erekat - Dan Keinan - Dec 29 2008
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a file photo. Photo by Dan Keinan
Text size

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Al Jazeera television on Tuesday of putting his life in danger with "a vicious smear campaign" alleging major concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Erekat said the Qatar-based network had misrepresented quotes and made up others in covering "The Palestine Papers" - its name for what it says are leaked documents showing the Palestinians giving way on major issues to Israel.

"What Al Jazeera people are doing is asking Palestinians to shoot me, physically. That's what they are doing. They are saying: 'You are guilty and thus you should be executed'," said Erekat, for years a central figure in the peace talks.

"Speaking for me and my family, they are inciting against our lives," he told Reuters in an interview at his office in the West Bank city of Jericho.

A spokesman for Al Jazeera in Qatar could not be reached for comment.

Erekat has featured prominently in Al Jazeera's coverage of what it says are 1,600 documents related to the Middle East peace process. The Doha-based channel started publishing the documents this week, along with the UK's Guardian newspaper.

Erekat challenged Al Jazeera to seek out and broadcast the Palestinians' official negotiating positions on the core issue of the six-decade old conflict. Asked for details, he said he needed approval before talking on the issue.

He said Al Jazeera should be able to get the negotiating positions from the government of Qatar, the Gulf state which Palestinian officials say has launched a "campaign" against President Mahmoud Abbas. Posters of the Qatari emir were burned by Abbas loyalists in Ramallah on Tuesday.

Qatar has close ties to Hamas, the group which seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas in 2007. Hamas opposes Abbas' strategy of seeking a negotiated peace deal with Israel.

Erekat also questioned Al Jazeera's timing: "Somebody wants to push this region towards chaos," he said.

Many of the documents released this week date to negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel in 2008. The peace process is currently at a standstill due to a dispute over Israeli settlement building.

On Monday, Al Jazeera released a document quoting Erekat as saying last year that the Palestinians had offered Israel the return of "a symbolic number" of Palestinian refugees.

There are around six million Palestinians scattered around the Middle East and beyond who are refugees or the descendants of refugees who fled or were driven out during the war that led to Israel's founding in 1948.

The documents have also shown the Palestinians giving major ground on control of East Jerusalem. Their official position is the city must become the capital of a Palestinian state they aim to found in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Erekat declined to say whether the documents were authentic or not. He said some information broadcast this week reflected the truth, some was partially true, and some totally false.

"These documents are being taken out of context," he said, accusing Al Jazeera of hyping them up in a campaign aimed at undermining the Palestinian leadership.

Erekat said Al Jazeera had failed to consult him on the authenticity of the papers before their publication.

"We don't have something called 'official Israeli-Palestinian minutes'. We don't," he said. "When you sit with people and take notes with people, that's not positions. I can't stand guard on anybody's lips."

"In every single negotiating session I attended, the slogan (was) 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed', and so far nothing has been agreed," he said.