The Palestine Papers
To search the documents go to Al Jazeera.
Here are some selected links and commentaries on the documents:
The Chair of the British-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group issued an immediate statement saying, among other things, “even the most sceptical reader must conclude that the papers blow a huge hole in Israel’s claims that, in the Palestinians, they don’t have a partner for peace. Nor can they continue to say that the Palestinians have been unwilling to compromise on key issues in order to achieve peace. The papers also reveal persistent intransigence and arrogance on the Israeli side and an unwillingness by the international community to do anything about it.”
Nadia Hijab writing in the Institute for Palestine Studies, and co-published in the Financial Times, Leaks will cripple Palestinian authority: “The 16,076-document leak bombshell that cable television station al-Jazeera dropped on Sunday on an unsuspecting Middle East will have major repercussions for weeks to come. It is likely to deal a death blow to an American-led peace process already on life support, and hasten the end of the Palestinian Authority created by the 1993 Oslo accords.”
Karma Nabulsi writes in Comment is Free that “With any luck the sheer horror of this account of how the US and Britain covertly facilitated and even implemented Israeli military expansion – while creating an oligarchy to manage it – might overcome the entrenched interests and venality that have kept the peace process going.”
Alastair Crooke argues in Misunderstanding Israeli motives, Al Jazeeera 24 January, that the answer to the question “Why is there no Palestinian state?” is made clear by the release of these papers. It is simple: “Because the Israeli government’s objective is not a Jewish state, but a Zionist one.”
According to Akiva Eldar, writing in Ha’aretz, Lieberman’s plan, pushed to the mainstream NY Times via the Washington Institute (WIMEP), was published last week in order to pre-empt the publication of the Palestine Papers. And here is the Lieberman/Netanyahu map: annexation of main settlements, transfer of Arab population to Palestinian ‘state’ and relinquishing of control over about 42 percent of the OPT as a ‘temporary arrangement’ (i.e indefinite arrangement).
And see the Guardian reports Papers reveal how Palestinian leaders gave up fight over refugees on 24 January and subsequent links from there.
Richard Silverstein, Palestine Papers: Herzl Suggested Jews Resettle in Uganda, Condi Suggested Palestinians to Argentina: “Where do they get the unmitigated gall to think that this would be acceptable to the Palestinians? How did they ever think they could sell this? Did they think that the U.S. showering Palestinians with billions would assuage the sting of giving up virtually their entire national dream?”
Jeremiah Haber writes about the tone of condescension in the Israeli negotiators, up to and including Tsipi Livni and ‘the complete absence of Israeli give-and-take at all’. See his Abu Ala’s Generous Offer – and Tzipi Livni’s Refusal to Make a Counter-Offer
OneDemocracy in an article entitled The Palestine Papers have driven a stake through the heart of the Undead Peace Process “looks at some of the immediate effects of the Palestine Papers and proposes a 5-Step Plan to reconstitute a Palestinian leadership and decide on its direction.”
Palestinian academic Saree Makdisi writes angrily in the Los Angeles Times, 27 January 2011 under the heading The Palestinian people betrayed that “The leaked papers published by Al Jazeera show how craven Palestinian leaders are and how willing they were to sell out their people’s rights…”
Ali Abunimah writing in Al Jazeera, in A dangerous shift on 1967 lines, 24 January, analyses the way the US position in regards to the 1967 border has shifted in an ominous way under Obama, which” is not only catastrophic for Palestinian rights and the prospects for justice, but represents a return to nineteenth century notions, banished in the wake of two world wars, that population groups can be traded between states without their consent as if they were mere pieces on a chess board.”
Uri Avnery provides his usual insightful analysis in The Aljazeera Scandal, 29 January 2011. He makes two points: first, to point out that the reaction in Israel has been to ask who is in the shadows behind the whistle-blowers rather than about the strategy of Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues; and second, on the latter, to argue, controversially that “the Palestinian negotiators are adhering strictly to the guidelines laid down by Yasser Arafat”. This will not endear him to those (see many above) who’ve argued forcefully that the Palestinian leadership has almost totally sold out to Israel in these secret negotiations.
Nadia Hijab, 24 January 2011
The 16,076-document leak bombshell that cable television station al-Jazeera dropped on Sunday on an unsuspecting Middle East will have major repercussions for weeks to come. It is likely to deal a death blow to an American-led peace process already on life support, and hasten the end of the Palestinian Authority created by the 1993 Oslo accords.
The leaders of the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is formally responsible for negotiations with Israel, quickly challenged the veracity of the document trove. But Oslo has already so damaged their credibility that their denials do not carry weight.
In any case, the revelations simply confirm what has been clear to Palestinians for decades: their leadership is negotiating with itself, and in the process giving up on almost all internationally recognised Palestinian rights. Indeed, as every concession has been met with no response from Israel, they have given up a little more.
This model of “self-negotiation” started as far back as 1974, when the PLO first gingerly hinted that it would accept a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. By so doing, it unilaterally abandoned its original programme of liberating all of Palestine.
When, some 30 years on, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat returned from the failed Camp David summit in 2000, he was excoriated by the US and Europe for rejecting Israel’s “generous offer”. By contrast, many Palestinians heaved a sigh of relief that Mr Arafat had refused to sign an agreement that would have ceded Jerusalem, and trisected the West Bank.
Now these new leaks reveal that it is the PLO/PA that has been making the generous offers, and Israel has been rejecting them. If the documents are to be believed, almost all of East Jerusalem has been on the table. Perhaps this time we should be grateful Israel hasn’t signed.
What next? The Palestinian leadership have two plausible options, but will likely take neither.
The first would to be attempt to retake the high ground. This would mean dissolving the PA, and refocusing its attention on the PLO’s primary task – the liberation of Palestine. This would also involve repairing relations with Hamas, and trying to bring all Palestinian political and civil forces into a rejuvenated organisation.
The second is to continue down the road of hoping that someone, somewhere will exert pressure on Israel to give up the occupied territories and recognise Palestinian rights.
The former path is unlikely given the leadership’s depleted reserves of creativity, energy, and credibility. The latter is equally improbable as no other state or international body seems ready to put its interests on the line to save the PA’s skin.
Given that neither path looks promising, it is the PA itself which now looks most vulnerable. It is an increasingly hollow shell, that may soon be blown away. The winds are coming from Tunisia. Palestine may be next.
This piece appeared on the Financial Times on 24 January 2011.
Karma Nabulsi, 23 January 2011
It’s over. Given the shocking nature, extent and detail of these ghastly revelations from behind the closed doors of the Middle East peace process, the seemingly endless and ugly game is now, finally, over. Not one of the villains on the Palestinian side can survive it. With any luck the sheer horror of this account of how the US and Britain covertly facilitated and even implemented Israeli military expansion – while creating an oligarchy to manage it – might overcome the entrenched interests and venality that have kept the peace process going. A small group of men who have polluted the Palestinian public sphere with their private activities are now exposed.
For us Palestinians, these detailed accounts of the secretly negotiated surrender of every one of our core rights under international law (of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, on annexing Arab Jerusalem, on settlements) are not a surprise. It is something that we all knew – in spite of official protests to the contrary – because we feel their destructive effects every day. The same is true of the outrageous role of the US and Britain in creating a security bantustan, and the ruin of our civic and political space. We already knew, because we feel its fatal effects.
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.
This claim of representative capacity – and worse, the assertion they were representing the interests of Palestinians in their struggle for freedom – had become increasingly thin over the last decade and a half. The claim they were acting in good faith is absolutely shattered by the publication of these documents today, and the information to be revealed over this coming week. Whatever one’s political leanings, no one, not the Americans, the British, the UN, and especially not these Palestinian officials, can claim that the whole racket is anything other than a brutal process of subjugating an entire people.
Why has this gone on for so long and at such high cost? And why haven’t the Palestinians been able to create the democratic representation so urgently needed to advance their cause? Israel, along with those who share its worldview, would assert that the problem lies with the Palestinians themselves, being part of an Arab political culture that can only breed either authoritarian governments or terrorists. Yet what these documents reveal is the extent of undemocratic, authoritarian, colonial and, frankly, terrifying coercion the US, Britain and other western governments have been imposing upon Palestinians through this unaccountable leadership.
The unconstrained power of America, the global superpower that has (now on record and in sickening detail) taken one party’s side in this conflict, can be seen on every page. Everyone is implicated, from the president to the secretary of state, from the military generals who have created the security forces to implement these policies to the embassy staff involved in the daily execution of them. It also shows this policy is an absolute failure, bringing ruination upon the Palestinians and increasing belligerency from the completely unfettered, aggressive and erratic Israel, currently practising a form of apartheid towards the Palestinians it rules through force.
This uneven balance of power can only be successfully addressed in the same way every national liberation movement has addressed it in the past: through the unassailable strength of a popular mandate. Ho Chi Minh sitting down with the French, or Nelson Mandela negotiating with the apartheid regime embodied this popular legitimacy, and indeed drew their principles and negotiating positions from it. The Palestinian leadership’s weak and incompetent posturing is the opposite of dignified and honourable national representation, and proves useless to boot.
On the positive side, had such deals eventually come to light, Palestinians would have rejected them comprehensively. But the worst betrayal has been what this hypocrisy has bequeathed to the young generation of Palestinians. These officials have led a new generation to believe that participating in public governance is base and self-seeking, that joining any political party is the least useful method to advance principals and create change.
Through their harmful example, they have alienated young Palestinians from their own history of resistance to colonial and military rule, so they now believe that tens of thousands of brilliant, imaginative and extraordinarily brave Palestinians never existed or, worse, fought and died for nothing. It cuts them off from any useful mobilising methods and techniques that they might draw upon today – the democratic and collective mechanisms that are needed more than ever. They have given young people the idea that there is no virtue in collective organisation, the mechanism by which popular democratic change is made and preserved.
The increasingly popular view that the Palestinian revolution was a failure from its inception, always corrupt, driven from above and never from below, is false – but it has gained credibility through the actions of the current regime. Its behaviour has nearly erased the record of the contribution made by tens of thousands of ordinary Palestinian citizens who, through the sheer force of their devotion to public life, fought for principles and created real and democratic self-representation under the worst of conditions. It is our most valuable freedom, and one well worth fighting for: the release of these devastating documents paves the way for its restoration.
Why is there no Palestinian state? Because the Israeli government’s objective is not a Jewish state, but a Zionist one.
Alastair Crooke, 24 January 2011
Al Jazeera’s release of The Palestine Papers helps to make clear why there is no Palestinian state. It illuminates a key flaw in Palestinian and western understanding of Israeli thinking. It is this flaw which helps explain why a state has failed to emerge – despite the many, many opportunities in the last nineteen years in which it could have.
The root premise has been, since the outset of the ‘process’, that Israel was intent on having and maintaining a Jewish ‘majority’ within Israel, and that with time – and a growing Palestinian population – Israel would have to acquiesce to a Palestinian state simply to maintain its Jewish majority: that is, by losing Palestinians into their own state, Israel’s Jewish majority could be conserved – and by these means, and only by such means, finally could such a majority be conserved.
It is a very compelling narrative. It suggested that a Palestinian state was inevitable: Palestinians simply had to ‘prove’ their readiness to assume statehood to Israel – and a state would be given them.
Professor Mushtaq Khan from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies argued in a recent talk that it was precisely this type of analysis that lay behind Fatah’s approach to Oslo. It explains, he argues, why the Palestinian leadership at this time never made real attempts to create serious bargaining power vis-à-vis Israel: the leadership simply did not think it necessary. They saw their task to be ‘confidence building’ with the Israelis. Professor Khan notes that Oslo was conducted not as a serious negotiation, but more as a confidence building exercise by the Palestinians. The Palestinian participants did not follow any real strategy, but sought only to achieve the minimum that they believed was ‘saleable’ to their own people – ’67 territories – and stuck to that. Yasir Arafat did not even bother to read the 400 page accord before committing to it. Such was the power of the idea that a Palestinian state was inevitable – being an Israeli self-interest.
Creating a Zionist state
The Palestine Papers show that still the Ramallah leadership misreads Israeli motives. What is even more striking is how they misread them, even when they are ‘hidden’ in full view. An angered Tzipi Livni, in a pre-Annapolis negotiating session with Ahmed Qurei, spells out Israeli motivations: “I think that we can use another session – about what it means to be a Jew and that it is more than just a religion. But if you want to take us back to 1947, it won’t help. Israel is the state of the Jewish people — and I would like to emphasize the meaning of “its people” is the Jewish people — with Jerusalem the united and undivided capital of Israel and of the Jewish people for 3007 years….”
Kadima has tried to position itself as a voice of moderation in Israeli politics, a framing eagerly accepted by Palestinian negotiators. But The Palestine Papers reveal that the party’s leaders took an extremely hard line during negotiations, refusing to compromise on even the most basic issues.
Two months later, Livni tells Ahmed Qurei and Saeb Erekat, “Israel was established to become a national home for Jews from all over the world. The Jew gets the citizenship as soon as he steps in Israel, and therefore don’t say anything about the nature of Israel…The basis for the creation of the state of Israel is that it was created for the Jewish people. Your state will be the answer to all Palestinians including refugees. Putting an end to claims means fulfilling national rights for all.”
What Livni is saying is clear: She never mentions ‘Jewish majority’; her objective is a Zionist state. A Zionist state is one, she emphasises, that is open to any Jew who knocks at the door. It follows therefore it is a state that must conserve land and potential water resources for the new arrivals: ‘Jews from all over the world’. Israel in this conception cannot be a multi-cultural state: It is fundamentally a conceptualisation of differential rights for Jew and non-Jew. Minorities claiming equal political rights within a Zionist state represent an internal contradiction, a threat to this vision of a state based on special rights for Jews.
Once Israel’s purpose is understood to be Zionist, then, the advantages and disadvantages of a Palestinian state coming into existence take on a very different balance. This is the point here. Once the motives are understood as Zionist, it becomes clear that it entails a very different calculus of the benefits of Palestinian statehood – over the alternative motivation of preserving a Jewish majority.
From the outset, this motivation has been paramount: Israel’s settlements in the West Bank were about land, and control over water resources – and never about shaping a settlement map for the advent of a Palestinian state. Israel devolved some control over its people to Palestinian leaderships, but never the land or its resources. Policy always has been purely Zionist in conception.
But more pertinently, whilst Israel’s borders are not fixed, and ambiguous, Israel has been able to maintain differential rights for Jews and non-Jews. Were Israel – as a state – to be formalized, however, any minority within it, is likely to be emboldened to agitate for equal rights – whereas in their present ambiguous situation, minorities are fearful, and cautious to raise demands, lest they be ethnically cleansed in some future ‘population’ swap. The very ambiguity implicit in the threat of population exchange is a source of political quiescence, which benefits the Zionist objective.
Zionists are also likely to conclude that a Palestinian state, established alongside Israel, would be active in efforts to generate international support for the principle of minority rights in Israel – and thus threaten the Zionist basis of the state by delegitimizing their state as racist.
Ultimately the issue of differential rights for Jews and non-Jews is not in principle eased by establishing a Palestinian state. Its magnitude may be reduced from 40-50% to 20%, but the inherent contradiction remains unresolved – in either outcome. Against this ambivalent calculus, it is not surprising that the Zionist argument for keeping borders undefined, leaving Palestinians in deliberate uncertainty and hostage to their good conduct, whilst holding on to water and land resources, has trumped other Israelis arguing for downsizing the differential rights problem, and improving the minority’s treatment – albeit short of granting full rights to non-Jews in all matters. This is the calculus that has predominated. This is why we do not have a Palestinian state.
What is clear from The Palestine Papers is that the Ramallah leadership still does not ‘get it’. I think that President Arafat, from my discussions with him, ‘got it’ within months of signing Oslo; but here, nineteen years later, is Saeb Erekat still telling Senator George Mitchell’s deputy in January 2010 that the “Israelis want the two state solution, but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarized state…What more can I give?”
It is evident from the papers that the Ramallah leadership treated Livni’s statements as being one of use of language – ‘they can call their state whatever they want’ – rather than an important and substantive objective with far reaching implications.
It represents the same ‘mote in their eye’ that Professor Khan noted in reference to the Palestinian approach to Oslo: a fixed belief that Israel will be forced to ‘give’ the Palestinians a state, but only if we, the Palestinians, can build Israeli and American ‘trust’. It is a failed understanding shared by many Europeans. ‘Fayyadism’, to which Europeans are so closely attached, rests on the same key flaw – a misunderstanding that Zionism equates to nothing more than a desire to maintain a ‘Jewish majority’ – and that if only Fayyad builds collaborative institutions, statehood somehow will become ‘irresistable’.
These Europeans almost certainly will be proved wrong: Tzipi Livni ‘told them’. She cannot be accused of hiding it – It seems though that nobody was listening.
Alistair Crooke is the founder of Conflicts Forum, an international movement which engages with Islamist movements broadly. He is the organiser of US and European unofficial dialogues in 2005 with Hezbollah, Hamas and other Islamist movements, and a former special Middle East adviser to European Union high representative Javier Solana. He facilitated various Israeli-Palestinian ceasefires during 2001-2003, and was instrumental in the negotiations leading to the ending of the siege of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. He is a former member of Britain’s MI-6 intelligence service.
Palestinian documents on Mideast negotiations revealed by Al-Jazeera TV are testimony that the Palestinians are willing to go the distance for peace.
While the leaked documents on Middle East negotiations are received in Israel and in the world as incisive evidence of the moderate positions of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Hamas leadership as well as Abbas’ rivals in Fatah will see the documents as additional proof of what they call the “defeatism” of the PA.
Abbas is constantly treading the thin line between his will to acquire the sympathy of the Israeli and international public and his need to guard his back from the knives of his rivals at home.
The rumors of Abbas’ plan to retire in the coming year have kicked off a succession battle. Not long ago Abbas declared war on Mohammed Dahlan, claiming the former Fatah strongman in Gaza was planning a coup d’état. And Dahlan isn’t the only Fatah politico who will have recorded and saved Al-Jazeera’s special Sunday night broadcast.
The documents revealed by Al Jazeera are much more important than the documents recently released by WikiLeaks. The former document the talks that took place in 2008 between the head of the Palestinian negotiating team and then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as with American officials, which is not just a chapter in history.
The compromises presented by the Palestinians vis-a-vis permanent borders in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are relevant to today. The Palestinian map that was shown to Ehud Olmert and representatives of the Bush administration was presented again two months ago to representatives of President Barack Obama, as well as Obama’s Mideast envoy George Mitchell and later Netanyahu’s representative Isaac Molcho. Molcho refused to accept the document.
The leaked documents completely discredit the claim that there is “no peace partner” made by the leader of the newly formed Atzmaut faction, Ehud Barak, and his boss, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The documents are testimony that the Palestinians are willing to go the distance for peace: They will relinquish their claims on the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, the Etzion settlement bloc and the settlements along the Green Line. This would all be in return for territories on the western side of this line, including the region of Gilboa and Mount Hebron.
According to a map that was shown to me two weeks ago, the major territorial disputes remain over Ariel, Elkana, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Har Homa suburb of East Jerusalem (which was built after the 1993 Oslo Accords).
The documents in Al-Jazeera’s hands also confirm that the Palestinian leadership would be willing to abdicate sole autonomy in the Old City of Jerusalem and keep it under special rule.
The timing of the document leaks raises suspicions that the temporary Palestinian State border plan, submitted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, was submitted as a pre-emptive strike against the Palestinian draft. A deeper look into the content of the documents reveals a significant gap between the Palestinian expectations, and the pittance that Lieberman has thrown at them in his proposal.
After reading the documents, calling Lieberman’s drivel a “national plan” would be like calling the parliamentary investigation into left-wing organizations an initiative geared towards increasing transparency in NGOs in Israel.
The map that Lieberman has “offered” the Palestinians as an interim arrangement (45-50 percent of the West Bank with land swaps) cannot hold a candle to the map that Ehud Barak and former President Bill Clinton offered them (94-96 percent, plus passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank). Lieberman’s map also falls far short of the map that Olmert presented Abbas (93.5 percent plus the passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank).
On Sunday, the New York Times published a map created by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which included territories within the Green Line that Israel would give the Palestinians in exchange for settlement blocs. Mokovsky’s office is next-door to Dennis Ross, Obama’s chief adviser in the peace process.
The Al-Jazeera documents and Lieberman’s plan will both be presented to the Quartet of Mideast negotiators, a group of representatives from the U.S., European Union, Russia and United Nations, who will meet in two weeks on how to pull negotiations from their current impasse.
It certainly isn’t hard to tell which document will impress them more.
Richard Silverstein, 25 January 2011
Condi: Israel will accept the return of this many Palestinian refugees–the rest…to Argentina
I swear, the longer I watch this Israeli-Palestinian conflict the more the nutty ideas of the past impose themselves on the present. Many Zionists don’t know or admit that Herzl had no particular romantic affinity for Palestine as the homeland of the Jews. He thought it could just as easily be Uganda and wrote as much. Fortunately for him (not so fortunately for Palestinians though), more traditional Jewish Zionists persuaded him that only the real Zion would do as the future homeland.
Now comes word that Condi Rice played a similar card in U.S. negotiations with the Palestinians:
Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state under George Bush, suggested in 2008 Palestinian refugees could be resettled in South America. “Maybe we will be able to find countries that can contribute in kind,” she said. “Chile, Argentina, etc.”
The only thing I can say on Condi’s behalf is that at least her boss was elected (sorta). What’s Abbas’ excuse? He’s a leader without a mandate. Where does he get off accepting the shameful compromise of accepting a total to 10,000 Palestinian refugees resettled in Israel over a ten-year period? Even the Geneva Initiative foresaw a larger number than that. Where do they get the unmitigated gall to think that this would be acceptable to the Palestinians? How did they ever think they could sell this? Did they think that the U.S. showering Palestinians with billions would assuage the sting of giving up virtually their entire national dream?
Astonishingly, the Palestine Papers also show that Mahmoud Abbas himself accepted the Israeli narrative on the Right of Return:
“On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or indeed 1 million. That would mean the end of Israel.”
“The end of Israel.” The very mantra of Bibi Netanyahu in dissing ROR. And what business should it be of Abbas as erstwhile leader of Palestine to be concerned primarily with the welfare of Israel? If Israel could take in a million Russian Jews in a short period, it can take in a few hundred thousand (and not a million as Abbas imagines) Palestinian refugees who might insist on returning to Israel over generous financial compensation for their suffering and resettlement within Palestine proper. This guy has his priorities screwed up and has forgotten, if he ever knew, who he represents.
It is not surprising that during negotiations Israel did everything possible to deny any responsibility for Palestinian refugees (the Nakba of course wasn’t mentioned). But the utter sophistry of the arguments and the enthusiasm with which even the Bush flunkies advanced them in addition to the Israelis, is shocking.
I find it laughable that the Fatah goons have attacked and taken over Al Jazeera’s Ramallah studio. Attack the messenger why don’t you instead of the real bane of your existence. It wasn’t Al Jazeerah who sold out the Palestinian patrimony. It was their own “leaders.” If they want to to see the real enemy, take a look in the mirror.
The rogues’ gallery unfortunately now must include Tzipi Livni who, in discussing the issue of the expulsion as a violation of international law said the following pearl:
Livni told Palestinian negotiators in 2007 that she was against international law and insisted that it could not be included in terms of reference for the talks: “I was the minister of justice”, she said. “But I am against law – international law in particular.”
…She made clear that what might have seemed to be a joke was meant…seriously by using the point to argue against international law as one of the terms of reference for the talks and insisting that “Palestinians don’t really need international law”.
Where else but in Israel (and perhaps Zimbabwe and a few other despotic states) could you have a justice minister express overt disdain for the law?
Further, as I wrote yesterday, Livni specifically advanced Avigdor Lieberman’s proposal to forcibly redraw the international boundary so that Israeli Palestinian villages would be expelled from Israel and annexed to Palestine. Those Israeli citizens expelled from Israel would naturally have no recourse and not be consulted about the forced transfer. This is refined Kahanism for which Livni should (but won’t be) ashamed. She can deny it all she wants but the papers don’t lie.
As I wrote yesterday, liberal Zionists have long had a romance with Tzippi as the anti-Bibi. They believed when she left Likud at Sharon’s behest that she had somehow shed her Irgun family legacy. They hoped she might turn out to be as pragmatic as Ariel Sharon appeared to become just before his death. How wrong they were. And this should lay those illusions to rest.
Even George Mitchell, who I’d preferred to see as the good guy in the Obama administration compared to the blantantly pro-Israel Dennis Ross, conveyed to the Palestinians that Obama was reneging on a major Bush era pledge to the Palestinians. Condi Rice had affirmed that any agreement would use 1967 borders as a basis for any proposed land swaps. Mitchell told Erekat that the new administration felt bound by nothing agreed to by Bush, even something as elemental as 1967 borders.
In fact, the lead Palestinian negotiator threatened to tell Israeli TV that its audience should feel proud of its leader’s outmaneuvering of both Abbas and Obama:
Erekat: I am planning to go on Israeli channel 10 to say one thing: congratulations Mr. Netanyahu. You defeated President Obama. You defeated Abu Mazen… if it’s my word against theirs in your Congress and your Senate, I know I do not stand a chance.
In this particular case, Erekat is precisely right. And Obama has allowed Bibi to make him and Abbas look the fool. It’s shameful really that it’s come to this due to Obama’s futile policy. But it has.
The NY Times’ Eytan of Arabia (Ethan Bronner) has weighed in from the Delphic heights with his ‘penetrating analysis,’ as always favorable to Israel. But frankly I’m shocked that Bernard Avishai, known as a probing critic of the Occupation and Israeli policy, has proven so tone deaf about this particular issue:
“They [the Palestine Papers] focus on Palestinian concessions without presenting the other side of the negotiations. The Palestinians were going to get a great deal for their concessions.
Yes, they were going to get a Bantustan shorn of all land settled by Israel in Jerusalem post-67 short of Har Homa. The only major West Bank settlement Israel planned to abandon was Kiryat Arba. Israel would get Maaleh Adumim, French Hill, Gilo, Ramat Shlomo, even parts of Sheikh Jarrah (see proposed map). Israel planned to ‘console’ the Palestinians for their loss of this land by “bequeathing” them Israeli Palestinian villages whose citizens never wanted to be expelled from Israel in the first place. It would’ve been a game of three-card Monte. What was the PA going to get for their trouble? What major concessions? A state? Yes, but what kind of state? A truly independent state able to function on its own with contiguous territory? Not so much.
Jeremiah Haber, 24 January 2011
The leaks of the Palestine Papers, now being published by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian, are important on many levels and for many reasons. But after reading some of the documents, what strikes me most is the tone of condescension in the Israeli negotiators, up to Tzipi Livni – condescension, sarcasm, and the feeling of having all the time in the world. (Livni opens a meeting in which the Palestinians present their detailed proposal for Jerusalem by saying, “Based on what I have heard in the trilateral meeting with Condoleeza Rice, I believe that your offer will not be exciting.”) Part of this may be to the inexperience of the Israeli negotiators, who have changed repeatedly since 2000 (well, not so repeatedly; there were virtually no negotiations when Sharon was Prime Minister.) On the Palestinian side you have men like Saeb Erekat and Ahmad Qurei, who have been involved with negotations with Israelis since the 1980’s, at least. But most of it stems from the fact that Israel thinks it holds all the cards and knows that it is under no pressure to give an inch. Abu Ala’ in effect gave Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert Yerushalayim on a silver platter. And according to these documents, anyway, the Israelis did not even make a counter-offer.
What also strikes me is the complete absence of Israeli give-and-take at all. In any serious negotiation, there is some sort of give-and-take that brings on an agreement. But in this negotiation, there is no Israeli give, partly because of the imbalance of power and partly because the two sides are not negotiating over the same thing. For the Israelis, Jerusalem and the surrounding settlements, as defined by Israel are not negotiable. Period. What they seem to be willing to negotiate is a handful of Arabs living within East Jerusalem having citizenship in the Palestinian state. But from a territorial view, what determines Israel’s starting point is “facts on the ground”. The only border Israel is willing to consider is the “border” that it has consistently moved over the last forty three years. The Palestinians, on the other hand, and like the rest of the world, still refer to the 1967 border. The Israeli negotiators consistently refuse to allow even negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 border. It simply does not exist in their head. What the Israelis want to do is to be “creative”, to have a “new approach,” not to rely on any international law, to create a “soft language”.
The same is true of the general negotiations over borders. In fact, the Israelis explicitly say that they don’t want to think of this negotiation as a give and take. Here is an excerpt from 12 March, 2008, the first meeting on territory.
Udi Dekel: We don’t see the 1967 border as a reference, first because we don’t even know exactly where the line is.
Saeb Arekat: We have all the maps that were signed by you.
UD: But that wasn’t exactly the line on the ground.
SA: If not the 1967 line, then what is your reference?
UD: We said already, the situation on the ground.
SA: The wall?
UD: The security fence is not a border. Unfortunately, it is needed for security. Every week we intercept 3 to 4 suicide bombers. As we’ve said before, the fence is not a border and can be moved like we did with Lebanon. [ Comment by Jerry: This standard Israeli line was belied by the government lawyers’ testimony before the Supreme Court in the Bil’in case, where they said that Israel would indeed claim the area up to the fence in subsequent negotiations.].
Nizar Farsakh: What is your frame of reference?
UD: We’re talking about blocs of settlements—not far in the West Bank, but close to the area we are talking about—are to be part of Israel. In Oslo we used the West Bank outline map.
DT: It is the West Bank outline map, in which under our law Israeli military law is applied.
SA: This is your law. In our law, the line is 1967.
DT: Based on which maps? There is no…
SA: This is the standard we’ve worked from, from Oslo to Taba… we are not going to discuss any other line. If we’re going to waste time this is something else.
UD: This is your opinion, but not our opinion. It is very difficult to locate the exact line of the situation that existed on 4 June 1967. It’s not the same line. But for us, the baseline we use is the outline of the West Bank. It may be close, but it’s not the same line. You mentioned the NML—you can’t say this is “occupied”.
SA: It doesn’t belong to you either. The Jordan army was there at least in some places, but the Israeli army was not anywhere (in the NML).
UD: This is our line. We have proof that the area was split and we consider it part of Israel
NF: This was a gentlemen’s agreement that was not signed whereby the farmers from each side cultivate up to the middle of the NML, but then a dispute erupted in 1964 whereby this arrangement was dismissed.
UD: We do not agree.
NF: OK, then we agree to disagree.
Khalid Elgindy: There are two practical problems with your approach. How can we start from realities on the ground when the situation on the ground keeps changing, even as we speak. Second, how can we identify which areas in Israel would be swapped in exchange for what is being taken in the West Bank if we don’t have a reference line?
UD: We are not speaking in the same dimension. We are not speaking about “giving” and “taking”… we are taking about realities. Our goal is to create a better situation for Palestinians, as well as for Israelis.
UD: We didn’t take anything from you. No Palestinian state existed before. When you say 1967, it’s not something we can recognize. First, it’s not a border. Second, we don’t know exactly where it is. So we have to forget those things. It doesn’t help to talk about what we “take” or “give”. Also, percentages don’t help. But if we agree on a border then we can move forward
NF: We’re disagreeing over approach. I still fail to see how this is so. Yes, the exact 1967 line is hard to know but there are ways to deal with this. With Jordan you had that problem because of the vague definition of the boundary in Wadi Araba (where it said the middle of the wadi) and you split the difference between your interpretation and the Jordanian one. We can deal with any discrepancies between your interpretation and ours. But need some sort of starting point.
KE: The entire international community does not accept Israeli sovereignty in any of the territory occupied in 1967. You are asking us to accept what the whole world is refusing to accept. This is not logical.
UD: The international community is not relevant here. We are not agreeing with them; we are agreeing with you on the border between us. And there wasn’t a border. All the maps we agreed upon are based on that line [“WB outline”].
KE: But even your line is based on the 1967 line. If we compare your line to 1967 line we’ll find that it coincides everywhere except the Latrun NML and Jerusalem. You mentioned UNSC Res. 242, which itself means the 1967 line.
UD: You know the wording of 242 so… Maybe we can start by identifying differences between our West Bank outline and what you call 1967.
SA: We have maps and you have maps, but if you want an international commission to judge where the line is, this is a waste of time.
UD: We want to reach an agreement between us. We don’t need the international community to tell us what to do.
SA: We cannot take the line you created.
UD: It’s not created, it is used in our agreements with you in Oslo. It’s based on this line [“WB outline”]
NF: The Interim Agreement has no line. It just shows Areas A and B.
UD: But the percentage of the areas are calculated according to that line.
NF: That still does not mean that we accept that line. [Jerry’s Comment: In fact, the Israeli line could not have been accepted by the PA because that would have ipso facto meant reinquishing claims to East Jerusalem. So an Israeli line that was given status as an interim line, much to the detriment of the Palestinians, was now being claimed as the base line on which negotations for final borders would be made.] I can draw 100 different lines and still get the same areas; that is not a standard.
UD: Let’s check the line you have and what we have. If it’s 90% the same, we can work on the rest…
SA: but we used this line in Camp David and Taba, so why restart the discussion?
UD: I’m trying to change the language between us, to create a soft language between us. We don’t want to fight over symbols; we’d like to create a new approach. If we use symbols, it will be very difficult for you, and for us. We’d like to have a new approach—not looking at maps signed by Moshe Dayan and Jordanians in the 1950s.
SA: We also want to be creative and have an open mind to make an agreement acceptable. But you cannot impose on me facts on the ground that you created and say this is the starting point. These facts on the ground caused lots of problems for us. We want to be creative
Richard Burden MP
CHAIR, BRITAIN-PALESTINE PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
24 January 2011 | For immediate release
Contact: Duncan Sinclair +44 (0)20 7219 2318
Chair of Palestine parliamentary group responds to publication of leaked ‘Palestine Papers’
More than 1,600 internal documents recording the details of Middle East peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine have been published by Al Jazeera and the Guardian.
Responding to the news reports Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, said:
‘Today’s news reports in Al Jazeera and the Guardian have sent shock waves around the world. Some Palestinian leaders have already challenged some of the claims that have been made and, like most other people, I am in no position to know how far the “Palestine Papers” give a comprehensive picture of what has gone on during meetings between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
‘However, even the most sceptical reader must conclude that the papers blow a huge hole in Israel’s claims that, in the Palestinians, they don’t have a partner for peace. Nor can they continue to say that the Palestinians have been unwilling to compromise on key issues in order to achieve peace. The papers also reveal persistent intransigence and arrogance on the Israeli side and an unwillingness by the international community to do anything about it.
‘Tensions were already growing across the Middle East before today’s news and it will not necessarily take much to spark a chain reaction that could have serious consequence for the region and for the wider world. It is understandable that anger is widespread in Palestine today. But I would urge the different Palestinian political parties to remember that reconciliation between them is as important today to securing justice for the Palestinian people as it was yesterday.
‘Likewise it is time for Israel to recognise that peace will never come from denying Palestine the rights it demands for its own people, and to act accordingly.
‘And there is a clear message here for the international community – including our own government, the EU and the USA. Warm words about peace processes mean very little when illegal settlement building in the West Bank undermines any realistic prospect of achieving a viable two state solution, when Gaza remains a giant prison for over one and a quarter million people and when Israel’s laws towards its own Palestinian citizens and those living the West Bank increasingly take on the character of Apartheid.
‘If we are serious about upholding human rights and achieving the lasting peace that is vital for global security, Israel is no more above international law than any other country. Here in the EU, we should use the leverage our own trade agreements with Israel to ensure they understand that there are consequences to their actions.’
− ENDS −
Duncan Sinclair: +44 (0)20 7219 2318 / +44 (0)7837 257 001 /
But where do we go from there?
“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.” Karma Nabulsi
The Palestine Papers will shake a lot of things loose. How they re-assemble is now the crucial question. One Democracy looks at some of the immediate effects of the Palestine Papers and proposes a 5-Step Plan to reconstitute a Palestinian leadership and decide on its direction.
“The world must not abandon the refugees of Palestine, nor attempt to coerce their representatives to do so.” (Saeb Erakat, in public, 2010)
“I never said the diaspora will vote. It’s not going to happen. Palestinians need to know that five or six million will not go back.” (Saeb Erekat, in private, 2007)
Abbas, instead of abandoning armed struggle in favour of unarmed struggle, civil disobedience, boycotts etc, abandoned armed struggle in favour of total reliance on the Americans for their help, and doing everything he could to prove how respectable and obedient he could be.
He had just one idea. He set out to disprove Israel’s claim that they had “no partner for peace”. Finally it came to it that they treated him with such contempt that they didn’t even open his latest abject offer. He was just about to go public with it when Al Jazeera’s Palestine Papers blew him out of the water.
His other idea, to declare a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and have it recognised, is looking pretty sick too. The Russians and South Americans, who have offered to stand with them on this, aren’t going to be overjoyed to find that Erekat, Qurei and Abbas were only “standing on this principle” because they had already failed to sell it out to Israel. Little wonder that they are back-pedalling furiously on the offers they made, and insisting that it would never cross their minds to sell a single inch of the sacred land in exchange for a state.
The sight of Palestinian leaders bowing, scraping and grovelling and being royally pissed on by Israel (including war criminal Tsipi Livni and convicted common criminal Ehud Olmert) is demeaning and shameful. This comes as no surprise to Palestinians and activists, but the devil is in the graphic detail and the actual words. The PLO has been well exposed in the eyes of those it supposedly represents.
But also, Israel’s credibility has taken another tumble as its line of “having no partner for peace” is shown to be a monumental lie. This will open a lot of doors. There’s speculation that UNSC may actually pass the PLO’s resolution affirming the illegality of Israel’s West Bank settlements. That in turn means BDS is going to go places it couldn’t dream of this time last year: we may even be looking at official government-level sanctions.
Livni’s clear racism (“I would like to emphasise”) of disowning Israel’s 20% non-Jewish minority as “not its people” will also shock, and accelerate the growing repugnance of many of its trusted allies and its Jewish outriders abroad. There is no difference in principle between her demographically re-drawn borders and those of Avigdor Lieberman, so we needn’t bother hoping that a different coalition will change anything in the Knesset.
“Some of us Palestinians” said a Comment in the Guardian “have longed for a breaking point moment when things would finally tip over the edge, let’s hope this is it and the dam that has held back our popular will and freedom so long breaks forth.” The sense of such a breakthrough in and of itself could be a powerful tonic for all those under Israel’s cosh.
Never again should secret talks and deals by unelected non-representatives happen, let alone receive the fanfare of approval. From this point on, negotiators will be looking over their shoulders. That is a tremendous change. It’s hard to imagine a new set of secret talks starting up, unless the very fact that they are happening at all is kept secret.
Not only was the talking morally and politically wrong, but it did a lot to advance Israel’s facts on the ground. The PLO protests that none of the documents represents an agreement, so no damage was done. Of course nothing was signed. But they went in, time and time again, and revealed their bottom line. As The Guardian put it, “Tsipi Livni refuses the offer; Israel banks the concessions anyway.” Settlements didn’t hold up talks: the talks enabled and fuelled the settlements. Abbas shows the land he is ready to give, and Israel then builds on it.
When Livni said “we never accepted the 1967 borders” no-one, least of all the American referee, jumped up and said “hey, you signed a Treaty for those borders in 1949. Is this what your signature is worth?”. And why didn’t the PLO respond: “we don’t like the 1967 borders either, so how about going back to the country as it was in 1947?”
“The unconstrained power of America, the global superpower that has (now on record and in sickening detail) taken one party’s side in this conflict, can be seen on every page. … This uneven balance of power can only be successfully addressed in the same way every national liberation movement has addressed it in the past: through the unassailable strength of a popular mandate.” Karma Nabulsi, Guardian
Regardless of the personalities, intentions, personal qualities and abilities of the Palestinian negotiators, this could never have worked, and given the circumstances it’s hard to imagine even a simple village dispute or Town Hall decision on litter bins being conducted with such standards.
♦ The negotiators were detached from those they were trying to represent; they did not report back to them but to Arab heads of state under conditions of secrecy (until now).
♦ They were even further detached from the diaspora Palestinians whose fate they had taken into their hands, and the 1.4 million Israeli Palestinians whose present citizenship status they were gambling with.
♦ They had a conflict of interest as not only their own salaries but those of the entire public workforce of the West Bank was paid for by the USA/Quartet, the very people who were holding the ring.
♦ They had been deprived of the best weapons they had, i.e. international law. Without referencing international law, the disparities of power between the two sides were completely unbridgeable.
♦ The ringmasters on whom the negotiators relied for some fairness were themselves openly bound to the Israeli side by policy, cultural inclination, history, and vice-like electoral pressures that are only ever slightly alleviated during the last two years of a president’s second term.
♦ Negotiations on Jerusalem were impossible as Israel claimed it to be non-negotiable; negotiations on borders were impossible as Israel denied the very existence of a border pre-1967 and demanded a new border be determined by “facts on the ground”: facts put there by them as negotiating positions.
♦ The PLO were wrong to continue not only the negotiations but all their commercial and security relationships with Israel as long as it continued to colonise, kill, maim, steal and vandalise, control and bully and imprison their land and people.
♦ They had mistakenly fallen into the trap laid by Israel, of thinking they had to demonstrate how flexible and amenable they were, instead of sticking to the clear public policy of the PLO.
♦ They were wrong to enter these negotiations at all — given the grossly unequal forces and the clear hostility to peace or justice on the Israeli side, and that the negotiations were intended to set the seal of legality on what Israel had taken by armed force.
♦ Even if it was a level playing field and the referee wasn’t batting for the other side, the entire game was wrong: even the best available Two State result would not bring unity, justice or security to the vast majority of the Palestinian people in Israel, in East Jerusalem, in Gaza and in the camps, and very little chance of a better daily life in the fragments of the West Bank. The Palestinians’ sense of shock and betrayal reveals that whereas their own state may have been an enticing prospect, the price-tag was always far too high for them to agree. It shows that the Two State deal as envisaged by the “international consensus” for the past 20 years was never going to get the people’s vote.
PLO leader Nabil Sha’ath went on Al Jazeera to cover the retreat from negotiations with talk of switching to popular struggle, and promised that the Diaspora would have a vote on the outcome: an easy promise, now that there won’t be an outcome.
But how can the PLO, as it now is, have any part to play in the resistance? The old poachers are now well-paid gamekeepers, who head up a repressive regime framed by “the classic components of counter-insurgency”.
Arbitrary arrest of political opponents is rife (10,000 Hamas supporters arrested since 2007), public sector jobs go to the regime’s yes-men, informants and spies are everywhere, every Imam, teacher and policeman is vetted for loyalty to Fatah, and financial and political dealings are all unaccountable. Under cover of “postponed elections” they are designing new structures to concentrate power: Abbas himself as PLO president already has the power to replace the current members of leadership bodies. The Palestine Papers contain dark and shocking details of this too, as also of complicity over the Gaza Cast Lead massacre.
Before the rot sets in any further, the PA — an offspring of Oslo set up not to further the struggle but to control it pending a two state deal — has to be taken apart. The following steps need to be taken now to put the Palestinian house in order:
1. Create a registered electorate of all Palestinians. The Palestine Lands Society has started on this, and it can be authenticated with UN help.
2. This should elect an international Palestinian Assembly, with recognised caucuses to ensure that each regional component has its own voice.
3. Recreate the PA’s police force as a people’s militia, based in the towns and villages and accountable to the people there, to defend the communities and their struggle against marauding settlers and attacks by the IDF. Free the political prisoners.
4. Finance this with unconditional contributions from the 100+ countries that have recognised Palestine, and the $1 billion+ slush fund retrieved from the Arafat period. No single patron should call the shots.
5. Have a referendum as to whether to press on with the Two State plan or to demand equality and civil rights within the whole land of Palestine, and then formulate the appropriate demands to achieve the chosen goal, and build a mass movement that can win it.
If the PLO wants to redeem its legacy to the Palestinian people, it can help to get these things done. If it doesn’t, it should not stand in the way. In the words of Beirut activist Tarek Kishami speaking to Al Jazeera, “The PLO should pack up and go, and let the Palestinians liberate their land”.
The leaked papers published by Al Jazeera show how craven Palestinian leaders are and how willing they were to sell out their people’s rights. Yet all they had to offer wasn’t enough for Israel.
Saree Makdisi, 27 January 2011
Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA. He is the author of, among other books, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.
A massive archive of documents leaked to Al Jazeera and Britain‘s Guardian newspaper offers irrefutable proof that years of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been an empty sham. The papers make clear that the time has come for Palestinians and anyone interested in the cause of justice to abandon the charade of official diplomacy and pursue other, more creative and nonviolent paths toward the realization of a genuine, just peace.
The leaked documents, assuming they are genuine — and both Al Jazeera and the Guardian say they have authenticated them — are behind-the-scenes notes from a decade of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. On issue after issue, they show Palestinian negotiators eager to concede ground, offering to give up much of Jerusalem, to accept Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, to collaborate with Israeli occupation forces in suppressing dissent in the occupied territories — including killing fellow Palestinians — and even to forgo the right of return for most Palestinians driven from their homes by Israel in 1948.
The papers give the lie to Israel’s claim that it yearns for peace but lacks a Palestinian “partner.” And they reinforce the sense that Israel has gone along with these negotiations only to buy time to expropriate more Palestinian land, demolish more Palestinian homes, expel more Palestinian families and build more colonies for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers in militarily occupied territory, thereby cementing new realities on the ground that would make a Palestinian state a geophysical impossibility.
Anyone who doubts this has only to skim through the leaked papers, which show Israel spurning one gaping Palestinian concession after another. And this was Israel not under Benjamin Netanyahu but under the supposedly more liberal Ehud Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who claimed they were committed to the peace process. In shameless abjection, the Palestinian negotiators prostrated themselves and surrendered essentially every major objective for which their people have struggled and sacrificed for 60 years, only for the imperious Israelis to say again and again, no, no, no.
Clearly, all that the Palestinians have to offer is not enough for Israel.
The major revelation from the documents, indeed, is the illustration they furnish of just how far the Palestinian negotiators were willing to go to placate Israel.
Men like Saeb Erekat, Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei — the lead Palestinian negotiators in all these years — are of a type that has come forth in every colonial conflict of the modern age. Faced with the overwhelming brute power with which colonial states have always sought to break the will of indigenous peoples, they inhabit the craven weakness that the situation seems to dictate. Convinced that colonialism cannot be defeated, they seek to carve out some petty managerial role within it from which they might benefit, even if at the expense of their people.
These men, we must remember, were not elected to negotiate an agreement with Israel. They have no legitimacy, offer zero credibility and can make no real claim to represent the views of Palestinians.
And yet they were apparently willing to bargain away the right that stands at the very heart of the Palestinian struggle, a right that is not theirs to surrender — the right of return of Palestinians to the homes from which they were forced during the creation of Israel in 1948 — by accepting Israel’s insistence that only a token few thousand refugees should be allowed to return, and that the millions of others should simply go away (or, as we now learn that the U.S. suggested, accept being shipped away like so much lost chattel to South America).
The documents also show Palestinian negotiators willing to betray the Palestinians inside Israel by agreeing to Israel’s definition of itself as a Jewish state, knowing that that would doom Israel’s non-Jewish Palestinian minority — the reviled “Israeli Arabs” who constitute 20% of the state’s population — not merely to the institutionalized racism they already face but to the prospect of further ethnic cleansing (the papers reveal that Livni repeatedly raised the idea that land inhabited by portions of Israel’s Palestinian population should be “transferred” to a future Palestinian state).
All this was offered in pursuit of a “state” that would exist in bits and pieces, with no true sovereignty, no control over its own borders or water or airspace — albeit a “state” that it would, naturally, be their job to run.
And all this was contemptuously turned down by the allegedly peace-seeking Israeli government, with the connivance of the United States, to whom the Palestinians kept plaintively appealing as an honest broker, even as it became clearer than ever that it is anything but.
What these documents prove is that diplomatic negotiations between abject Palestinians and recalcitrant Israelis enjoying the unlimited and unquestioning support of the U.S. will never yield peace. No agreement these callow men sign would be accepted by the Palestinian people.
Fortunately, most Palestinians are not as broken and hopeless as these so-called leaders. Every single day, millions of ordinary Palestinian men, women and children resist the dictates of Israeli power, if only by refusing to give up and go away — by going to school, by farming their crops, by tending their olive groves.
Refusing the dictates of brute power and realpolitik to which their so-called leaders have surrendered, the Palestinian people have already developed a new strategy that, turning the tables on Israel, transmutes every Israeli strength into a form of weakness. Faced with tanks, they turn to symbolic forms of protest that cannot be destroyed; faced with brutality, they demand justice; faced with apartheid, they demand equality. The Palestinians have learned the lessons of Soweto, and they have unleashed a simultaneously local and global campaign of protests and calls for boycotts and sanctions that offers the only hope of bringing Israelis — like their Afrikaner predecessors — to their senses.
US position on borders perhaps opens the door to dangerous Israeli ambitions to transfer non-Jewish citizens.
Ali Abunimah Last Modified: 24 Jan 2011 19:42 GMT
One of the more astonishing revelations in The Palestine Papers — detailed records and minutes of the Middle East peace process leaked to Al Jazeera — is that the administration of US President Barack Obama effectively repudiated the Road Map, which has formed the basis of the “peace process” since 2003. In doing so it has backed away even from commitments made by the George W. Bush administration and blown an irreparable hole in the already threadbare “two-state solution.”
But even worse, the US position perhaps unwittingly opens the door to dangerous Israeli ambitions to transfer — or ethnically cleanse — non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel in order to create an ethnically pure “Jewish state.”
Shortly after it took office in January 2009, the Obama administration publicly called on Israel to freeze all settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. After months of grueling shuttle diplomacy by US envoy George Mitchell, Obama eventually made do with an Israeli promise of a ten-month partial settlement moratorium excluding Jerusalem.
While those talks were ongoing, frustrated Palestinian negotiators tried repeatedly to wrestle a commitment from Mitchell that the terms of reference for US-brokered peace negotiations that were to begin once the settlement moratorium was in place would be for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 line with minor, agreed land swaps between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. This, the Palestinians argued, was the position the Bush administration had endorsed and was contained in the Road Map peace plan adopted by the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN) in 2003.
But in apparently contentious meetings between Mitchell and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and their respective teams in September and October 2009 — whose detailed contents have been revealed for the first time — Mitchell claimed the Bush administration position was nonbinding. He pressed the Palestinians to accept terms of reference that acquiesced to Israel’s refusal to recognize the 1967 line which separates Israel as it was established in 1948 from the West Bank and Gaza Strip where Palestinians hoped to have their state.
Dropping the 1967 border
On 23 September 2009, Obama told the UN General Assembly that his goal was for “Two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.”
In 2008, Israeli negotiators – including then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni – proposed “swapping” some of Israel’s Arab villages into a future Palestinian state, even though a vast majority of Israeli Arabs oppose such a plan.
But this did not satisfy the Palestinians. The next day during a meeting at the US Mission to the United Nations in New York, Erekat refused an American request to adopt Obama’s speech as the terms of reference for negotiations. Erekat asked Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale why the Obama administration would not explicitly state that the intended outcome of negotiations would be a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with a third party security role and a staged Israeli withdrawal. Hale responded, “You ask why? How would it help you if we state something so specific and then not be able to deliver?” according to Palestinian minutes of the meeting.
At the same meeting, which Mitchell himself later joined, Erekat challenged the US envoy on how Obama could publicly endorse Israel as a “Jewish state” but not commit to the 1967 borders. Mitchell, according to the minutes, told Erekat “You can’t negotiate detailed ToRs [terms of reference for the negotiations]” so the Palestinians might as well be “positive” and proceed directly to negotiations. Erekat viewed Mitchell’s position as a US abandonment of the Road Map.
On 2 October 2009 Mitchell met with Erekat at the State Department and again attempted to persuade the Palestinian team to return to negotiations. Despite Erekat’s entreaties that the US should stand by its earlier positions, Mitchell responded, “If you think Obama will force the option you’ve described, you are seriously misreading him. I am begging you to take this opportunity.”
Erekat replied, according to the minutes, “All I ask is to say two states on 67 border with agreed modifications. This protects me against Israeli greed and land grab – it allows Israel to keep some realities on the ground” (a reference to Palestinian willingness to allow Israel to annex some West Bank settlements as part of minor land swaps). Erekat argued that this position had been explicitly endorsed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice under the Bush administration.
“Again I tell you that President Obama does not accept prior decisions by Bush. Don’t use this because it can hurt you. Countries are bound by agreements – not discussions or statements,” Mitchell reportedly said.
The US envoy was firm that if the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not agree to language in the terms of reference the US would not try to force it. Yet Mitchell continued to pressure the Palestinian side to adopt formulas the Palestinians feared would give Israel leeway to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank without providing any compensation.
At a critical 21 October 2009 meeting, Mitchell read out proposed language for terms of reference:
“The US believes that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that achieves both the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state encompassing all the territory occupied in 1967 or its equivalent in value, and the Israeli goal of secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meets Israeli security requirements.”
Erekat’s response was blunt: “So no Road Map?” The implication of the words “or equivalent in value” is that the US would only commit to Palestinians receiving a specific amount of territory — 6258 square kilometers, or the equivalent area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — but not to any specific borders.
“Two states for two peoples”
This is an earthquake. It not only up-ends the two-state solution as it is conventionally understood, but opens the door to possible future American acceptance of Israeli aspirations to create an ethnically-pure Jewish state by “exchanging” territories where many of Israel’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens are concentrated. This would be a violation of these Palestinians’ most fundamental rights and a repudiation of the universally-accepted self-determination principles established at the Versailles Conference after World War I. It potentially replaces the two-state solution with what Israeli officials call the “two states for two peoples solution.”
Then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni elaborated what this would look like during a November 13, 2007 negotiating session with Palestinian officials, confidential minutes of which were also revealed among The Palestine Papers:
“Our idea is to refer to two states for two peoples. Or two nation states, Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security with each state constituting the homeland for its people and the fulfillment of their national aspirations and self determination.”
Livni stressed, “Israel [is] the state of the Jewish people — and I would like to emphasize the meaning of ‘its people’ is the Jewish people — with Jerusalem the united and undivided capital of Israel and of the Jewish people for 3007 years.”
Livni thus makes clear that only Jews are guaranteed citizenship in Israel and that Palestinian citizens do not really belong even though they are natives who have lived on the land since before Israel existed. It negates Palestinian refugee rights and raises the spectre of the expulsion or “exchange” of Palestinians already in the country. Yet Livni’s troubling statement appears to reflect more than just her personal opinion.
A 29 October 2008 internal Palestinian memorandum titled “Progress Report on Territory Negotiations” states that Palestinian negotiators rejected the notion that Palestinians could be included in land swaps. But, according to the document, “the Israelis continued to raise the prospect of including Palestinian citizens of Israel” in such swaps, during negotiations between Palestinian officials and the government of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In September last year, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented a plan the UN General Assembly in which Israel would keep West Bank settlements and cede to a future Palestinian state some lands with highly concentrated populations of non-Jewish citizens. “A final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians,” Lieberman said, “has to be based on a program of exchange of territory and populations.”
While Lieberman heads the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, and Livni the Kadima opposition (often inaccurately perceived as more “moderate” than Israel’s current government), the two politicians’ views are symptomatic of increasingly overt racism within Israeli society.
The Obama administration’s failure to press Israel to accept the international consensus that the Palestinian state would be established on all the territories Israel occupied in 1967, except for minor adjustments, dooms the two-state solution. It may well be that a US administration that came to office promising unparalleled efforts to bring peace, ends up clearing the path for Lieberman’s and Livni’s abhorrent ideas to enter the mainstream.
This is not only catastrophic for Palestinian rights and the prospects for justice, but represents a return to nineteenth century notions, banished in the wake of two world wars, that population groups can be traded between states without their consent as if they were mere pieces on a chess board.
Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to the newly-released book The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict. He is a co-founder of the widely read online publication The Electronic Intifada, an award-winning online publication about Palestine and the Palestine conflict. He has written hundreds of articles on the question of Palestine for publications all over the world, including Al Jazeera.
Uri Avnery, 29 January 2011
I ALWAYS thought this a specifically Israeli trait: whenever a scandal of national proportions breaks out, we ignore the crucial issues and focus our attention on some secondary detail. This spares us having to face the real problems and making painful decisions.
There are examples galore. The classic one centered on the question: “Who Gave the Order?” When it became known that in 1954 an Israeli spy ring had been ordered to plant bombs in US and British institutions in Egypt, in order to sabotage the effort to improve relations between the West and Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, a huge crisis rocked Israel. Almost nobody asked whether the idea itself had been wise or stupid. Almost nobody asked whether it was really in the best interest of Israel to challenge the new and vigorous Egyptian leader, who was fast becoming the idol of the entire Arab world (and who had already secretly indicated that he could possibly make peace with Israel).
No, the question was solely: Who had given the order? The Minister of Defense, Pinhas Lavon, or the chief of military intelligence, Binyamin Gibli? This question rocked the nation, brought down the government and induced David Ben-Gurion to leave the Labor Party.
Recently, the Turkish flotilla scandal centered around the question: was it a good idea for commandos to slide down ropes onto the ship, or should another form of attack have been adopted? Almost nobody asked: should Gaza have been blockaded in the first place? Wasn’t it smarter to start talking with Hamas? Was it a good idea to attack a Turkish ship on the high sees?
It seems that this particular Israeli way of dealing with problems is infectious. In this respect (too), our neighbors are starting to resemble us.
THE ALJAZEERA TV network followed WikiLeaks’ example this week by publishing a pile of secret Palestinian documents. They paint a detailed picture of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, especially during the time of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when the gap between the parties became much smaller.
In the Arab world, this caused a huge stir. Even while the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia was still in full swing, and masses of people in Egypt were confronting the Mubarak regime, the Aljazeera leaks stirred up an intense controversy.
But what was the clash about? Not about the position of the Palestinian negotiators, not about the strategy of Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues, its basic assumptions, its pros and cons.
No, in the Israeli way, the main question was: who leaked the documents? Who is lurking in the shadows behind the whistle-blowers? The CIA? The Mossad? What were their sinister motives?
On Aljazeera, the Palestinian leaders were accused of treason and worse. In Ramallah, the Aljazeera offices were attacked by pro-Abbas crowds. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, declared that Aljazeera was actually calling for his murder. He and others denied that they had ever made the concessions indicated in the documents. They seemed to be saying in public that such concessions would amount to betrayal – though they agreed to them in secret.
All this is nonsense. Now that the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating positions have been made public – and nobody seriously denied their authenticity – the real discussion should be about their substance.
FOR ANYONE involved in any way with Israeli-Palestinian peace-making, there was nothing really surprising in these disclosures.
On the contrary, they showed that the Palestinian negotiators are adhering strictly to the guidelines laid down by Yasser Arafat.
I know this firsthand, because I had the opportunity to discuss them with Arafat himself. That was in 1992, after the election of Yitzhak Rabin. Rachel and I went to Tunis to meet “Abu Amar”, as he liked to be called. The high point of the visit was a meeting in which, besides Arafat himself, several Palestinian leaders took part – among them Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Abed-Rabbo.
All were intensely curious about the personality of Rabin, whom I knew well, and questioned me closely about him. My remark that “Rabin is as honest as a politician can be” was greeted with general laughter, most of all from Arafat.
But the main part of the meeting was devoted to a review of the key problems of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The borders, Jerusalem, security, the refugees etc, which are now generally referred to as the “core issues”.
Arafat and the others discussed it from the Palestinian point of view. I tried to convey what – in my opinion – Rabin could possible agree to. What emerged was a kind of skeleton peace agreement.
Back in Israel, I met with Rabin at his private home on a Shabbat, in the presence of his assistant Eitan Haber, and tried to tell him what had transpired. Rather to my surprise, Rabin evaded all serious discussion. He was already thinking about Oslo.
A few years later, Gush Shalom published a detailed draft peace agreement. It was based on knowledge of the Palestinian position as disclosed in Tunis. As anyone can see on our website, it was very similar to the recent proposals of the Palestinian side as disclosed in the Aljazeera papers.
THESE ARE roughly as follows:
The borders will be based on the 1967 lines, with some minimal swaps of territory which would join to Israel the big settlements immediately adjacent to the Green Line. These do not include the big settlements that jut deep into the West Bank, cutting the territory into pieces, such as Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel.
All the settlements in what will become the State of Palestine will have to be evacuated. According to the papers, one of the Palestinians opened another option: that the settlers remain where they are and become Palestinian citizens. Tzipi Livni – then Foreign Minister – immediately objected, saying bluntly that all of them would be murdered. I agree that it would not be a good idea – it would cause endless friction, since these settlers sit on Palestinian land, either Palestinian private property or the land reserves of the towns and villages.
About Jerusalem, the solution would be as phrased by President Bill Clinton: What is Arab will go to Palestine, what is Jewish will be joined to Israel. This is a huge Palestinian concession, but a wise one. I was glad that they did not agree to apply this rule to Har Homa, the monstrous settlement built on what was once a beautiful wooded hill, where I spent many days and nights (and almost lost my life) in protests against its construction.
About the refugees, it is clear to any reasonable person that there will not be a mass return of millions, which would turn Israel into something else. This is a very bitter (and unjust) pill for the Palestinians to swallow – but which any Palestinian who really desires a two-state solution must accept. The question is: how many refugees will be allowed back to Israel as a healing gesture? The Palestinians proposed 100,000. Olmert proposed 5,000. That’s a big difference – but once we start to haggle about numbers, a solution can be found.
The Palestinians want an international force to be stationed in the West Bank, safeguarding their own and Israel’s security. I don’t remember if Arafat mentioned this to me, but I am sure that he would have agreed.
This, then, is the Palestinian peace plan – and it has not changed since Arafat came, in late 1973, to the conclusion that the two-state solution was the only viable one. The fact that Olmert and Co. did not jump to accept these terms, instead launching the deadly Cast Lead operation, speaks for itself.
THE ALJAZEERA disclosures are inopportune. Such delicate negotiations are better conducted in secret. The idea that “the people should be part of the negotiations” is naïve. The people should certainly be consulted, but not before a draft agreement lies on the table and they can decide whether they like the whole bundle or not. Before that, disclosures will only whip up a demagogic cacophony of accusations of treason (on both sides), like what is happening now.
For the Israeli peace camp, the disclosures are a blessing. They prove, as Gush Shalom put it yesterday in its weekly statement, that “We have a partner for peace. The Palestinians have no partner for peace.”