Al Jazeera and The Guardian are jointly publishing the summary of a treasure trove of documents revealing the extraordinary extent to which the PA was willing to sacrifice a huge chunk of the Palestinian national patrimony and agenda for the sake of peace. While Israel (and to an extent, the Bush administration) essentially said: “That’s nice. But not enough.”
This will literally knock your socks off. The documents (linked below in discreet articles) 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 2008-9 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.
Most controversially, they also proposed a joint committee to take over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City – the neuralgic 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 concession in May 2008 by Palestinian leaders [would have] allow[ed] Israel to annex the settlements in East Jerusalem – including Gilo…
Palestinian negotiators practically bragged to the Israelis about how much they were willing to give up for the sake of peace:
…The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, as giving Israel “the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew name for Jerusalem] in history”
But nothing was enough for Israel. It apologetically said it appreciated the Palestinian sacrifice 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“.
Oh and you remember all that hope liberal Zionists (and even me I confess) harbored that Tzipi Livni offered a pragmatic alternative to Bibi and that SHE could and would negotiate a settlement if offered power–all smashed to bits by revelations like this. Tzipi was no better than Olmert nor Bibi. She just talked nicer and sounded more reasonable.
Here is the overall summary of the tone of the documents by the Guardian reporters:
The overall impression that emerges from the documents, which stretch from 1999 to 2010, is of the weakness and growing desperation of PA leaders as failure to reach agreement or even halt all settlement temporarily undermines their credibility in relation to their Hamas rivals; the papers also reveal the unyielding confidence of Israeli negotiators and the often dismissive attitude of US politicians towards Palestinian representatives.
So let’s try to assess the meaning of this bombshell. The PA is toast and this former PLO representative says as much in this Guardian column. Perhaps it will still retain support in the West Bank, which is its base. But Fatah leaders were willing to give away the store and get virtually nothing in return. What’s more, even the huge amount it offered wasn’t enough. Israel wanted it all.
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.
In terms of Palestinian leadership, these papers prove the bankruptcy of the notion that an unelected rump Palestinian entity can negotiate a satisfactory deal on behalf of the Palestinian people. The Bush administration and Israeli policy to torpedo the 2006 elections and stand in the way of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation has been a disaster. The only way to find an accomodation acceptable to the majority of Palestinians is with a representative elected body that ratifies such negotiation results.
If Abbas and his cronies had any honor they’d resign en masse and leave Israel to resume full Occupation of the West Bank (or barring that negotiate a real resolution with real Palestinian leaders). But the current PA leaders are as survival oriented as Bibi. They show no devotion to Palestinian national ideals just as Bibi et al show little commitment to anything resembling values or principles. They just want to keep their fingers in the pie. For Palestinians an increasingly small, miserly one. For Israelis an increasingly larger and tastier one.
And can you believe that Israel had the temerity to ask the PA to accept forced transfer of Israeli Palestinian citizens to the new Palestinian state, Avigdor Lieberman’s population transfer (aka expulsion) agenda?
The documents are a boon for Hamas, which has always prided itself on steadfastness to the Palestinian national agenda. Hamas will appear the only Palestinian movement which hasn’t compromised with Israel, the only one which wasn’t willing to sell its people out for a mess of porridge. Even if you hate Hamas, you will have to admit it comes out of this smelling like a rose. And who do we have to blame for this? Bush and Olmert, no one else.
Olmert is shown to be a total liar when he trumpeted claims that he made the Palestinians a generous offer of 92% of Palestine, which they refused. Actually, it was Olmert who couldn’t or wouldn’t deliver.
The new development augurs poorly for any serious peace efforts by the Obama administration. You now have an even more intransigent Israeli government in power than the one to which all these concessions were offered. And you have a PA which will be mortified that it was exposed with its pants down. Peace talks are dead. Dead as a doornail. Bibi wins big time. He can now go about building, occupying, assassinating and engaging in war with virtually any party he wishes as long as he wishes. He holds the cards. The PA and Obama got bupkis. And how will the other Arab governments in the Middle East react to American diplomacy used so haphazardly and to such little effect?
But perhaps, just perhaps not all is lost. There are initiatives that will be strengthened by this failure. All the alternative peacemaking efforts such as BDS will look even more attractive than ever since they are not tarnished by politicians’ dithering and compromises. But even more important, I think the idea of an imposed settlement looks not only feasible, but perhaps the only hope. I can foresee the Quartet, EU and UN Security Council devising a settlement with the input, but not veto power, of the parties and imposing it on them along with provisions that offer security to both sides. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that this is not an option, but rather a necessity. The last hope.
For those who like inside baseball, who spilled the beans? Who leaked these documents? My money says it was one of the members of the Palestinian negotiation support unit (NSU), a special British-funded entity that provided research, analysis and strategic background for the Palestinian side in its negotiations with Israel. The Guardian says that many members of this unit have quit, growing disaffected by the sheer magnitude of what their bosses were willing to concede while getting little or nothing in return. One of these individuals would have a strong motive to embarrass the PA negotiators. Also, it appears that the bifurcated nature of the NSU (working for the PA but funded by Britain) allowed for mixed allegiances not necessarily fully committed to the PA interests.
In effect, the Guardian may’ve inadvertently blown the cover of the leaker with this statement:
The bulk of the documents are records, contemporaneous notes and sections of verbatim transcripts of meetings drawn up by officials of the Palestinian negotiation support unit (NSU), which has been the main technical and legal backup for the Palestinian side in the negotiations.