P.A.'s Erekat on Romney and Refugees

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat has had some unhappy moments lately.

The latest came in response to Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's questioning the P.A.'s desire to negotiate a viable two-state solution with Israel, allegedly clandestinely videotaped and distributed to news agencies.

The video records Romney speaking at a fundraising dinner in Boca Raton, Florida, on May 17, where he tells participants he's "torn by two perspectives" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, namely that the Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."

Romney then went on to articulate the untenable security situation P.A. demands would present to Israel, including its insistence that future borders be based on the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Erekat blasted Romney's statements as "absolutely unacceptable," a conclusion shared by Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney, who called it "simply the wrong approach."

On Refugees

Last week, the P.A.'s chief negotiator rejected any comparison between Jewish and Arab refugees, a situation recently addressed by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Click here to view Ayalon's video presentation on refugees.

At the behest of their leaders, about 500,000 local Arabs fled to surrounding countries at the start of the 1948 War of Independence. An estimated 800,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries came to Israel.

In Erekat's thinking, there is no Jewish connection to the land of Israel so he recommended Jews return to "their native lands," naming Morocco, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt "and elsewhere."

Former Israeli U.N. Ambassador Dore Gold said Erekat misrepresented the refugee issue in a recent article in Britain's The Guardian.

Erekat credits Israel with "full responsibility" for the Palestinian Arab refugee issue.

"The fact that Israel bears responsibility for the creation of the refugees is beyond argument," Erekat alleges, without even a nod to the facts.

Checking the Facts

Fact: The day after the re-establishment of the modern nation-state of Israel, the armies of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia joined forces to invade the newborn Jewish state.

Fact: In some cases, Israelis pleaded with local Arabs to stay and build the state together, but their leaders told them to leave their homes because their bullets would not distinguish between Arab and Jew, promising they would be able to return as soon as the Jews were eliminated.

Fact: An estimated 500,000 local Arabs fled to surrounding countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, with Jordan the only one that offered them citizenship. The others put them in refugee camps, where they remain to this day.

Fact: Israel welcomed the Jewish refugees and gave them the opportunity to rebuild their lives. 

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimates there are now 5.1 million Palestinian Arab refugees, though Erekat claims "more than 7 million worldwide," a number that has grown exponentially and is now a deal breaker.

From the outset, Israel rejected the concept of the so-called "right of return" as a nonstarter because it would effectively eliminate the Jewish nation-state. Gold says Erekat exposed his true agenda in this latest article, while conveniently leaving out the facts.

"In the narrative that he [Erekat] tells, there is no invasion of six Arab armies into the State of Israel the moment it was born in 1948," Gold writes. "And of course there is no mass eviction of more than 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries."

"If Erekat is serious," Gold continues, "then he just blew up the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian side with his article."

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