborate.

But he denied calling for dissolving the Palestinian Authority. "I didn't say that. Nobody said that," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview late Monday.

He spoke as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was about to meet President Barack Obama in Washington.

Palestinian officials have been expressing extreme frustration at the stalled peace negotiations, blaming Israel and calling on the U.S. to exert pressure.

Several officials have been quoted in recent days as calling for dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, but that would leave a power vacuum that could be filled only by Israel or Hamas. Instead, the idea is seen as a way to press Israel and the United States to take steps toward a peace accord.

Palestinian reformer Mustafa Barghouti, who served once as a Cabinet minister, dismissed talk of dissolving the government. "That would be a mistake," he told the AP. "What should happen is that we should defy the Israeli rules and regulations."

Last week Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not like to run for re-election in January voting. He left open the possibility of recanting if Israel stops all construction in the settlements, as he has been demanding before peace talks resume.

Erekat warned that if not, Abbas might step down before the election. That would make the speaker of the parliament, Abdel Aziz Duaik of Hamas, the acting president. "How would Israel like to deal with Hamas?" Erekat asked, indicating that this, too, was a pressure tactic against Israel.

Other Palestinians say that talk of mass resignations if Abbas steps down or dissolution of the government are meant as pressure tactics against Israel and the U.S.