Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Sunday entreated Israel to take advantage of US support in the negotiations and put an end to the conflict. Erekat told the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, "My nation's patience with me is coming to an end," adding that many Palestinians had asked him to quit.
"I negotiate with Israel because it is a central Palestinian interest," he explained. "We have come a long way as Palestinians. I know many people doubt that we can succeed in negotiations, but I do not share their doubts." He also expressed optimism regarding agreements over all core issues.
Erekat also defended the concept of proximity talks, explaining how they would be conducted. "We, as Palestinians, decided to give Mitchell, Clinton and Obama a chance," he said, referring to US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US President Barack Obama.
"I talk with Mitchell about the core issues," he continued. "If (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu wants to talk to the mirror, he can. If he wants to talk about (soccer teams) Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, he can. It's nothing to do with me. I talk with Mitchell."
Erekat noted some possible pitfalls: "We will not agree to a military presence in the Jordan Valley, we will not agree to (Israeli) control of water, we will not agree to settlements there or Israeli industry there. Not for the sake of security. We agree to have a third party investigate the issue."
'Uzi Arad cancelled three times'
The chief Palestinian negotiator also noted the lack of trust between the parties. "There's no need for negotiations. There is a need for an agreement. All the alternatives are on the table. This is the moment of truth. We are all experiencing birth pangs. We need leaders ready to make sacrifices. My options are two states according to the 67 borders, with territory exchanges and security arrangements. If you've come to the conclusions that you can't offer this because you don't have anyone to rely on – I'm not afraid."
He also addressed the claims that Palestinians delayed negotiations and pointed an accusing finger at the head of National Security Advisor Uzi Arad, saying, "On the first day that Arad took up his post, I asked to meet him. Three times he scheduled a meeting and three times he cancelled."
Regarding the Netanyahu government, he said, "You tie up my hands and feet and throw me into the sea. Then you tell me I don't know how to swim. That's how the Israeli government behaves today."
"I negotiate with you because in my opinion, most Jews and Arabs want an agreement, and the alternative, the conflict, is too hard," he added, and emphasized that the Palestinians would not stop in their struggle for independence.
"In my generation, this can be achieved through negotiation," he warned. "Don't miss the opportunity… The negotiations are over. The time has come to decide. Not interim decisions, not future decisions, not past decisions. A final agreement."