Being one of four chosen as a “Harvard Kennedy, Belfer Center for International Affairs; teaching Fellow…” is a remarkable achievement. In that vein, I can appreciate the relevant contributions that Julie Bishop, Frederica Mogherini, and Peter Wittig made during their respective careers that qualified each for this distinguished honor.
That said, and irrespective of Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Israeli Foreign Minister’s recommendation; I have serious concerns regarding Dr. Saeb Erekat, the fourth selectee.
Erekat served as chief Palestinian Negotiator, Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Fatah Central Committee member and senior advisor to both the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and current President, Mahmoud Abbas. His academics include a BA in international relations (1977); an MA in Political Science (1979); and a PHD in Peace and Conflict Studies from Bradford University.
Although these credentials are impressive; try as I may, I could not discern demonstrable diplomatic peace initiatives emanating from Dr. Erekat that brought the respective parties of the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any closer together than when exchanges of thoughts were proposed, post the Oslo Accords, Declaration of Peace Principles in the 1990’s. It is for this and other reasons that follow, I seek clarification as to his diplomatic skills that justified his Fisher Family, Harvard Kennedy Diplomatic Teaching Fellow, appointment.
Palestinian leadership repeatedly side-stepped Israel’s security concerns. This huge stumbling block does not require extraordinary skills, just good-old common sense, to recognize that before parties can progress towards a peace arrangement; the basics must be established and include immutable recognition, respect, and expected safety guarantees; even more so considering the contentious environment surrounding the Middle East.
For its part as a facilitator, the United States, acted to incentivize Israel towards a two state solution by reinforcing the requisite Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as the Sovereign State it is; combined with mutually agreed upon assurances defining military and policing responsibilities and mutual protection from any and all terrorist attacks initiated in, or coordinated from Palestinian territories, a tentative Palestinian State or Israel. Not an unreasonable basis for parties serious about achieving peace to contemplate and build upon.
Yet for reasons not understandable, Dr. Erekat, over the years, appeared comfortable with his inability to achieve peace with Israel. That should have raised suspicion during the Harvard Kennedy, Belfer Center vetting process. Erekat, as a candidate for the responsible Diplomacy teaching position, should have been guided by the committee to reveal all aspects of the failed negotiation process attributable to him. Failure analysis is an essential teaching tool. At the end of the day, this ability to self analyze without making excuses, reveals character and appropriateness for an honor selection.
Various initiatives had been proposed by Israeli leadership and communicated through their diplomatic corps to Palestinian counterparts, but seemingly came to naught. With an almost predictable outcome, it’s a reasonable leap to conclude that Palestinian leadership, did not wish to entertain or encourage concessions offered, short of complete control/possession over present day Israel; even if terms could have economically benefited struggling Palestinian populations, and bolstered their preparation for a two-state solution.
Sunday, September 13th, 2020; Dr. Erekat came under scrutiny with the formation of an ominous sounding “Unified National Leadership of Popular Resistance” under the Palestinian flag, with a vision of a State of Palestine and Jerusalem, as its capital. This unilateral action with its menacing innuendo, and a Palestinian “Day of Rage” set to coincide on 09/15/2020 with the signing of the “Abraham Accords,” appeared a belligerent reaction to a precedent setting peace alliance between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel.
With Erekat’s guidance and Palestinian support this could have turned out to be an amazing breakthrough towards a comprehensive regional peace. They could have then negotiated from a position of respect and strength. Yet, this was not to be the case.
None of this, in my opinion, appears to reflect the “…lessons of effective diplomacy and statecraft” envisioned by Harvard Kennedy Faculty Chair, Nicholas Burns.
Erekat’s Diplomacy teaching appointment, should it carry forward, might best be served by sharing it with someone the caliber of Nimrata Nickki Haley, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who consistently demonstrated a desire to achieve a secure Middle East within which all faiths and peoples could benefit. This modification, if enacted, might yet serve a higher goal.
Dr. Erekat dedicated a substantial portion of his life denigrating Israel. Now there may be little hope that his Israel facilitated medical treatment will yet serve to help soften his heart towards the country he refused to recognize as a Jewish state.