With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks set to resume, the Palestinian delegation is center-stage. But who are these men who hold the fate of Middle-Eastern peace in their hands?
Saeb Erekat, the white-haired don of Palestinian diplomacy, is a fixture on Al-Jazeera and other Arabic television stations. Erekat has a proven record of saying one thing in English for international consumption and quite another in Arabic. Mr. Erekat is hardly alone in this, as Mr. Abbas calls himself a partner for peace, while telling Palestinians that "Israel does not want peace" and that the Palestine Liberation Organization will not make "even one concession" to it.
At the close of the Camp David summit in 2000, Erekat argued that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, of which the Western Wall is the last surviving piece, is a Jewish myth. Erekat exaggerates and exploits Israel's sins for political gain. In 2002, he accused Israel of killing "more than 500 people" in Jenin, when in fact, there were 54 Palestinian casualties.
Nabil Shaath, the bald, bespectacled ex-professor, is the Western face of the PLO. With doctorates in economics and law from the University of Pennsylvania, Shaath knows how to negotiate and has been a key player in the peace process for ages. A former cabinet minister in the PLO, he served as its first foreign minister and headed its delegation to the United Nations.
Shaath said in May 2010 that "there is a need to create and endorse new struggling tools, such as the popular resistance, and to increase our efforts in the international arena to isolate and punish Israel, prevent it from deepening its relations with the European Union and attempt to expel it from the United Nations."
More recently, on September 3, the day after peace talks began in Washington, Shaath promised that "the Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as a Jewish State."
Yasser Abed Rabbo was a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an extremist militia, in 1968, when it hijacked an El Al flight from Rome, taking the passengers hostage. In 1969, Abed Rabbo left the PFLP and formed the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), a Maoist militia which he helped lead until 1991. DFLP's activities in this period included killing 25 men, women, and children in the Israeli town of Ma'alot; sending a wagon bomb into Jerusalem, killing seven; and attacking an Israeli home, murdering four.
After 1991, Abed Rabbo became a staunch ally of Yasser Arafat and left DFLP, voicing support for the peace process and condemning suicide bombings during the Al-Aqsa intifada. Like Erekat, Abed Rabbo accused Israel of a massacre in Jenin, claiming the army buried nine hundred Palestinians in mass graves.
Muhammed Shtayyeh has demonstrated an ardent desire for peace and a willingness to compromise for the good of the Palestinian people. Shtayyeh is the Minister of Public Works, founded the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, and is a trustee of "Middle East for Non-Violence and Democracy," which seeks to keep Palestinian youth from engaging in violence and terrorism.
Sadly, Shtayyeh and other Palestinian moderates are outnumbered. All the delegates are either long-serving members of Fatah or devoted to Abbas. These talks are supposed to be between Israel and the Palestinians -- not Israel and Fatah. We cannot ignore that Fatah controls only the West Bank and is at war with Hamas. Akram Haniyeh, another delegate, is the founder and editor of Palestine's second-largest paper, Al Ayyam, which has constantly run editorials and cartoons critical of Hamas and was banned in Gaza. How can these delegates, all with acrimonious relationships with the Gazans, possibly get them to agree to a peace deal?
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, official spokesman for Chairman Arafat and now President Abbas, makes no secret of his feelings about peace -- at least not while speaking to Al-Jazeera in March: "We are ready for any Arab option. If they want to go to war, let them declare that and mobilize their armies and their people, and we will follow suit."
And what of President Abbas, the leader upon whom both Presidents Bush and Obama have pinned their hopes for peace? His doctoral thesis, entitled "Relations Between Zionism and Nazism," refers to the Holocaust as "the Zionist fantasy, the fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed."
Abbas remarked in July that he "will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land." That statement is ambiguous at best.
With peacemakers like these, it's anybody's guess how talks can result in a Palestinian state that coexists peacefully with Israel.
Gabriel Latner is a law student at the University of Cambridge and an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.