The Palestine Papers: Chronicles of a death foretold

Amira Howeidy, Al-Ahram Weekly, Thursday 27 Jan 2011

Al-Jazeera’s release of 1,600 secret documents revealing unprecedented Palestinian concessions and Zionist expansionism has all but killed the peace process

Al Jazeera
Clinton, Rabin (Arafat (top, R) after the signing of the Israeli,after signing peace Oslo agreement 1993(Reuters)

What “sceptics” have said all along since the onset of the peace process two decades ago has now an abundance of evidence to support it: Palestinian-Israeli negotiations since Oslo in 1993 have seen nothing but escalating Palestinian concessions and the expansion of the Israeli occupation. There is no “two state solution” in sight.

In today’s balance of power, we are faced with the fact that a television station —the Doha-based Al-Jazeera channel, not Palestinians negotiators, resistance factions or even Israel —is the side that has drawn a line in the sand. By releasing a selection of 1,600 secret documents and minutes of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks from 2003 to 2010 on Sunday, Al-Jazeera mainly exposed the weakness of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and its concessions to and collaboration with the occupier Israel against its own people. The release has stripped it of any remaining legitimacy; one can say that Al-Jazeera morally assassinated the PA.

The documents, released by Al-Jazeera’s newly formed “Transparency Unit” and labelled “The Palestine Papers”, appear to have been leaked from a source or sources in the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) Negotiations Department. Al-Ahram Weekly was amongst a group of select experts and journalists who were invited by Al-Jazeera to study the documents and their findings in Doha prior to their release.

It is the first time since the start of the peace process that such an amount of minutes and records of negotiations have been made public. They are not, as Palestinian expert and historian Bashir Nafi, who was in charge of the documents, explains, to be equated to recent releases from WikiLeaks, which contained third-level confidential or secret content. The Palestine Papers document what players in peace talks from both sides are saying and doing behind closed doors over the span of a seven-year period in the 63-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict.

The revelations are startling, shocking and surprising although facts on the ground have long substantiated the claims of critics that this is exactly what has been going on in the talks. Now the minutes are available: powerful evidence that none can ignore. It changes everything.

The revelations

The documents show that the PA made unprecedented compromises on Haram Al-Sharif (the compound that contains Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, one outer wall of which —known as the Wailing Wall —is of significance to Jews); ceded the right of six million Palestinian refugees to return home (agreeing to the return of a limited quota of 10,000); offered to Israel the annexation of all settlements in East Jerusalem except Har Homa; agreed to land swaps that gave up precious Palestinian territory to Israel; supported Israel’s self-identification as a “Jewish state”; cooperated with Israel against the Palestinian resistance, especially Hamas; made efforts to help the Iranian opposition (the minutes revealed that PA chairman Abbas convinced a Palestinian businessman to give Iranian opposition leader Hussein Mousavi $50m to fund his radio station); and pursued negotiations for the sake of its political survival.

The documents also expose the extent of the Israeli side’s disrespect for international law; their openly declared efforts to create a pure Jewish state; their refusal to commit to peace agreements signed with the Palestinians; the use of negotiations to pursue ethnic cleansing of Israel’s Arab population; admissions that their policy of building settlements on occupied Palestinian territory is to make the establishment of a viable Palestinians state impossible; and illustrates their commitment to Zionist expansionism. Further, the documents demonstrate how the US —the supposed “honest” broker of the peace process —pressured the Palestinians to resume futile negotiations.

Flawed peace process

While the above paints a dim picture of the peace process compared to 10 years ago, it is only because of the continuation of talks based on the already flawed Oslo process, which never guaranteed the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, the return of refugees, the dismantling of illegal Israeli settlements or Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders. This is why what the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected in Camp David 2000 —which included dividing the sovereignty of East Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians —was proposed, eight years later, by a weaker and more compromising Palestinian Authority to Israel.

The minutes reveal that Palestinian negotiators offered Israel a map during negotiations on 4 May 2008 that allowed Israel to annex illegal East Jerusalem settlements in a land swap bid of 1.9%, but then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the map did not meet Israeli “demands”.Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei put it bluntly on 15 June 2008 to Israeli and US negotiators: “We proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa). This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so in Camp David.”

In the words of Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat two weeks later: “It is no secret that on the map we proposed we are offering you the biggest ‘Yerushalayim’ in history.”

A year later, Erekat indicated in a meeting with US Envoy George Mitchell on 27 February 2009 that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas seemed approving of an offer then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made to him which exceeded the Palestinians’ initial 1.9 per cent proposal. “When Olmert spoke of 6.5 per cent in exchange for 5.8 [per cent], and Abu Mazen (Abbas) agreed to swaps in East Jerusalem, this is significant,” he said. No official agreement was ever made on land swaps, but Israel’s settlement expansion deep into the West Bank, in what’s supposed to be a future Palestinian state, has already carved part of the “Jewish” state’s borders.

The minutes also expose how the Obama administration fully supports Israel’s refusal to recognise 1967 borders as a baseline for negotiations, contrary to the Bush administration’s policy. Instead, US Envoy George Mitchell explicitly told Erekat that the Bush administration’s reference to the 1967 borders was “not legally binding”. This strengthens Israel’s expansionist plans. Livni is repeatedly quoted in the minutes saying the Israelis “never” accepted the 1967 borders.

It becomes clear from the extended minutes on Livni that while the Palestinians are talking about a “two state solution” the Israelis refer to two states for two peoples: one is for the “Jewish people —with Jerusalem the united and undivided capital of Israel and of the Jewish people for 3007 years,” and Palestine “for the Palestinian people. We did not want to say that there is a ‘Palestinian people’ but we’ve accepted your right to self-determination,” in the words of Livni (13 November 2007).

This formula kills the two-state solution and paves the way for the creation of a Zionist state with borders that envelope settlements deep into occupied Palestinian territory and omit Arab villages on the 1967 line. What remains for a Palestinian state is an archipelago of a portion of the West Bank and Gaza, and perhaps symbolic custodianship of Haram Al-Sharif. The Palestine Papers show a weak and desperate Palestinian leadership that accepts this and more. Qurei is quoted discussing the resettling of millions of Palestinians refugees in their host Arab states (Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) after relinquishing their right to return. Palestinian negotiators also accepted a demilitarised state.

Further, the PA admits it is implicated in the killing of Palestinians as part of its role of maintaining Israel’s “security” in the West Bank. “We have had to kill Palestinians to establish one authority, one gun, and the rule of law. We continue to perform our obligations,” Erekat tells US diplomat David Hale on 17 September 2009.

The PA’s “obligations” turned the West Bank to a police state which Keith Dayton, head of the US Security Coordinators Team in Israel and the occupied territories, applauds in a meeting in June 2009. He tells Erekat that of the Palestinian “intelligence guys” in the West Bank, “the Israelis like them. They say they are giving as much as they are taking from them.” But —he adds —they’re “causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people.” Livni, meanwhile, is pleased that security in the West Bank is “more under control” because Israel is there and “the fact that we are working together” (31 March 2008).

The same spirit applies to cooperation against what Livni calls in the minutes (15 June 2008) “our common enemy”, Hamas. Israel’s “strategic view”, she tells Qurei in April 2008, “is to strengthen you and weaken Hamas”. Erekat is quoted on 10 May 2006 as asking Dayton for guns and ammunition, “particularly with the situation in Gaza”. When Dayton replies saying he will raise this with the Israelis the following day, Erekat proposes the “need to re-establish security liaison with Israel. This is the best way to maintain security.”

Further evidence of a corrupt, weak and compromising PA is all over the Palestine Papers. The minutes tell us that time is up for the peace process and the two state solution. It might or might not be the end of the PA also. The PLO still exists, so does its legislative body, the Palestinian National Council, alongside growing calls for a one state solution.


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