The selling of the 'Palestine Papers'
Anyone familiar with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the last decade will find nothing surprising about the supposed revelations in the "Palestine papers" published this week by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera and Britain's Guardian newspaper. Since at least the time of the 2000 Camp David talks brokered by President Bill Clinton, Palestinian leaders have accepted that Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem will be annexed by Israel in a two-state settlement, and that only a handful of Palestinian refugees will "return" to the Jewish state -- the leading "news" reported so far.
What's sensational about the leaked documents, which appear to come from advisors to the Palestinian negotiating team, is the way they are being marketed by the two news organizations -- and how Palestinians are reacting to them. According to Al Jazeera, the negotiating positions on Jerusalem and refugees are shocking betrayals of the Palestinian cause, if not the Arab world as a whole. For the Guardian, they demonstrate the intransigence and the perfidy of Israel and the United States -- for supposedly failing to embrace such far-reaching concessions.
"PA selling short the refugees," Al Jazeera announced Tuesday on its English-language website, referring to the Palestinian authority of Mahmoud Abbas. "Barack Obama lifts then crushes Palestinian peace hopes," proclaimed The Guardian.
These are gross distortions. Not only have the reported Palestinian compromise positions been widely (if quietly) accepted by Arab governments, they were broadcast years ago in the Geneva Accord, a model agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders that was endorsed by Abbas, among others. Israel, for its part, responded with far-reaching compromises of its own: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a Palestinian state with sovereignty over Jerusalem and all but six percent of The West Bank. It was Abbas, not Olmert, who refused to go forward during those 2008 talks.
The leak of the documents seems motivated by a desire to bury the already moribund peace process. "Al Jazeera is trying to destroy Abbas, and the Guardian wants to get Netanyahu," an Israeli official observes. They may well succeed, at least in the case of the aging and weak Palestinian president. Palestinian negotiators have felt obliged to deny and repudiate the reported concessions, even as they are denounced by their hard-line rivals in the Hamas movement.
Of course, the Palestinians helped to create their predicament. For years they have systematically failed to prepare their public opinion for the concessions that will have to be part of any two-state settlement. Is it really conceivable that Israel would or could tear down East Jerusalem neighborhoods where 190,000 of its citizens now live, or allow hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to move inside its pre-1967 borders? No one seriously engaged in Middle East diplomacy -- American, Arab or European -- thinks so. But that has never been explained to most Palestinians.
In fact, Abbas and his Palestinian team are currently refusing to negotiate with Netanyahu in part because he has refused to freeze construction in East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods -- the same neighborhoods that the Palestinians have agreed that Israel will keep.
The sad irony is that if the Palestinian papers reveal anything, it is the yawning gap that continues to exist between the most generous Israeli and Palestinian offers. While accepting the inevitability of Israeli annexation in Jerusalem, the Palestinians are shown to reject the transfer to Israel of several of the largest West Bank settlements -- including Maale Adumin, a development that Abbas conceded to Israel in the Geneva Initiative. As a simple matter of practicality, it's difficult to imagine Israel evacuating a town that lies just outside Jerusalem and contains 35,000 people.
Abbas's number for returning refugees -- 100,000 over ten years -- was ten times higher than that of Olmert. Meanwhile both Netanyahu and principal Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni oppose any return of refugees.
Now, thanks to Al Jazeera and the Guardian, Palestinians are retreating even from their not-good-enough ideas. Far from coming under pressure to make new concessions, Netanyahu and his right-wing government can relax in the knowledge that the peace process is going backward. Leaks of documents are supposed to provide clarity. The Palestine papers have merely muddied the diplomatic waters.
| January 25, 2011; 10:30 AM ET
Categories: Diehl | Tags: Jackson Diehl
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