Erekat to Haaretz: New proposal more generous than deal we offered Olmert

Haaretz (Link) - Avi Issacharoff & Yanir Yagna (August 1, 2010)

The Palestinian Authority has submitted a far-reaching peace proposal to the Obama administration that is more generous to Israel than the demands presented by Mahmoud Abbas to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, the chief PA negotiator told Haaretz on Saturday.

Saeb Erekat also said the PA�s detailed offer would end the conflict with Israel and resolve all Palestinian claims.

�I presented Senator George Mitchell with a series of official documents,� Erekat said, referring to the special U.S. envoy to the Middle East. �We gave him maps and papers that clearly state our positions on all the final-status issues: borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water and security. Thus far we have not received any answer from the Israeli side.�

When asked if the Palestinian positions were similar to those presented during talks with Olmert, Erekat replied: �It�s more than that. I cannot go into details on what exactly was proposed, but Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] offered more in these documents than what he proposed to Olmert in the past. Abu Mazen took bigger steps to reach peace.�

Earlier this year Erekat distributed a document to European diplomats saying the PA had offered Olmert a swap that would let Israel annex 1.9 percent of the West Bank. The document also claimed that the PA had expressed a willingness to accept an Israeli proposal to allow 15,000 Palestinian refugees to return to the country every year over 10 years.

International media outlets reported earlier this year that the PA had agreed to land swaps equaling 2.3 percent, while another report said it had accepted a swap of 3.8 percent. Erekat confirmed to Haaretz that the Palestinians have become more flexible on this issue.

He denied reports in the Arab media over the weekend that the Obama administration had threatened sanctions against the PA - perhaps even the severing of ties - if Abbas did not agree to enter direct talks with Israel over a final-status agreement.

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian lawmaker and a member of the PLO central committee, told the pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi that Washington �applied tremendous pressures on the Palestinian Authority so that it would move to direct talks.�

Ashrawi said the United States threatened to downgrade or even sever ties with Ramallah.

Another Arab language newspaper, Al-Hayat, reported that Obama had sent a special communique to Abbas last month that said Washington would not work to extend the Israeli construction freeze in West Bank settlements if the Palestinian leader continued to oppose direct negotiations. According to the report, Obama made clear to Abbas that the United States would reject any Palestinian efforts to appeal to the Security Council in lieu of direct talks with Israel.

During an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Thursday, Abbas said he had been subject to intense pressure to agree to direct talks. Erekat confirmed that many Arab leaders sought to persuade the Palestinian leader to reconsider his position, but he denied any suggestions that Washington had threatened the PA.

�[The communique] stated that if the Palestinians do not enter direct discussions, reaching a two-state solution will be even more difficult and the Americans� ability to help in that regard will be even more limited,� Erekat said. �There were no threats.�

Erekat also denied a report by Israel Radio that Haim Ramon, a former minister and lawmaker from the opposition Kadima party, had urged the PA not to enter into direct negotiations with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

�I am astounded at times to see how low these stories can go,� Erekat said. �Ramon didn�t tell me to enter direct talks or not to enter them. Such a thing never happened, and no Israeli will tell us anything along those lines.�

Erekat also denied that Ramon had been sent at the behest of President Shimon Peres. �Do not drag us into your internal politics,� he added.

�Shimon himself tells me every time we meet, �Go into direct talks,�� Erekat said. �I meet with many Israelis but I do not accept instructions from them or from Ramon.�

Peres is scheduled to depart for Cairo Sunday for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. The two leaders will discuss the latest efforts to renew direct talks between Israel and the PA.

Peres is expected to urge Mubarak to continue to press Abbas to begin direct discussions with Israel. He is expected to say Israel is serious in its intentions to advance the peace process.