After leading several rounds of peace talks with Israel, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) announced on Saturday that he has handed his resignation to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Previously, he had promised he would quit if it emerged that secret files, leaked and released on Al Jazeera in January, on the Middle East peace process had come from his office.
Although Mr Abbas hasn’t yet accepted Saeb Erekat’s offered resignation, this could end a lengthy career as a senior negotiator.
Mr Erekat was part of the team advising former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and was involved in peace talks throughout the 1990s.
Mr Erekat has led Mr Abbas’ negotiation team since 2004, when Mr Arafat died. However little progress were made with Israel despite a lull in violence.
Mr Erekat has offered to resign on several previous occasions, only to stay in his position.
He is now offering his resignation when negotiations with Israel remain stalled, despite efforts made by the US president late in 2010 to relaunch peace talks. Barack Obama’s push collapsed rapidly over the issue of Israeli settlement-building.
According to Mr Erekat, an internal investigation into the Palestine Papers showed that they were leaked from the Negotiations Support Unit, which he heads.
The resignation was welcomed by Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, who told Al Jazeera that negotiations led by Mr Erekat had not been “in the national interest”.
The files suggested that despite public claims to the contrary, the Palestinians were ready to make big concessions.
But Hanan Ashrawi, who is on the PLO’s Executive Committee, told Al Jazeera that the peace talks were in trouble long before the Palestine Papers were released.
“There has not been a [peace] process. There have been sporadic attempts by the Americans to replace substance and objectives with negotiations, as though that was the end.
“We said no to that; either you make Israel comply to the freeze and stop all settlements and you articulate the objectives and the terms of reference [of the negotiations] within a specific time frame, or there is no use of entering into an endless process which Israel exploits in order to create facts on the ground and to annex East Jerusalem,” Mr Ashrawi said.
In the meantime, an aide to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said presidential and legislative elections would be held by September, a plan immediately rejected by Hamas, who said Mr Abbas had no legitimacy.
“Hamas will not take part in this election. We will not give it legitimacy. And we will not recognise the results,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
In 2006 when the Palestinians voted Hamas emerged as the biggest winner in a parliamentary ballot.
Mr Abbas mandate as Palestinian Authority president expired when elections planned for January 2010 were postponed because of disagreements between Hamas and Fatah, Mr Abbas’ secular faction.
Now Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, while Mr Abbas’ Fatah faction runs the West Bank.