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24 January 2011

The Palestinian Papers: responses

Today sees the biggest leak ever of confidential documents on the Middle East peace process. What do

By Samira Shackle

What has been revealed?

A huge leak of confidential documents, obtained by al-Jazeera and the Guardian, has revealed details of ten years of Middle East peace negotiations. The revelations, to be published in instalments staggered over this week, will destabilise the already weakened Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Mahmoud Abbas.

The papers show that:

– The PA privately suggested serious concessions on the flashpoint issue of settlements, including conceding much of East Jerusalem in return for land elsewhere. Saeb Erekat, the main negotiatior, said that the offer gave Israel “the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew name for Jerusalem] in history”. The settlements are illegal under international law.

– They also proposed a joint committee to take over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, another painful issue, which played a part in ending the Camp David talks in 2000.

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– Negotiators were willing to discuss limiting the number of Palestinian refugees returning to 100,000 over ten years. The right of return has historically been a core Palestinian demand.

The rest of the papers, to be revealed in the coming weeks, reportedly reveal intimate contact between the PA and the Israeli security forces – and that leaders were tipped off about the 2008/2009 assault on Gaza. They will also show that Britain was involved in a plan to undermine Hamas.

What do the papers say?

In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland notes that the language used by Palestinian negotiators will bring national humilation and strengthen Hamas. It will also make Israel look bad internationally.

The documents blow apart what has been a staple of Israeli public diplomacy: the claim that there is no Palestinian partner. That theme, a refrain of Israeli spokesmen on and off for years, is undone by transcripts which show that there is not only a Palestinian partner but one more accommodating than will surely ever appear again.

In the same paper, the academic and former PLO representative Karma Nabulsi argues that the documents expose Palestinian leaders as corrupt and unaccountable – but that now, a process of renewal can begin.

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 . . .

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.

Over at al-Jazeera, Robert Grenier expresses sympathy for the Palestinian Authority’s negotiators, but suggests that the papers show that the two-state solution is all but over.

They show that over time the Palestinian leadership has embraced the task of policing their people with more than warranted enthusiasm. They reveal that, in committing themselves to a negotiating process, the Palestinian leadership has at times allowed the process to become a fetish, that it has at times agreed to refrain from advocating legitimately for their people’s rights in international forums, all to preserve the formal procedure which has become their raison d’être.

A Jerusalem Post editorial comments on the continuing deadlock around the two-state solution.

Unable to make peace among themselves, one wonders [sic] how the Palestinian people can possibly resolve its differences with the Jewish state.

A report from Barak Ravid in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz notes:

Israeli negotiators come across in the minutes as confident while US politicians seem dismissive toward Palestinian representatives . . .

PA leadership may have difficulty explaining the revelations to a public not ready to offer the same concessions.