Saeb Erekat - Daniel Bar-On - January 2012
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat earlier this month. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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A bitter confrontation broke out between the head of the Israeli negotiating team Yitzhak Molcho and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat during their meeting In Jordan on Saturday, after Erekat refused to let a senior Israeli officer present the Israeli position on security arrangements.

An Israeli official familiar with the content of the talks said that, by all accounts, Erekat and Molcho exchanged harsh words in front of their stunned Jordanian hosts, with the argument reaching its peak when Prime Minister Netanyahu's envoy asked to present Israel’s position on security arrangements.

Molcho and Erekat are due to meet in Jordan on Wednesday for the fifth time, a day ahead of the January 26 deadline set by the Palestinians for Israel to present their position on the question of borders.

Israel has told the Palestinians it will present its position on the issue of borders by the end of March, but Molcho decided to bring with him to Saturday's meeting the head of the IDF strategic planning division, Brigadier-General Assaf Orion, in order to present in detail Israel’s position on security arrangements.

The presence of the Israeli officer surprised Erekat, who thought he was being ambushed.  Erekat refused to let the officer, head of the IDF's strategic planning unit, Brig. Gen. Assaf Orion, read out a summary of Israel’s position on security arrangements and said that if the Israeli side is interested, it can pass them the written document.

“I do not have the mandate to negotiate security arrangements until you present detailed documents with your position on the issue of borders and on the security issue,” Erekat said.

Molcho responded with unusually harsh criticism of Erekat’s management of the Palestinian negotiating team.

“If you do not have the mandate to discuss this, maybe you should leave and bring someone in your place who does have the mandate,” he said.

After a few minutes the two sides decided to carry on discussing a different issue, and then Molcho brought up the issue of incitement against Israel in the Palestinian press, presenting Erekat with a booklet by an Israeli right-wing organization with examples of incitement from the Palestinian media.

He also read Erekat a number of quotes from the Mufti of Jerusalem, who quoted suras from the Koran calling for the killing of Jews at a Fatah conference broadcast on Palestinian television this week.

The Palestinians are threatening to leave the talks in Jordan if Israel does not declare its stance on borders by the January 26 deadline, which  was set by the Mideast Quartet in September.

According to the senior Israeli official, the Palestinians will carry out the threat, leaving the talks and creating a diplomatic crisis to put pressure on Israel.

“The Palestinians are preparing the ground for abandonment and for closing the door,” the senior Israeli official said.

Mideast Quartet deadline is part of a four-month target for the two sides to present proposals on the key issues of future borders and security arrangements. The Palestinians believe the timeline expires on January 26. Israel says the clock doesn’t start ticking until negotiations are under way.

Read this article in Hebrew