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Erekat: ‘Hope of peace will vanish’ if US moves embassy to Jerusalem

Dec. 20, 2016 10:40 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 22, 2016 8:30 P.M.)
Saeb Erekat talks after an Arab Peace Initiative Committee meeting in 2012 (AFP)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Saeb Erekat has warned that the PLO will revoke all previously signed agreements with Israel as well as the PLO’s 1993 recognition of Israel if President-elect Donald Trump follows through on his pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

During a conference call in Washington DC organized by the Wilson Center, Erekat reportedly said such a move would indicate the US’s acceptance of “Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem,” and further warned that “any hope of peace in the future will just vanish,” Times of Israel reported Monday evening.

The controversial move would also disregard Palestinian claims to the city, and terminate a longstanding White House policy to perpetually defer a 1995 Congressional decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move the embassy there.

Erekat also said he would immediately resign as the PLO’s chief negotiator because he would not want to “fool (his) people” that there were any prospects of peace, and that supporters of the two-state solution -- like himself -- would be proven wrong if the embassy were to be moved.

Erekat also predicted that all American embassies in the Arab world would be forced to close as a consequence of the move because "the infuriated public in the Arab world would not ‘allow’ for the embassies to continue to operate,” according to the report.

Erekat’s comments follow an announcement from the Trump transition team on Friday appointing David Friedman as the next ambassador to Israel.

A bankruptcy lawyer who has formerly worked for Trump, Friedman is also an outspoken and active supporter of Israel’s illegal settlement construction and expansion, and the president of the American Friends in Beit El Yeshiva -- a group that supports the illegal settlement of Beit El near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Hours after he was appointed to the post, Friedman said he hoped to "strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region, and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem."

Friedman’s comments followed a similar pledge made by Trump himself during his presidential campaign, with Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway reiterating that moving the embassy would be “very big priority” for the Trump administration earlier this month.

Erekat reacted to the appointment of Friedman in the conference call, describing the future ambassador as “a very well known extreme right wing supporter of settlers, supporter of annexation of East Jerusalem,” and referred to the development “a disaster.”

“With such a move by Mr. Trump,” Erekat continued, “he says that there is no longer a two-state solution when he sends an ambassador like David Friedman to the region… For God’s sake, what is going on?”

Leading up to a visit last week by a Palestinian delegation headed by Erekat to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other Obama administration officials, Israeli media had reported the delegation was also set to meet with Trump transition officials -- reports Erekat denied in Monday's call.

“We did not meet with any of the Trump people. I don’t know any of them as a matter of fact. We tried, but we did not get the chance to meet with any of them.”

Erekat also mentioned that Palestinian and other Arab diplomats were set to meet Monday evening in Cairo to finalize the text of an anti-Israeli settlement resolution to be submitted to the United Nations Security Council by the end of the year or January.

Israeli news site Haaretz reported prior to Erekat’s meeting with the Obama administration that the Palestinian-US meetings would aim to negotiate a version of the resolution that would avoid an American veto when it is introduced to the UNSC.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly expressed concern that the Obama administration might not use its veto to block a Palestine-related resolution. “With every passing day that possibility becomes less likely, but, until then, it’s still there,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

Erekat’s comments follow similar warnings made by Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour, who threatened to “make life miserable” for the United States at the United Nations if the embassy was moved, pointing out that such a decision would represent a violation of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 regarding the status of Jerusalem, and constitute “belligerency” towards Palestinians.

The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.

While members of the international community rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
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