What’s inside the memoirs of the late Palestinian architect of the Oslo Accords?

Since Qurei’s  death last month, the people closest to him have revealed some surprising information.

By Baruch Yedid, TPS

On February 22, Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords, died of a blood infection at the age of 86.

In the drawers of his house in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis, there are — along with various books he published about the Mideast peace process — nine more books he wrote about Fatah and one single book about his personal life. These have not yet seen the light of day.

Qurei, aka Abu Alaa, joined Fatah in 1968 and held various positions in the movement as well as in the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, including his term as prime minister of the PA.

Since Qurei’s death, the Tazpit Press Service has met with the people closest to Qurei, who accompanied him for decades and who shared some surprising revelations.

It should be noted that some of the revelations were published in different places, and it is possible that they refute or confirm what was previously known.

Qurei on the Palestinian leadership

The first revelations of contacts between Israel and the PLO caught the Palestinian public at a low point. PLO institutions suffered from degeneration, internal problems and an economic crisis stemming from their support for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The Oslo Accords, in essence, revived the PLO just when it seemed destined to fade into irrelevance.

The seeds of Oslo were planted in Qurei’s “academic” meetings between Israeli Professor Yair Hirschfeld  and journalist and historian Ron Pundak. They were organized with the assistance of a PLO representative in London and Faisal Husseini, a prominent Palestinian official based in Jerusalem. Hirschfeld currently teaches Middle Eastern history at the University of Haifa. Pundak died of cancer in 2014.

After a few meetings with Hirschfeld and Pundak, Qurei asked them to speak with the consent of authorized officials in Israel. That’s when Uri Savir, then director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, stepped in. Then-Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin was well aware of the gatherings. Thus, the first contact between Israeli and Palestinians was made.

Then-foreign minister Shimon Peres was exposed to the talks in the early stages, while Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin became involved only when the time was ripe, according to Qurei’s confidants.

Arafat gave Qurei full backing for the talks from the earliest stages. “Arafat knew every step and therefore trusted Abu Alaa,” Qurei’s people said. But as Qurei’s role in establishing the accords became clear, Arafat envied his new international status. Nevertheless, Arafat treated Qurei with respect because Qurei remained loyal and careful about Arafat’s honor.

“On the Palestinian side, Abu Alaa was careful to keep his leader informed, which did not happen on the Israeli side until later stages,” those close to Qurei said. But as for the Israelis, Rabin told Peres, “I have to convince myself, so I will be able to convince my people.”

When Arafat entered Jericho in 1994, dozens of people from Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine showered him with difficult questions about recognizing Israel and making a political compromise. Arafat responded that the Palestinian Authority would be sulta moharba, a fighting authority.

Qurei’s people say that Arafat didn’t mean that literally; Qurei, rather, saw this as an attempt to silence Palestinian criticism.

According to Qurei’s associates, Arafat’s decision to renew “the armed struggle” in the Second Intifada stemmed from an American mistake of forcing the Palestinians to meet with then-Israeli president Ehud Barak at the Camp David II summit in 2000.

According to Qurei, the gaps between the two sides were too big, that the Palestinians were not ready for further political steps, and he accused Barak of having no genuine interest in peace. According to Qurei, Barak sought to use the summit to embarrass the Palestinians.

Regarding Mahmoud Abbas, Qurei’s people said the current Palestinian Authority president “prefers the existing situation and the continuation of the impasse, because a breakthrough would force him to make difficult decisions.”

Qurei on the Israeli prime ministers

Over the years, several Israelis who were close to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said he considered withdrawing from the Oslo Accords because the nature of the Palestinian Authority became clear to him. Qurei told his people that he was never given that impression.

In one of the early meetings between Rabin and Arafat — in 1994, at the Erez checkpoint between Israel and Gaza — Rabin undertook to surround all Israeli settlements with a fence, ensuring that they would not expand. Qurei and Peres were present at the meeting.

When a wave of Palestinian suicide bombers struck Israel in 1996, Peres pleaded with Arafat by phone, “Stop the terrorism of Hamas. I am about to face Netanyahu in decisive elections, the attacks will hurt my chances.” Peres, who was shocked by Rabin’s murder, told Arafat, “In May, we will lose to Netanyahu.”

Qurei believed that Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu were very far from accepting the Oslo Accords, but in contrast, Olmert showed surprising political generosity towards Abbas, who became Palestinian president in 2004 following the death of Arafat. According to Qurei, Olmert wanted to be remembered as the Israeli leader who broke through the conflict with the Palestinians.

Olmert actually took over the negotiations when then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni was making progress in the peace talks. According to Qurei’s people, Qurei and Livni made significant progress, but Olmert wanted to advance himself and be the person alongside Abbas who brought about the final agreement.

But Olmert cooled off and “failed to show courage and at the end of the process. Olmert’s weakness and lack of courage defeated him, not the corruption scandals in which he got involved,” they said.

According to Qurei’s confidants, many in the Palestinian leadership regarded Olmert’s predecessor, Ariel Sharon, as the greatest Israeli leader since David Ben-Gurion. Ramallah viewed Sharon as a visionary able to act boldly and decisively, compared to other Israeli leaders.

Sharon showed great respect and courtesy in the meetings with the Palestinians, they added.

On the other hand, the Palestinians viewed Ehud Barak as cold and arrogant.

Qurei’s people said that Arafat visited Barak three times at his home in Kochav Yair, near Netanya, and that on the first two visits, the former prime minister did not even bother to accompany him to his helicopter. On Arafat’s third visit, Barak’s associates warned him about the lack of etiquette, and Barak accompanied the Palestinian leader.

Qurei saw this as a false show of respect, and in 2000, during the Camp David II summit, when Barak was photographed playfully pushing Arafat into a cabin as President Bill Clinton looked on, Qurei said he was not impressed and “knew” Barak did not intend to move forward on peace.

Moreover, Barak did not meet privately with Arafat at any point during the two-week summit, which drew the ire of Shimon Peres, who told Qurei that if it were up to him, he “would have slept with Arafat in the cabins at Camp David until the two of them left there together with a signed agreement.”

Barak v. Netanyahu

Qurei’s impression was that many Israeli leaders “wanted to cut the ribbon” at the end of the Oslo process — Olmert above all. Barak set impossible conditions from the very first stage, while Netanyahu expressed a principled opposition to any progress.

According to Qurei, the Hebron deal agreed upon by Netanyahu and the Palestinians in 1997 breached the Oslo accords. The Hebron agreement divided the city into Jewish and Palestinian areas, which Qurei called “a dangerous precedent.” Arafat accepted the agreement over Qurei’s objections.

The post What’s inside the memoirs of the late Palestinian architect of the Oslo Accords? appeared first on World Israel News.

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