Palestinian chief negotiator Erekat resigns

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THE chief PLO negotiator has presented his resignation to the Palestinian president and PLO leadership, officials in Ramallah announced Saturday.

Saeb Erekat resigned because of his responsibility for a series of disclosures, PLO secretary-general Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

Erekat, who has been at the centre of negotiations since 1991, said he was assuming ‘responsibility for the theft of documents’ that had been ‘deliberately’ tampered with.

The announcement came a week after Erekat said he would resign if investigators found that 1,600 pages of maps, memos, and minutes obtained by Al Jazeera originated in his office.

There was no immediate reaction from President Mahmud Abbas or the PLO executive committee, but an official in Erekat’s office confirmed that Abbas had accepted the decision.

‘The resignation is no longer pending approval . . . Abbas accepted it personally,’ the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

He added that Erekat ‘felt personal responsibility for the Palestine papers fiasco’.

The files expose concessions to Israel in ten years of secret peace talks, embarrassing Abbas’ leadership.

Erekat had in January accused Al Jazeera of trying to discredit the peace process and provoke a revolt.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas officials welcomed Erekat’s announcement.

His decision to resign ‘shows that the leaked documents were authentic,’ party spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said, urging the PLO to halt all negotiations with Israel.

Erekat has pointed to a possible US-Israeli effort to topple the PA because of its refusal to take part in US-brokered direct peace talks unless Israel halts West Bank settlement construction.

The talks have been suspended since September.

The files allege that Palestinian negotiators offered unprecedented concessions during talks, including on the ultra-sensitive subjects of Jerusalem and refugees, with nothing in return from Israel.

They also show PA members closely cooperating with Israel in its fight against Hamas.

l WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Sunday said that his site was ‘significantly influential’ in the fall of Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, an event he said ‘no doubt’ sparked a Middle East revolt.

Assange said cables leaked on his whistleblowing site questioning US support for Ben Ali gave citizens the confidence to rise up and influenced the decisions of surrounding nations on whether to intervene.

‘It does seem to be the case that material we published through a Lebanese newspaper, Al Akhbar, was significantly influential to what happened in Tunisia,’ Assange said.

‘And then there’s no doubt that Tunisia was the example for Egypt and Yemen and Jordan, and all the protests that have happened there,’ he added.

Mass protests sparked partly by poverty and unemployment erupted across Tunisia last month, resulting in Ben Ali’s overthrow, while an 18-day revolt in Egypt ended 30 years of autocratic rule by Husni Mubarak.

Similar demonstrations have taken place in Yemen and popular unrest has also flared in Jordan.

Australian-born Assange, currently awaiting a London court’s decision on whether he should be extradited to Sweden to face sex assault claims, said the tide of popular discontent with autocratic regimes was ‘extremely gratifying.

‘Yes, I’ve had all these troubles in London, but to see this happening elsewhere, it’s worth every cent of time wasted on the other thing,’ Assange said.

In a wide-ranging interview given on the sidelines of last week’s legal hearings Assange said he had cut his long hair and started wearing suits in an attempt to dim attention on him and keep the focus on his work.

He took aim at British newspaper The Guardian, claiming it breached an agreement to store a read-only back-up copy of WikiLeaks’ US diplomatic cables by ‘squirrelling away an entire copy to the New York Times’.

‘It stored the material on Internet-connected computer systems where the Chinese intelligence and God knows who could get it,’ he added of The Guardian’s alleged breaches.

‘And it published stories on it. And it set all this in motion without telling us.’

Assange said there was ‘very strong’ support for him in Australia but he believed his work had compromised the ruling Labour government, who he accused of being ‘co-opted’ into giving the United States ‘everything it wants’.

Official Australian investigations had been dropped into WikiLeaks but Assange said ‘under the surface . . . there is assistance being afforded to the United States’ and he feared Canberra would extradite him there if he returned.

He said there was a ‘broad spectrum’ of fresh cables about Australia due to be released, involving a ‘number of large companies and international politics.’

Assange has called on Australia to support him, accusing Prime Minister Julia Gillard of condoning calls from some quarters for his death by maintaining a ‘diplomatic silence’, especially with the US.

His release of classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and from US diplomats stationed around the world led some to call for his punishment, while others say he should be given the Nobel Peace Prize.

• Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in an interview published on Sunday he was confident of Egypt’s future support for the PA, despite the political changes there.

‘Why would I presume that Egypt in the aftermath of this movement is going to be any less supportive?’ Fayyad asked in the interview with The Washington Post.

‘Egyptian people are very supportive of the Palestinian people.’

He suggested the uprisings that had shaken Egypt and Tunisia could happen in other Arab countries.

‘I believe it can. Definitely. It can happen,’ the prime minister said.

The comments came as Egypt’s new military leadership vowed to pave the way for democracy and abide by its peace treaty with Israel following president Husni Mubarak’s overthrow.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said the current government would remain in place for a peaceful transition to ‘an elected civil authority to build a free democratic state,’ although it set no timetable.