• The Palestine Papers

    From Jamie's Blog
    at "New Left Project" 24 January 2011

    Make no mistake about it: despite attempts by some to downplay the significance of the biggest leak of secret documents in the history of the Middle East conflict, the Palestine Papers are explosive. Their content will not surprise those who have been paying attention. Nonetheless, as Ali Abunimah explained on Al Jazeera, there is a difference between thinking you know something and having it confirmed in official documents. The major revelation thus far is the Palestinian Authority’s offer, in 2008, to give Israel “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history”, permitting it to formally annex nearly all of East Jerusalem. Alongside this the Palestinian negotiating team outlined a deal in which Israel would annex 1.9% of the West Bank in the context of a landswap, permitting Israeli to incorporate into its future borders 63% of the illegal settler population. The response from Tzipi Livni, now the leader of Israel’s ‘moderate’ opposition, was blunt: “we do not like this suggestion because it does not meet our demands”.

    The leaked documents also shed light on the much vaunted Olmert ‘peace offer’ of 2008. We already knew that there was nothing ‘peaceful’ about it, both from previous leaked documents and from Olmert’s record of massacre and settlement expansion, but the latest documents add important details.

    It is helpful, too, to have on record Livni’s frank description of the motivations behind Israel’s settlement policy:

    “Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible … [T]he Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state”.
    Later this week we will read how Israeli leaders “asked for some Arab citizens to be transferred to a new Palestinian state”. Today that position is conventionally associated, particularly by ‘liberal Zionists’ keen to whitewash the Israeli mainstream, with Avigdor Lieberman, who despite his position as Israeli Foreign Minister is often portrayed as an ‘extremist’ and located on the far-right fringe. But as these leaked documents show, Lieberman is a late-comer.

    Most of the Arab world’s anger so far has been directed not at the Israeli government but at the PA. This makes sense: Arabs take Israeli rejectionism for granted. Unlike many liberals in Europe and America, they cannot afford the luxury of delusions about our ally’s role in the region. The PA’s collaboration has also long been clear, but the extent of the betrayal revealed in the documents is nauseating. They record Abbas greeting Condoleeza “birth pangs” Rice with, “[y]ou bring back life to the region when you come.” “I would vote for you”, senior negotiator Ahmed Qureia told Livni; Ariel Sharon was my “friend”, Abbas enthused. We already knew about the PA’s collaboration with the US and Israel to overthrow Hamas; its support for the Gaza siege; its close cooperation with the Israeli military; and its diplomatic manoeuvres to bury the UN inquiry into the 2008-9 Gaza massacre. These new leaks promise to reveal how PA “leaders were privately tipped off” in advance about the Gaza massacre – something previous leaks have already confirmed.

    Again, none of this should come as a surprise. The PA is a product of the Oslo process, which was designed, as former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami put it, to groom a Palestinian leadership class to act as “Israel’s collaborator in the task of stifling the [first] intifada and… [cut] short what was clearly an authentically democratic struggle for Palestinian independence”. The aim, another Israeli minister explained, “was to find a strong dictator to ... keep the Palestinians under control.” The PA is “almost wholly dependent upon American, European and Arab political and financial support, as well as security and economic cooperation with Israel” and so can only operate within limits dictated by Israel and its international backers. This was dramatically illustrated when Palestinians elected a government that didn’t enjoy the backing of their occupiers in 2006. The US, Europe and Israel responded by starving it of funds, isolating it diplomatically, kidnapping a third of the cabinet, killing hundreds of Palestinians, destroying Gaza’s only power station, and training and arming Fatah militias to overthrow it. It is a mistake, then, to focus overly on the corruption and venality of Abbas, Erekat, et al. The more important point is that the PA is structurally incapable of serving as an instrument of Palestinian liberation. Our takeaway lesson from the documents should be the need to end our government’s support for Israel’s occupation and Abbas’s quasi-police state in the West Bank.

    The PA’s strategy as revealed in the documents is delusional, on the (perhaps unreasonable) assumption that its objective is to secure a negotiated settlement to the conflict. It appears to be under the impression that if it just offers Israel one more concession, cedes one more bit of territory, compromises on one more basic Palestinian right, then the U.S. will force Israel to accept a settlement. The reality of the American role hardly needs elaborating here; it is encapsulated well enough in Rice’s response to the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948: “Bad things happen to people all around the world all the time.” The gaping yawn wasn’t transcribed. When Palestinian negotiators objected to Israel’s insistence on annexing yet more Palestinian territory, Rice was blunt: “You won’t have a state… your children’s children will not have an agreement.”
    It is still too early to predict how reaction to the leaks will play out. The PA is denying everything on the grounds that, paraphrasing Erekat, ‘we can’t have offered Israel virtually all of East Jerusalem, because if we had then obviously Israel would have accepted it’. What is the Arabic for ‘facepalm’? “We don’t hide anything from our brothers”, Abbas insisted as the PA threatened to shut down Al Jazeera. Abbas has accused Al Jazeera of declaring “war” on the Palestinians – Erekat is presumably drawing up an agreement to cede East Jerusalem to Riz Khan.

    The popular legitimacy of the PA, already damaged, is surely now destroyed. In the long-term – possibly sooner - this could spell its demise. Certainly Palestinians will not achieve their liberation under its auspices. Many commentators have interpreted the leaked documents as representing the death of the “peace process”. In fact what the papers reveal is that what newspapers, echoing U.S./Israeli propaganda, continue to call a ‘peace process’ was from its inception “the most spectacular deception in modern diplomatic history”. Others see in them the death knell for the two-state settlement. Again, it is difficult to see how this conclusion follows. The papers reveal U.S./Israeli rejectionism – as expected. It doesn’t follow from this that said rejectionism is irreversible. It is entirely possible that, should the U.S. and the EU, under domestic pressure, re-join the international consensus and apply serious leverage on Israel to do likewise, the latter will be forced to comply. At any rate, if the two-state settlement wasn’t already dead, then there is no reason to suppose that these papers are the final blow. Continued failure on the part of Europeans and Americans to pressure our governments to end their support for the occupation, on the other hand, might just be.

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. David Guyatt's Avatar
      David Guyatt -
      Thanks Peter. Beat me to it...
    1. David Guyatt's Avatar
      David Guyatt -
      Palestine papers are distortion of truth, say Palestinian officials

      Palestine papers are distortion of truth, say Palestinian officials
      Senior PLO leader attacks Palestine papers as 'propaganda game', as Hamas accuses PLO of betraying Palestinian interests

      • Palestinians offered Israel 'biggest Jerusalem in history'
      • East Jerusalem residents dismiss land-swap proposals
      • Interactive: browse the documents

      Ian Black, Seumas Milne, and Harriet Sherwood in Ramallah
      guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 January 2011 13.19 GMT

      Saeb Erekat and Mahmoud Abbas. Erekat said the Palestine papers were 'full of distortions and fraud'. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP

      Palestinian officials today lashed out at the publication of leaked documents revealing a secret agreement to accept Israel's annexation of all but one of the settlements built illegally in East Jerusalem - one of the most sensitive issues to be resolved in the conflict with Israel.

      The unprecedented proposal, revealed by al-Jazeera TV and the Guardian, was one of several concessions that have caused shockwaves among Palestinians and across the Arab world. It appears in a cache of thousands of pages of confidential Palestinian records covering more than a decade of negotiations and which provide an extraordinary and vivid insight into the disintegration of the 20-year peace process.

      Yasser Abed-Rabbo, a senior PLO leader, attacked al-Jazeera and its Qatari owners over what he called "a distortion of the truth" designed to create confusion. Speaking in Ramallah, headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, he called the leak "a propaganda game through the media in order to brainwash Palestinian citizens".

      Saeb Erekat, the PLO's chief negotiator, who features in many of the documents, said: "We don't have anything to hide. [The papers have been] taken out of context and contain lies ... Al-Jazeera's information is full of distortions and fraud."

      Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, insisted: "We say things very clearly. We do not have secrets."

      Hamas, the Islamist movement which opposes negotiations with Israel and advocates armed resistance, accused the PLO of betraying Palestinian interests. "This leadership is not honest," Osama Hamdan told al-Jazeera. "They have no credibility to negotiate. It is clear from these documents that they have no authorisation from their own people."

      Further documents in the cache that will be released over coming days will also reveal:

      • The scale of confidential concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators, including on the highly sensitive issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

      • How Israeli leaders privately asked for some Arab citizens to be transferred to a new Palestinian state.

      • The intimate level of covert co-operation between Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority.

      • The central role of British intelligence in drawing up a secret plan to crush Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

      • How Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders were privately tipped off about Israel's 2008-09 war in Gaza.

      As well as the annexation of all East Jerusalem settlements except Har Homa, the Palestine papers show PLO leaders privately suggested swapping part of the flashpoint East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah for land elsewhere. They also proposed a joint committee to take over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City - the issue that helped sink the Camp David talks in 2000 after Yasser Arafat refused to concede sovereignty around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques.

      The offers were made in 2008-09, in the wake of George Bush's Annapolis conference, and were privately hailed by Erekat as giving Israel "the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew name for Jerusalem] in history" in order to resolve the world's most intractable conflict. Israeli leaders, backed by the US government, said the offers were inadequate.

      Israel's rightwing foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, used the revelations to attack the previous government of Ehud Olmert. "Even the leftist government of Olmert and Livni did not succeed in reaching a peace agreement, despite the many concessions," he told Israel Radio today.

      Intensive efforts to revive talks by the Obama administration foundered last year over Israel's refusal to extend a 10-month partial freeze on settlement construction. Prospects are now uncertain amid increasing speculation that a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict is no longer attainable - and fears of a new war.

      Many of the 1,600 leaked documents have been independently authenticated by the Guardian and corroborated by former participants in the talks and intelligence and diplomatic sources.

      The Guardian's coverage is supplemented by WikiLeaks cables, emanating from the US consulate in Jerusalem and embassy in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials also kept their own records of the talks, which may differ from the confidential Palestinian accounts.

      The concession in May 2008 by Palestinian leaders to allow Israel to annex the settlements in East Jerusalem - including Gilo, a focus of controversy after Israel gave the go-ahead for 1,400 new homes - has never been made public.

      All settlements built on territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war are illegal under international law, but the Jerusalem homes are routinely described, and perceived, by Israel as municipal "neighbourhoods". Israeli governments have consistently sought to annex the largest settlements as part of a peace deal, and came close to doing so at Camp David.

      Erekat told Israeli leaders in 2008: "This is the first time in Palestinian-Israeli history in which such a suggestion is officially made." No such concession had been made at Camp David.

      But the offer was rejected out of hand by Israel because it did not include a big settlement near the city Ma'ale Adumim as well as Har Homa and several others deeper in the West Bank, including Ariel. "We do not like this suggestion because it does not meet our demands," Israel's then foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, told the Palestinians, "and probably it was not easy for you to think about it, but I really appreciate it."

      The overall impression that emerges from the documents, which stretch from 1999 to 2010, is of the weakness and growing desperation of Palestinian leaders as failure to reach agreement or even halt all settlement temporarily undermines their credibility in relation to their Hamas rivals.

      The former negotiator Diana Buttu called on Erekat to resign following the revelations. "Saeb must step down and if he doesn't it will only serve to show just how out of touch and unrepresentative the negotiators are," she said.

      Palestinian and Israeli officials both point out that any position in negotiations is subject to the principle that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" and therefore is invalid without a over-arching deal.

      The PA, set up after the 1993 Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO, is under pressure from a disaffected Palestinian public and Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in 2006 and has controlled the Gaza Strip since its takeover in 2007.

      Unlike the PLO, Hamas rejects negotiations, except for a long-term ceasefire, and refuses to recognise Israel. Supported by Iran and Syria, its charter contains anti-semitic elements. The group is classed as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, despite pressure for it to be included in a wider political process.
    1. Peter Lemkin's Avatar
      Peter Lemkin -
      Until they are proven to be real and unaltered, spending a lot of time on them is pointless; that said, IF they are real the most startling thing seems to be that Israel will take nothing less than 'unconditional surrender' terms - no negotiations that in any way give the Palestinians anything. Quelle surprise, eh?