Palestinians Arrest Negotiations Aide Suspected of Spying for Israel

RAMALLAH (Reuters/AP) -
Palestinian Authority member, Saeb Erekat, speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference in Roosevelt Hotel, NYC, on December 13, 2015. Photo by Amir Levy/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ñàéá òøé÷àú äàøõ ëðñ ðéå éåø÷ àøöåú äáøéú àîøé÷ä äøùåú äôìñèéðéú
Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

Palestinian officials said on Sunday they had arrested a member of their peace negotiating department for spying for Israel, a development likely to deepen distrust between the sides at a time of deadlocked diplomacy and simmering violence.

The man, whose name was not released, is part of the management staff in the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) negotiations department and is accused of “collaborating with Israel,” a security official told Reuters.

The suspect is said to have worked for 20 years in the negotiations department. Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and his office declined comment.

Erekat, who also serves as the secretary general of the PLO Executive Committee, is one of the most prominent Palestinian public officials and the discovery of a mole in his office could hurt his standing.

Another official said the suspect had been arrested two weeks ago.

Al Ayyam newspaper, published in Ramallah where Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s administration is based, described the suspect as a 20-year veteran of the PLO team and said he had confessed to the charge.

How long he had spied for Israel and what damage he might have caused remained unclear, Al Ayyam said, citing an unnamed senior Palestinian official.

Collaborating with Israel is considered a serious crime in Palestinian society, even warranting the death penalty in some cases.

Israeli officials did not immediately respond.