The Palestine Papers
Meeting Minutes: Saeb Erekat and Marc Otte

Meeting between Palestinian official Saeb Erekat and EU representative Marc Otte. Discussion on Gaza truce, smuggling, and Palestinian reconcilation efforts. In discussing how the negotiations with the Israelis are going, Erekat says "Reaching an ageement is a matter of survival for us. It's the way to defeat Hamas."


Erekat: "We are under occupation. We are poor, but we are not stupid."



Erekat: “We continue with a genuine process – reaching an agreement is a matter of survival for us. It’s the way to defeat Hamas.”




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Meeting Minutes

Saeb Erekat ? Marc Otte

NAD Jericho

June 18, 2008


MO: I?ve missed the opportunity to talk to you the last couple of trips. I have been in touch in David [Welch], Tzipi Livni and other. I will be missing Abu Ala? this time. I want to hear about a few things: your strategy and ideas about the negotiations, particularly with the internal Israeli politics and US elections. Also on Gaza, the crossings, the business of reconciliation that Abu Mazen is talking about.


SE: Tomorrow 6am is the zero hour for the Gaza truce. We have worked hard to achieve the goal and hope it will be sustained. All want that. First it allows us to intensify the peace negotiations ? you know if there is an Israeli incursion Abu Mazen will suspend the negotiations. Second, it allows us to expose Hamas: with a quiet front, there will be no funerals and such events. People will see the destruction to infrastructure etc. brought about by their policy.


The US is now involved in dealing with the smuggling ? with $23 million. This is needed for sustaining the truce. Israel should clearly commit not to use needs of the population (fuel, electricity …) as a tool against Gaza.


MO:  Regarding the RCP, Israel and Egypt are consistent that the only way is the 2005 formula. I ask you ? how? Where will we stay?


SE: EU can be stationed on Egyptian side of Rafah ? it?s much better than Ashkelon  -- only two and a half hours from Cairo. I don?t think the EU will be the obstacle. The question is where do the PG go. If under Gaza authority it is not acceptable and will not work. So the question is will Hamas agree to leave an area around the crossing.


MO: Now we have received letters from both sides to renew the mandate of EU BAM. So we are working on contingency plans in Brussels ? in case they need to go back in full mode. Recall that the 2005 agreements were trilateral (PA- Israel ? EU), with US “involvement”. Egypt did not want to be a part. Now Egypt will have to be, especially if we are staying there.


SE:  If you give me your requirements I will pass them on to Egypt.


MO:  I told Abul-Gheit and Suleiman, if you give us your agreement we can work on the details. We must insure that the agreement will be with you ? that is Abu Mazen and Saeb Erekat. We need to refer back to the 2005 formula: the EU BAM with the PG only ? not under Hamas. So regarding the procedures, we can deal bilaterally with you and bilaterally with Amos Gilad, and then will talk to Egypt. At some point though we need to sit at the same table.


SE: Not yet ? it?s too early. Work first on Egypt agreeing to station the EU BAM. Then we work on the PG, and see how to operate trilateral arrangements, and revive the quadrilateral meetings. I don?t want to overload the wagon at this stage.


MO: Going back to 2005 agreements ? there are a few: security, customs …


SE: Let?s just deal with Rafah.


RD:  I think the issue is about the movement of goods ? imports and exports ? whether it is through Kerem Shalom or Rafah, and the procedures.


SE: At Rafah we have security by PG; customs with Salam Fayyad. I will be the negotiator.


MO: We have our planners working in Brussels, as I said earlier. I want to introduce them and their work to you. Either they come here, or in Brussels. In any case I will come see you later with Pietro.


SE:  Either here or Brussels I am happy to meet them. Happy to meet Pietro as well. I want to focus now on Egypt ? to ensure they are on board. If you send me what you require (regarding immunities, vehicles, accreditations?same as you had agreed with Israel) … Once the Berlin Conference is done, we can sit down and figure out how to deal with our presence. Egypt will not open RCP without the PG and EU BAM ? this is their strategic interest. They will not open it with Hamas.


MO:  How about the reconciliation?


SE:  We are calling for the implementation of the Yemeni initiative as it was proclaimed at the Arab League summit in Damascus. I asked Bashar to put that text in the communiqué of the Summit, calling for unconditional implementation….  Eventually, with early elections, things will be decided one way or another. However Hamas is playing games with us. Many people in Gaza are bitter at Abu Mazen, saying he has given up to Hamas. We are explaining to the people, as well as to the US and Israel that we are not giving up. On the contrary, if Hamas accept the Yemeni initiative ? the agreements and the two states ? this should be the happiest day in Israel. Because it is stated by the Arab League in Damascus, now Syria is also calling on Hamas to do this.


MO: There will be a Quartet meeting on the margins of the Berlin Conference. Should we say something about this in our statement?


SE: You should shut up about it. These are Palestinian conditions, not Quartet.


MO: Clear enough. On the negotiations …


SE:  I am meeting the Israelis 10 to 12 hours per week. Recently there hasn?t been plenaries because Livni is busy ? but she agreed with Abu Ala to intensify the committees.


On security, there are two concepts: internal security force. We define the responsibilities and functions needed (for example law and order, prevent smuggling, crime etc…) and then we can agree on lists. This is not the difficult issue for us. Rami?


RD:  Technically it can be agreed. But the Israelis are insisting on “demilitarized state” and that is a problem …


SE: Second, as an independent sovereign state without defence capability (army, air force …) what will defend our borders? Short of Israeli military presence … We have told the Israelis, we take your concerns about threats seriously. For example, the Early Warning Stations, can the US operate them for you? In the Jordan Valley, can the British do AWACS operations ? then feed the information to all regional parties. We need the third party for this and to help monitor implementation, and to build capacity. Regarding the airspace: we don?t want any military aircraft of any state in our airspace. This is our concept of neutrality.


MO: Livni spoke at length in Luxembourg …


SE: I am sorry that we were not given the same opportunity.


MO: This was bilateral ? the association council.


SE: No. It was to counter Salam Fayyad?s letter. We are your friends and partners. We will force Israel and the US to accept this. So you should treat us with respect and based on interests. We are under occupation. We are poor, but we are not stupid.


MO:  We can arrange something similar for your association agreement. I can talk to the French ? their presidency is coming up.


SE: Kouchner is a problem.


MO: In confidence, I share your concerns. [Discussion on problems with Sarkozy ideas with Shimon Peres re Jordan Valley meeting]. The way Sarkozy works is by coups, spectacle. But you need to know that at the quai d?Orsai below Kouchner is a good political director. We have to make the best of the French presidency.


On security arrangements, I told the Israelis they need not be going hyper-active about words ? it?s about what is agreed in reality, as you said, functions and capacity. Regarding “demilitarized” there are good examples in Europe on limits ? but to be acceptable I told the Israelis there needs to be the protection of others, not you. We think, however, that Jordan should be involved.


SE: Jordan is involved. It is also part of the 5 party multilateral mechanism we are proposing. Neither Jordan nor Egypt want to have a presence. They will go along with arrangements we agree.


MO: An idea that Europe understands: the need for a regional security regime. So we are trying to get the Israelis to stop being paranoid.


RD: You mentioned European examples on arms limitation, could you elaborate?


MO: We have a long experience with the CSCE ? Helsinki Agreement, there were arms limitations as parts of confidence building measures during the cold war; particularly limiting movement of troops without notification. Later this was carried on with the OSCE. I am happy to provide further material on this. There is also a paper from several years ago that I can give. We also have security people that can brief you …


SE: Please provide them with all these.


MO: On territory?


SE: We offered 1.9% equal swaps. [Discussion on the map showing the Palestinian proposal; discussion of Israeli demands: no reciprocal Israeli offer (no indication of swap area on Israeli side and no Jerusalem ? Palestinian proposal granting Palestinian citizenship to settlers who wish to remain …]


On Jerusalem, we are following the general principle of what is Arab is Palestinian, what is Jewish is Israeli. The Israelis are not responding. We want two municipalities as capitals of each state, and a joint body to deal with coordination and cooperation. The big stumbling bloc is the Haram. We cannot accept Israeli sovereignty, and they cannot accept our sovereignty. For some other places we have creative solutions ? like having their embassy at the 7 Arches (mount of olives) and ours at Mamilla.




[discussed status of Brussels as example of a city under four layers of administration with clear jurisdictional delineation and coordination mechanisms]


SE: If you have any further material that may help we welcome your ideas.


[brief discussion on refugees and water ? SE summarized the Palestinian approach and position]


RD:  A question regarding EU water experts and the possibility of new appointments now that Walter Mazetti was no longer there …


MO: We are always ready to consider this, and have offered our help in any way possible on a range of technical issues, free of charge. You just need to shape what you want in a precise way and convey it to us.


[SE instructs NSU to follow up]


MO:  I want to hear your views on Israeli and US politics.


SE: I was asked by both Obama and McCain campaigns to make sure, if we don?t reach and agreement, to leave something for the next administration to start with. So, that means locking in what we have so far. We are more advanced in the discussion than Taba ? so with a new administration or a new Israeli government, we won?t have to start from scratch. Lieberman (who may become secretary of state if McCain wins) is in favour …


MO: I understand that Randy Schoenman may be NSA to McCain. Mind you he was behind the Iraq campaign … but could have changed since then …


SE:  On the Obama side, it will likely be Dr. Susan Rice. According to Martin Indyk, she has better chance than Kurtzer …


The best situation is to reach an agreement before the next administration, but if we don?t, we need to lock in what we have reached.


MO: How would you then handle the interim till post elections?


SE: We continue with a genuine process?reaching an agreement is a matter of survival for us. It?s the way to defeat Hamas.


MO: So when will it happen?


SE: It depends on decisions being taken. The issues are clear ? even on refugees we are working on a joint paper.


MO: The Israelis are saying there is no movement on those issues.


SE: Yes, but some movement regarding the mechanism. They still need to give numbers.


MO: They won?t.


SE: Let?s see them move on Jerusalem and territory and we will move on security and refugees.


MO: So Abu Mazen is in favour of preserving a strong negotiation structure and process. The US is talking about keeping a professional team engaged, apart from internal politics. We the EU can also be part ? also for state building (reforms in finances and security). There is also the link to Gaza and reconciliation. Gaza is a stumbling bloc ? so there is a need to give it a chance to be solved.


I think maybe the end of 2008 can give us a different success than anticipated at Annapolis. We may not get the agreement but may be able to advance the internal agenda.


[SE and MO concluded by reiterating some points:


Gaza/ Rafah ? we will work with Egypt;

EU security team to brief NSU on European experience;

Brussels government model ? further information from MO

Water: NSU to prepare specific terms of reference on where help of EU experts is needed.]


SE: We can do the same ? prepare ToRs ? on other issues: environment, state to state, people to people (you know we are having the experts go to Northern Ireland to learn from their experience), and economics. [Instructed NSU to send all required ToRs to MO]


MO: Just make sure you are precise on what you need. Regarding refugees, we can work in parallel on the international mechanism.


SE: This is an interest of Condoleezza Rice ? she would want to be involved.


MO: We have experience and precedents ? e.g. in the Balkans.