Erekat should go

Erekat should go

This paper supports the peace process.

That’s a clearly defined position to take, even if it’s not universally popular in Jewish Pittsburgh. But we have long held that it is better for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, not to mention U.S. intermediaries, to meet and talk on a regular basis, however remote the chances of reaching a comprehensive settlement. One never knows when a breakthrough may occur.

That said, when talks happen, the lead negotiators ought to show a certain amount of restraint in their public comments.

That’s why we are disturbed by the recent remarks by the Palestinian Authority’s lead negotiator, Saeb Erekat.

As JTA and UPI reported, Erekat recently suggested that Israel is planning an incursion into Gaza to take the focus off of the peace negotiations. That was bad enough.

But he also said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping for Abbas’ assassination, which is much worse.

A State Department spokeswoman labeled Erekat’s remarks “unhelpful,” and said Secretary of State John Kerry would say as much when he met with Abbas in Paris last week. We suspect such an understated comment by the State Department implied Kerry said much more than that.

We believe that a professional diplomat, one whose true goal is lasting peace, would not make such an inflammatory statement while highly sensitive peace negotiations are ongoing.

In fact, Erekat shouldn’t be opening his mouth at all, except perhaps to say “no comment” or to utter some neutral assessment of the talks as constructive and frank.

Unfortunately, these latest comments are nothing new. Erekat is guilty of making many provocative statements with regard to Israel and the Jews.

Arguably, Erekat’s latest statements are a violation of the ground rules the two sides agreed to when the latest round of peace talks began last summer.

Kerry, you will recall, met the press in late July of last year to kick off the latest round of negotiations. Flanked by Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tsipi Livni, he made quite clear that the two sides had agreed to keep the substance of the talks confidential. One could say that Erekat publicly suggesting the Israeli PM is hoping for the Palestinian president’s demise is a violation of the spirit of that agreement, to say the least.

To say the most, it’s a slap in the face to Israel, one calculated to set the talks back while the P.A. seeks further unilateral recognition of statehood at the United Nations and its ancillary organizations.

That’s speculation on our part, we admit, but when a diplomat as shrewd as Erekat makes such a belligerent statement, one must assume there’s a reason behind it.

Not all the recent news out of the P.A. was bad. Ynet and AFP reported PLO Central Committee member Nabil Amro said recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, in some form, is possible, though it would need to be approved by a referendum. That may have been a trial balloon.

But Erekat remains the lead P.A. negotiator in the talks; his words carry more weight.

That’s why we say it’s time for Erekat to go. If Abbas is sincere about the peace process — and we hope he is — he should name a new chief negotiator, one who knows how to play his cards closer to the vest.

Erekat and Livni both had a chance to make a brief statement when Kerry announced resumption of peace talks last summer. Livni used her time to speak directly to Erekat, calling him by his first name and imploring him to work with her to make peace this time for the good of all.

“This is something we need to do now,” she told him. “A new opportunity has been created for us — for all of us — and we cannot afford to waste it.”

We wonder, now, if Erekat feels the same way.