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Sign across from the Muqata in Ramallah
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Downtown Ramallah
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Downtown Ramallah
Photo by Rhonda Spivak


Will Abbas and Fayyad survive the Egyptian Domino Effect?

By Rhonda J Spivak, February 16, 2010

Saeb Erekat, Chief Palestinian Negotiator resigned as the head of the Palestinian negotiating team on Sunday Feb 13.

The PA was seriously damaged in the eyes of its people after the release of the 1600 Palestine papers, which showed that in its negotiations with Ehud Olmert’s government it was prepared to let Israel keep areas such as Gilo, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, and other Jerusalem suburbs, built over the green line.

On Janaury 24, Ma’an News Ageny, a Palestinian e-paper published a statement by Erekat  in which he attempted to calm the waters and indicate that the PA was not “selling out it’s people” and had not made any concessions including regarding the right of return. He even introduced the notion (which had not been previously talked about) that no deal with concessions would ever be approved without a national referendum of the Palestinian people. Here are excerpts of what Erekat wrote in his attempt to engage in damage control on Jan 24th:

“In the past few hours, a number of reports have surfaced regarding our positions in our negotiations with Israel, many of which have misrepresented our positions, taking statements and facts out of context.

"Indeed, our position has been the same for the past 19 years of negotiations: We seek to establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and to reach a just solution to the refugee issue based on their international legal rights, including those set out in UNGA 194.

"Even though many ideas have been discussed by the two sides as part of the normal negotiations process, including some we could never agree to, we have consistently said any proposed agreement would have to gain popular support through a national referendum.

‘No agreement will be signed without the approval of the Palestinian people.

What was more interesting than Erekat’s statement were the talkbacks it generated on Ma’an. (Since Ma’an is an e-paper only, it will attract younger more educated computer savvy Palestinians who are city dwellers—fewer rural Palestinians have access to computers, read e-papers or know English as well.)

Virtually all of the talkbacks generated were negative towards Erekat on January 24. Here’s a sampling:

Hussan who said he was from Palestine wrote: ”Let me get this straight...Zine Elabedin Ben Ali ousted after 23 years of dictatorship. What about the Oslo Fatah officials? Why should Saeb Erekat be still in the "Negotiations" department for 19 years and counting? Israel changes leaders frequently, scrutinizes its public officials, what do we do? We REWARD failed negotiators 19 years on !!!

Jamal from Ramallah  wrote; “You are a liar. Tell the truth. Speak with one voice. Don't tell us something and then go tell the Americans and Israelis something else… I support the Palestinian people and you have proven that you do not speak in their name anymore.”

Is Baroud from ‘Palestine” wrote “According to one leaked document, you, Saeb Erekat , gave away most of Occupied East Jerusalem with little hesitance. On June 30, 2008, in a meeting that included Tzipi Livni, the then Israel foreign minister, YOU declared: "It is no secret that on our map we proposed we are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim (the Hebrew word for al-Quds or Jerusalem) in history." This is barely the tip of the iceberg.

Abu Adam from the USA offered these rather not so comforting thoughts: “EREKAT you are a liar and a traitor like the rest of the pathetic PA leadership. We all know how your family made a ton of money off real estate speculation, because you knew what land the Israelis were turning over to the PA. .. REMEMBER WE KNOW WHERE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY LIVE. DO us a favor and meet your maker by your own hands. [emphasis added]

Another “talk backer”  from the  U.S. wrote “Shame on you, Mr. Erekat, if this was Tunisia, you would be in Saudi Arabia by now.’

In the meantime, on Friday February 11, the PA leadership   watched Mubarak fall from power. And isn’t it interesting that one day after Mubarak fell, on Saturday February 12,  Erekat announced that he ‘presented his resignation’ to the PLO.

Ma’an reported on February 13:

 “Saeb Erekat resigned because of his responsibility for a series of disclosures, PLO secretary-general Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

“Erekat, who has been at the center of negotiations since 1991, told AFP he was assuming "responsibility for the theft of documents" that had been "deliberately" tampered with.

“The announcement came a week after Erekat told Ma'an he would resign if investigators found that 1,600 pages of maps, memos, and minutes obtained by Al-Jazeera originated in his office.

“…, but an official in Erekat's office told Ma'an that Abbas accepted the decision.”

My hunch is that Erekat didn’t just decide to “present his resignation” the morning after Mubarak fell from power , but rather was told by Abbas to present it, in an attempt to  “scapegoat” Erekat with the hopes of  saving Abbas and  Salam Fayyad from the Palestinian people’s wrath. Afterall, what was Abbas going to do? Resign himself and leave Erekat on the scene?

After reading the talkbacks I saw on Ma’an on February 13, I  wrote the following  that evening:

“Erekat’s resignation may not be enough. Several of the people writing in the talkbacks  said that Abbas should also leave the stage.”

 In fact, one talk back said that Erekat’s resignation showed that the contents of the  Al-Jazeera documents  must be true, which would implicated Abbas as well.

Lydia, a Palestinian refugee in an UNWRA refugee camp  in Lebanon wrote in to Ma’an say: “…What a coward. He [Erekat] can't even take responsibility for the truth--he made serious mistakes and concessions that were unacceptable to the Pal people. What he was "negotiating" did not belong to him. We remain refugees in these camps and they think nothing of throwing our rights away. It is not theirs to throw away. I want to return and so does my family and Inshallah one day with decent leaders that have our best interests at heart, that push for our return, we will! …[emphasis added].

Hours after these talkbacks were written, I awoke to headlines saying that on February 14,  PA Prime  Minister Salam  Fayyad sacked his cabinet.

I think the PA (especially if they read the talkbacks and other rumblings in the Palestinian street) sensed that, Erekat’s resignation would not be nearly enough. Accordingly,  Fayyad and Abbas decided that by the next morning Fayyad would sack his cabinet (taking a page off off  of Mubarak’s book].

Now what is left—will Abbas sack Fayyad or Fayyad sack Abbas, or both be sacked by their people ?

Abbas wants there to be national Palestinian elections that he wants to hold in September—but these elections are unlikely to take place since Hamas refuses to allow a vote in Gaza. At most, they would take place in the West Bank.

When I was in Ramallah this past summer, there was talk that Fayyad wantd to succeed Abbas. Will Fayyad start quietly working towards sacking Abbas in a hope to survive? Or will the two rise or fall together? My hunch is that America will want to spare Fayyad’s fall, more than Abbas’s, but they likely will not have the power to determine that.

By February 13 (updated on Feb 15) Ma’an was running an opinion piece by Nassar Lahhum suggesting that Abbas and Fayyad need to go, and Hamas in Gaza needs to go.

In an op-ed also on Feb 15, entitled “Abbas and Fayyad should resign too”, Fadi Elsameen,
 wrote: “Abbas and Fayyad have no political capital left to spend, they are out of touch with the Palestinian street, and they have successfully managed to alienate even supporters within Fatah.”

I did not see an op-ed saying that together or individually Abbas/Fayyad should stay.

p.s. For  a bang on analysis of events, read Khaled Abu Toemeh in the Jerusalem Post, “Analysis: A Sign of  Desperation”


This article by Rhonda spivak has been picked up by


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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