Chief Palestinian negotiator steps down




-- Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has stepped down from his post, saying he did so because he felt responsible that controversial documents were stolen from his office but not because of how Middle East peace talks have unfolded.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the resignation of Erakat, a longtime face of the Palestinian movement. Mohammed Shtayeh, a senior negotiator and a member of Fatah's central committee, told CNN on Saturday that the move came after an investigating committee determined that documents were leaked and stolen from Erakat's office.

Erakat told CNN on Saturday that he was simply following through on his earlier offer to quit if the Palestinian probe determined as much. But the longtime Palestinian political figure insisted that his decision stemmed only from that fact, and not what was offered in the actual negotiations.

"I'm a person who has devoted his life to building institutions of transparency, accountability and the rule of law," Erakat said, explaining why he felt obliged to step down. "My resignation doesn't have anything to do with the substance of negotiations."

Previously, Erakat had accused TV network Al-Jazeera of taking parts of the controversial documents out of context and, in some cases, blatantly manipulating them. On Saturday, he continued to blast the Qatar-based network.

What Al-Jazeera did was the most unfair smear campaign of taking things out of context, taking half-sentences, to score a point," he said.

The so-called Palestine Papers suggested that Palestinian negotiators offered to give up large swaths of East Jerusalem to Israel during talks dating to 2008 and that they had been willing to make concessions on the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Erakat on Saturday suggested some controversial topics highlighted in the Al-Jazeera coverage were more casual talking points that were part of ongoing discussions, and did not represent official Palestinian positions. Those, he insisted, are spelled out clearly in documents that are well-known by the Israelis, Americans and numerous Arab countries.

"They are all based on international law to achieve a just, agreed solution based on the two-state, 1967 line," he said, referring to proposals to make Palestinian its own sovereign nation based roughly on borders predating the 1967 Six-Day War.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi reacted to Erakat's resignation by saying, "change is good."

Erakat has held several positions in the governmental apparatus and has been a senior member of the Palestinian negotiating team since the mid-1990s. He had resigned his post once before -- in 2003, ahead of an Israeli-Palestinian summit.

At the time, Palestinian observers said Erakat was mainly stepping down because he was not invited to be part of the Palestinian delegation that was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Erakat soon assumed the post again.

Born in Jerusalem in 1955, Erakat holds a bachelor's and a master's degree in international relations from the University of San Francisco and a Ph.D in peace studies from the University of Bradford in England.

He has written books and research papers on Middle East politics and conflict resolution, lectured at An-Najah University in Nablus and served on the editorial board of Al-Quds, the Palestinian newspaper.