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2nd Jul 2020

Interview

Erekat: What EU should tell Pompeo on Israel

  • Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat (l), pictured here with former EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

"What the US is doing in Palestine is a threat against every single principle of peaceful coexistence between nations" - that is what EU foreign ministers should tell US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Monday's (15 June) video-talks, according to Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian diplomat.

"They [the EU] should say that in case of annexation ... there will be consequences for Israel, including sanctions," Erekat told EUobserver in an interview the same day.

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  • US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (r) with Hungarian prime minister and Israeli ally Viktor Orban (l) (Photo: state.gov)

"And they should remind the US their annexation plan is a threat to the basic principles of historic transatlantic cooperation," he added.

Erekat is the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the UN-recognised body representing Palestinian people.

He spoke after Israel, with US backing, recently pledged to annex one third of the West Bank, which it conquered from Arab states in 1967.

The move would quash Palestinian and EU aspirations for a two-state solution to the old conflict.

Israel is expected to do it either in July or in autumn.

But when asked if it was still stoppable by diplomatic means, Erekat said: "Yes. Just like any other crime can be stopped. You have to make clear though that diplomacy also involves the use of sanctions".

The plan looked stoppable, because even the US and Israel were internally "divided" on its merits, he added.

And EU countries had both the power and the historical duty to block it, Erekat said.

"Some forget that the EU is Israel's main trade partner and therefore there are important tools that can be used to implement international law," he said.

Looking back, the 65-year old diplomat, who helped negotiate the Oslo peace accords with Israel in the 1990s, said: "We got here [the annexation threat] because of the impunity granted to Israel, including incentives such as the EU-Israel association agreement, which continued unabated despite the severe Israeli violations to its article two".

The 20-year old EU-Israel agreement grants trade and diplomatic perks.

Its article two says: "The provisions of the agreement ... shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles".

But Israeli settlement expansion and free use of violence against Palestinians have continued for the past two decades despite the proviso.

And even if Palestinians gave Israel what it planned to seize, that would not end the process, Erekat predicted.

"Israel will continue expanding their illegal colonial-settlement enterprise as far as they can do so. As simple as that," he told this website.

Gun/olive history

Looking further back, the PLO's late co-founder, Yasser Arafat, famously told the UN general assembly in 1974: "I come bearing an olive branch in one hand and the freedom fighter's gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand".

The last Palestinian uprising, some 15 years ago, involved 3,000 Palestinian and 1,000 Israeli deaths.

When asked if West Bank annexation could provoke new violence, Erekat said: "I'm certain that some people in Israel are doing everything possible for this to happen. I can just say that our [the PLO's] commitment to international law, diplomacy, and the international legal system has been proven".

But he also echoed Arafat on the danger of leaving people with no options.

"The question is: What kind of Palestinian resistance is acceptable for those who say 'No' to armed struggle, but also 'No' to BDS [international boycotts of Israel], 'No' to banning settlement products, 'No' to labelling [of settler exports], 'No' to stopping companies from working in occupied territory ... 'No' to stopping organisations funding settlements, and 'No' to international legal action?," Erekat said.

"What kind of message are they sending to our people?," he said.

Previously-drafted EU sanctions options against Israeli settlements included full recognition of Palestinian statehood as well as financial penalties.

A few hawkish EU states, including Sweden and Luxembourg, have called for urgent action in line with Erekat's alarm bell.

But Monday's Pompeo-EU talks were expected to focus on China and Libya, instead of Israel.

And the EU adopts sanctions by consensus, while Israel has veto-wielding allies, such as Hungary, in Europe.

Not disappearing

If all that looked as if the Palestinians might vanish from the map, it did not mean that they, or their struggle, would disappear in reality, however, Erekat noted.

"This is not the end of our rights or the end of international law," he said.

"We are not going to disappear and Israel will have to deal with the results of its actions, what they have truly imposed: an apartheid regime," he said, referring to South Africa's history of racial oppression.

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