The Meaning of the Palestine Papers

Territory to be swapped under a plan proposed by Abbas, giving Israel nearly all of Jerusalem

Yesterday, Al Jazeera revealed nearly 1,700 confidential documents pertaining to the Israeli Palestinian negotiations throughout the last ten years. While I made some brief remarks last night, it is clear that the largest document dump in the conflict’s history is going to give the entire conflict a new face lift. The effects of this release are sure to be large and all-encompassing, as they demonstrate a PA that is out of touch with its constituents, an Israel that has no interest in peace and an America that has no intention of being unbiased. The documents, which were shared with the Guardian, are all available online, though they will be released according to theme throughout the next few days. Before arriving at a more coherent analysis than last night, take a look at some of the concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators and refused by Israel:

  • Israeli annexation of all Jewish inhabited areas of and around Jerusalem, including the settlements in East Jerusalem, the old city and the surrounding settlements built on destroyed Palestinian villages;
  • International control of Haram al-Sharif – the third holiest site in Islam – a subject that former PA PM Arafat had refused to discuss;
  • Israeli annexation of nearly all of the settlements in the West Bank to Israel, including Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim and Kedumim. None of these were offered in previous negotiations;

The papers also reveal that the PA was willing to accept a small symbolic return of 10,000 refugees (out of 7 million), that Israeli negotiators asked to transfer Palestinian Israelis to the West Bank, that Abbas was warned about operation Cast Lead and had active discussions with Israel about arrests and assassinations and that Britain had developed a plan to crush Hamas. More will certainly be added in the upcoming days (Haaretz says that there is a document showing the PA’s willingness to declare Israel a Jewish state) though much can be said right now.

The Guardian is adopting as its mantra that these leaks prove that the PA is a weak and crumbling institution. Its leaders are desperately clinging to a peace process that is dead and has been for years:

The overwhelming impression that emerges from the confidential records of a decade of Middle East peace talks is of the weakness and desperation of Palestinian leaders, the unyielding correctness of Israeli negotiators and the often contemptuous attitude towards the Palestinian side shown by US politicians and officials.

This particular article contains many quotations and excerpts from the papers that show Palestinian negotiator desperately trying to win approval from both the Americans and Israels. Ahmed Qureia had told former Israeli PM Tzipi Livni that he “would vote for her” and former US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that she “bring[s] back life to the region when [she] come[s].” Abbas, meanwhile, apparently responded to Ariel Sharon berating him by discussing how happy he was to consider Sharon a friend.

[tweetmeme] Former Palestinian negotiator Diana Butto argued that the release of the documents simply shows how out of touch the Palestinian leadership is and called for the lead negotiators to step down. Essentially, argues Buttu, the offers presented by the Palestine only acts as an incentive for Israel to keep constructing illegally – build and illegal settlement and wait for Palestinians to offer it in a peace deal. Daniel Levy, a former member of the Israeli negotiating team, comes to a similar conclusion that the Palestinians have simply been following a losing strategy:

The Palestinians never extracted themselves from that structurally losing proposition especially the expectation that the Americans would deliver Israel because the Palestinians thought they were the ones being reasonable in the negotiations. But it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen. The Americans constantly sided with the unreasonable side and the Palestinians kept digging themselves deeper and deeper in to this losing proposition.

Karma Nabulsi, again in the Guardian, writes that the release of these documents marks the end of the peace process and the end of the PA:

For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, official Palestinian policy over these past decades has been the antithesis of a legitimate, or representative, or even coherent strategy to obtain our long-denied freedom. But this sober appreciation of our current state of affairs, accompanied by the mass protests and civil society campaigns by Palestinian citizens, has been insufficient, until now, to rid us of it.

The release into the public domain of these documents is such a landmark because it destroys the final traces of credibility of the peace process. Everything to do with it relied upon a single axiom: that each new initiative or set of negotiations with the Israelis, every policy or programme (even the creation of undemocratic institutions under military occupation), could be presented as carried out in good faith under harsh conditions: necessary for peace, and in the service of our national cause. Officials from all sides played a double game vis-à-vis the Palestinians. It is now on record that they have betrayed, lied and cheated us of basic rights, while simultaneously claiming they deserved the trust of the Palestinian people.

Erekat proposed borders great different than the internationally recognized Green Line

So should the PA be dismantled? Of course, it is neither democratically elected, nor – as proved by the recent release – do they care about the interests of the Palestinian people. Silverstein says the PA is toast, though it will survive in the West Bank. But has this not been the case since Hamas was exiled to Gaza? This release will do nothing to bring down the PA. It is an authoritarian government that has not had the consent of the people for years. A government that cancels elections, arrests political opponents, is vastly corrupt, and shuts down protests clearly does not have anyone to answer to. Palestinians will be (and are) upset by the release of these documents, but does Fatah care? Considering that Hamas will try to use this announcement as a means of weakening the PA, these documents will effectively kill what hope was left for a successful reconciliation between the two groups.

Robert Grenier, writing at Al Jazeera, says that these documents have killed, officially, the peace process:

The overwhelming conclusion one draws from this record is that the process for a two-state solution is essentially over, that the history of the peace process is one of abject failure for all concerned. The Palestinian participants, having lost the most, will likely suffer most.

For the future vitality of the two state solution and the corresponding peace process, the most revealing piece of information is likely to be the offers that were turned down by the Israeli side: most of Jerusalem, most of the settlements, no right of return, completely demilitarized states whose external decisions would need to be approved by Israel… As Silverstein pointed out, these generous terms decidedly prove that Israel would rather maintain the status quo than come to an agreement:

Israel had a partner all along.  But it was the Palestinians who had no partner.  Israel’s motto: “Peace on our terms, or no terms.”  Israel acted as if it had won WWII and could dictate terms to the vanquished foe.  Olmert and Israelis may live to regret that they didn’t make peace on these unbelievably generous terms.

The peace process and the two state solution, though, have been dead for some time. Although it was unclear how far the PA was willing to go to maintain the possibility of a two state solution, negotiations continued. Israel wanted the universe, the PA was willing to negotiate away the world, but the Palestinian people would only accept giving away a country. Any agreement made between the PA and Israel would not be accepted by the Palestinian people as it would be giving away far too much. However, despite the eulogy in the leaks documents for the two state solution, many people – particularly Israel and its American supporters – will not let go so easily. The end of two states means the end of a Jewish Israel, which is unacceptable to too many powerful people.

Israel and the United States will remain firm about the necessity of a negotiated settlement, though Palestine may be less inclined to follow that path. As the PA has been unmasked as, essentially, the primary custodian of the occupation, willing to negotiate away  most of the country, it will be looking for ways to regain some favor with Palestinians (already denouncing the released papers as half truths or full lies). Indeed, the new strategy of international recognition may be a signal that the PA has completely given up on negotiations. Moreover, the embarrassment of the PA by these documents will make the Palestinian negotiators much less willing to go as far to meet Israeli demands.

Moreover, it is likely that Israel will attempt to hold Palestinian negotiators to these offers in any future negotiations. Now that Israel knows how far the PA is willing to stretch, Israeli negotiating will likely start at what was proposed in the leaked documents and go from there. Palestinian negotiators, though, will have little power to move further towards the Israeli position.

It is also unclear as to who released the documents, with some pointing the PA – in an effort to prove that Israel refuses to negotiate – while others are guessing  the British funded Palestinian negotiation support unit (NSU) – out of frustration with PA and concessions made. Personally, I think the NSU is a much more likely culprit than the PA, as the releases reflect very poorly on the PA themselves. One would suspect that Palestinian negotiators would have tried to release documents that revealed the extent of of Israel’s rejectionism, but without framing the PA as so out of touch. Likewise, the NSU was apparently getting frustrated (many members quitting) at the amount conceded by the PA without demanding anything in return. Seems like good probable cause to me.

Photos from Al Jazeera

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9 thoughts on “The Meaning of the Palestine Papers

  1. You write: “This release will do nothing to bring down the PA. It is an authoritarian government that has not had the consent of the people for years. A government that cancels elections, arrests political opponents, is vastly corrupt, and shuts down protests clearly does not have anyone to answer to. Palestinians will be (and are) upset by the release of these documents, but does Fatah care?”

    And yet, you expect Israel to make peace with this government that “cancels elections…etc”?

    Thoughts?

    1. Living in Ramallah, I cant tell you that the Palestinians are upset, but not with the PA. Most Palestinians in the city support the gov’t and are protesting against Al JAzeera. This is Ramallah though, so different than other places.

      I would guess you are right that the majority of Palestinians are upset about this. However, they have no means to take down the PA. US and Israel – revealed yesterday – will not allow another faction to take control of the government. If a Tunisia popular rise did happen (unlikely considered support for Fatah in Ramallah and travel difficulties around the country) Israel would put it down with full support from the US.

      Moreover, even if Palestinians are angry at the PA, they are angrier at Israel. In Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt etc where there are these protests, all the public anger has been directed at the gov’t. Here most anger is at Israel. BIG difference. The PA will not fall if Israel doesn’t want it to.

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