Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaking during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt. AP

OpinionTrump Mideast Envoy: The Palestinians Deserve So Much More Than Saeb Erekat

The inaccurate, unhelpful and false rhetoric of Palestinian leaders like Dr Erekat have not brought peace, and never will. It’s time to hear different Palestinian voices with the courage to seize peace

I write regarding Dr. Saeb Erekat’s outburst set forth in his op-ed ("Partners in occupation: Trump provides the anti-Palestinian incitement, Israel the bullets," May 17) in which he criticized the move of the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

>>Saeb Erekat responds: The Trump administration, peddling Israeli extremism, is killing the peace process, not me

While I understand that Dr. Erekat is angry about President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I thought it would be more helpful to discuss some of the issues demanding Palestinian leaders’ immediate attention, first and foremost of which is contributing to an atmosphere conducive to peace.

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Unfortunately, Dr. Erekat’s rhetoric and his claims were in many respects simply inaccurate. We must all join together to reject such unhelpful rhetoric and false claims if we hope to achieve peace.

For far too long, the United States has turned a deaf ear to such words, but ignoring hateful and false words has not brought peace and it will never bring peace. This is the case when discussing the Gaza marches, as we can clearly see from the evidence: While some protesters were peaceful, many were quite violent. In fact, by Hamas’ own admission, more than 80 percent of those killed were Hamas operatives.

Ambassador David Friedman listening to Jared Kushner during the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

In the same spirit, it is important to be clear about peace and our peace plan: By moving the U.S. Embassy to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem, we have provided a realistic basis for direct negotiations. The move was not, as Dr. Erekat baselessly claimed, part of a U.S. attempt to force an Israeli-written agreement on the Palestinians.

To the contrary, as President Trump declared in his official proclamation last December, he recognizes that "the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties," and he reaffirms that "the United States continues to support the status quo at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif."

We recently saw a significant escalation of rockets fired by Hamas and other militant groups into Israel, and this was a clear representation of the danger that Hamas and these groups present. It would seem judicious for Dr. Erekat to acknowledge this.

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These actions by Hamas have only succeeded in exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. Hamas orchestrated attacks have damaged the crossing at Kerem Shalom, Gaza’s main commercial crossing point, as well as the transportation and fuel lines that run through it. Then perhaps most poignantly, one of the rockets misfired and hit one of the few functioning power plants in Gaza, plunging Palestinians already suffering under severe electricity shortages into darkness.

The Palestinian leadership need not shackle themselves to Hamas’ failure – in fact, this should be the Palestinian Authority’s opportunity to do the right thing for the people they lead. The international community, led by the United States, has repeatedly proffered assistance, most recently at the White House meeting in March that the Palestinian Authority refused to attend.

When Dr. Erekat and the Palestinian Authority are finally ready to reject Hamas’ violence and lies and work with us to bring relief to Gaza, we believe real progress could be made that would lay the foundation for a more hopeful future.

Hamas militants attend a funeral in the Gaza Strip, January 12, 2018. \ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

A number of good projects are ready to be brought online that would make an immediate impact on the quality of life in Gaza, and form the foundation for building a sustainable economy for the Palestinians who live there. It is time to stop indulging in overwrought rhetoric and give the Palestinian people something beyond words. Palestinian leadership must create better lives, not sacrifice those lives for Hamas’ grim agenda of terror.

I have heard many Palestinian voices over the past 16 months and many don’t agree with Dr. Erekat or his approach. Yet, the sad thing is that most will only meet and speak honestly and openly in private because they are afraid to speak publicly. We are trying to help create a free and thriving society for Palestinians, where freedom of speech is cherished.

Dr. Erekat – we have heard your voice for decades and it has not achieved anything close to Palestinian aspirations or anything close to a comprehensive peace agreement. Other Palestinian perspectives might help us finally achieve a comprehensive peace agreement where Palestinian and Israeli lives can be better.

The time for leadership and responsibility is now. The time for meeting after meeting of government officials repeating the same talking points is over. The Palestinian people want real action, and they need honest, realistic and decisive solutions.

The notion that Israel is going away – or that Jerusalem is not its capital – is a mirage. The notion that the United States is not the critical interlocutor for the peace process is a mirage.

The reality is that there is an opportunity for peace at hand, and that President Trump and his administration are working to help facilitate a peace that will open up the future of the Palestinian people, if they and their leadership have the courage to seize it.

I wish all Palestinians who are observing Ramadan a Ramadan Kareem.

Jason D. Greenblatt is Assistant to U.S. President Donald Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations

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