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WEST BANK: Palestinian negotiations department may be latest victim of stalled peace process

February 14, 2011 | 12:14 pm

The Palestinian Authority’s Negotiations Affairs Department, which has been negotiating with Israel since the start of the Oslo talks, may be the latest victim of the stalled peace process.

Palestinian officials said Monday that President Mahmoud Abbas, after accepting on Saturday the resignation of his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, is considering dissolving the negotiations department, which Abbas  himself had headed since the start of the Oslo process in 1993 until he was elected president in 2005.

The discussion of the future of the negotiations department came as a result of leaks to Al Jazeera television of more than 1,600 documents about years of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. The documents, known as the Palestine Papers, showed Palestinian negotiators ready to make major compromises on the future of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

Erekat resigned after an internal investigation found out that the leaks came from his own staff. He  had said that he would bear full responsibility and resign if the investigation found that the leaks came from his office.

Palestinian officials disagreed over the status of the Negotiations Affairs Department.

Bassam Salhi, who heads the Palestinian People’s Party, called for disbanding the department on grounds that there are no negotiations at this time and will not be anytime soon.

“There are currently no negotiations that call for the continuation of this department,” he said.

The on-and-off Palestinian-Israeli negotiations officially came to a halt in September after Israel  refused to extend a settlement freeze.

Another Palestinian official denied that Abbas is going to dissolve the negotiations department.

Saleh Ra’afat, head of Fida party, said that Abbas has decided only to restructure the negotiations department, including the possibility of setting up a committee to run negotiations -- if they ever resume -- instead of having only one person running it.

What apparently is definite is that Erekat, who served as chief negotiator for 16 years, will not return to the negotiating table with Israel.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

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