Saeb Erekat — a Harvard Kennedy School fellow and the Chief Palestinian Negotiator of the Palestine Liberation Organization — criticized the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain’s deal normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel, saying in a Saturday interview with The Crimson that he does not believe the deal will alleviate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Erekat also criticized the United States’ role in the deal and the Trump administration’s policy in the region more broadly, saying that U.S. President Donald J. Trump has “set Palestinians and Israelis at least 50 years back.”
Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared C. Kushner ’03 facilitated the international agreement, also known as the Abraham Accords. According to Trump, the deal ensures that Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel will cooperate on issues like healthcare, education, trade, security and diplomacy, and exchanging embassies and ambassadors.
The deal has landed Trump a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In a rare move during a polarizing election year, former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden released a statement praising the accords, writing that “it is good to see others in the Middle East recognizing Israel and welcoming it as a partner.”
Erekat, however, said he does not believe the accord will advance peace and criticized the negotations for occuring without Palestinian consultation. He added that the deal appears to renege on a previous Arab League-endorsed proposal that states League members would not normalize relations with Israel without a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of Palestinian state.
“The real problem here is between Palestinians and Israelis. It’s not between Emiratis and Bahrainis, or Bahrainis and Israelis or Emiratis and Israelis,” Erekat said.
In criticizing Trump and Kushner, Erekat claimed the dealmaking used dirty tactics and went over the Palestinian leaders’ heads.
“When Kushner tries to tell Palestinians, ‘Look, I’m working over your head. I’m bringing Arabs to make peace with Israel. You are left alone. You’re abandoned,’ what does this mean to my people? What does it mean to the Palestinians? Is he trying to export fear to them?” Erekat asked.
He also said Trump’s policy toward Israel and Palestine is more harmful than that of previous administrations.
“Other presidents — I’m not saying they were not pro-Israel — but at least they were trying to achieve a two-state solution on 1967 lines for us to live and let live. That’s what we were negotiating, and we came a long, long, long way,” Erekat said. “This man and this administration, what they did so far have managed to set Palestinians and Israelis at least 50 years back.”
The White House could not immediately be reached for comment on Erekat's criticisms.
In the interview, Erekat said he felt honored to hold the fellowship at the Kennedy School and addressed some of the controversy surrounding his appointment.
He said he appreciated Harvard’s decision to provide a platform to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, referring to former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi M. Livni, who held the same fellowship last year.
“Tzipi Livni was my counterpart for many years, and we dealt with each other,” Erekat said. “We differed, yes. We had agreements, yes. And for Harvard to have her and then to have me, that shows what Harvard is. It’s a great university.”
Along with the rest of the Kennedy School, Erekat’s fellowship will take place entirely online due the coronavirus. He said the transition to meeting online with students and diplomats has been difficult but believes it is necessary.
“I need to get used to that,” he said. “I believe in the human factor, in body language and eye contact.”
Erekat’s appointment has brought controversy, following allegations that his beliefs are anti-Semitic and reports — which Harvard spokesperson James F. Smith denied — that the Palestinian Authority paid the University nearly two million dollars for Erekat’s fellowship.
Critics, such as pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, have criticized Erekat’s appointment, calling him anti-Semitic and pointing to his words refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Erekat dismissed the criticisms and condemned anti-Semitism in the interview.
“My conflict with Israel is not a religious one. It is a political one, territorial one, narrative one,” Erekat said. “Anti-Semitism is evil.”
—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.