January 25, 2010
Number 01/11 #06
Today’s Update focuses on the collection of alleged Palestinian documents being released by al-Jazeera and the Guardian which is currently in the news. While most of this Update will feature analysis of the significance of the revelations in the documents, it if first worthwhile pointing to some aspects of what the documents actually reportedly reveal which appear to being reported incorrectly, or incompletely:
- While the documents make it clear that the Palestinians were prepared to discuss dividing Jerusalem largely according to the 2000 Clinton parameters – with Arab neighbourhoods becoming part of Palestine and Jewish neighbourhoods part of Israel – they were not prepared to discuss land swaps for many of the settlement blocs beyond Jerusalem, as well as the Har Homa neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Such swaps have been a key part of virtually all serious peace proposals. Even swaps included in the unofficial “Geneva Initiative” peace plan, which PA President Mahmoud Abbas has endorsed, were rejected. (On this point see here, here and here)
- Furthermore, the Palestinians were demanding land swaps occur in the immediate vicinity of the territory they were giving up, meaning they wanted land in or near west Jerusalem – not elsewhere – in exchange for the Jewish neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem. (See here.)
- It is being reported that the Palestinians offered to recognise Israel as a “Jewish state.” This is not correct. Israel was not at the time asking for such recognition, and all that is reported from these documents is that Palestinian negotiators said they did not object if Israel called itself a Jewish state, not that they would recognise it as such. Mahmoud Abbas says the same thing today. (see here and here.)
- It is being reported that then-Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni proposed the transfer of some Arab Israelis to Palestinian rule. This is incomplete. Livni raised the issue of the problems created by certain villages which would be split if the old 1949 armistice lines became a border and raised making them part of land swaps as one solution. (see here and here).
- The documents do appear to show a Palestinian preparedness for genuine concessions on a Palestinian right of return, in terms of numbers (a deal for 10,000/year for ten years was discussed by Palestinian negotiators) and an acknowledgement of the impossibility for Israel of admitting millions of refugee descendants as traditionally demanded (see here and here). It is not clear if any compromise was proposed on another key sticking point on this issue – a Palestinian demand that Israel concede verbally a Palestinian “right of return” even while limiting numbers, which is viewed in Israel as almost certain to spark future conflict if agreed to.
- One thing not widely being reported about these documents is that they confirm the Israeli account of the offer made by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to the Palestinians in 2008 – the Palestinians to get more than 93% of the West Bank, land swaps for the rest, the Arab neighbourhoods and a capital in ast Jerusalem, a passage to Gaza and arrangements to share the holy areas in Jerusalem. (see here and a map allegedly of Israel’s proposal as drawn by Abbas is here )
Of course it is also worth keeping in mind that the authenticity or completeness of these documents is not known with certainty, the Palestinian Authority denies that they accurately represent its position and alleges some are forged or altered, and in any case, if the documents are real, they represent the views of one side and only present the exchange of hypothetical ideas at negotiating sessions, not actual proposals.
In terms of analysis of the documents overall, we lead with Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post, who notes that the documents are not WikiLeaks, which featured the views of neutral diplomats, but documents from one side to the conflict, and moreover, it is not clear if they have been edited to suit al-Jazeera‘s agenda. More importantly, he notes that there is not all that much that is surprising in the documents – the principal ones being Palestinian rejection of key settlements blocs as part of land swaps, and a proposal to leave their inhabitants inside a Palestinian state. Further, Keinon notes that the Palestinian Authority now needs to deny the concessions it reportedly made, and insist it will give not one inch, which bodes poorly for the future. For all of the details, CLICK HERE. Some other interesting overall analysis of the documents and their implications comes from Noah Pollack, Shmuel Rosner, Rick Richman, Evelyn Gordon, Barry Rubin and Jonathan Narvey.
Next up is someone in a particularly good position to evaluate the documents, former US government Middle East adviser Elliot Abrams, who participated in many of the meetings described in these documents. Abrams says he remembers some things differently from the descriptions in the documents, which poses some questions about their reliability. He goes on to make the following points: the documents will surprise few knowledgeable Israelis or Americans; what are being described as “offers” or “proposals” in the news coverage were generally much more like preliminary probes; the documents demonstrate the parties are still pretty far apart on the details of peace; he hopes the documents will open a Palestinian debate about the real concessions needed for peace. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, we bring you some context on al-Jazeera‘s role in this whole affair from Roee Nahmias, who reports on Arab affairs for Israel’s largest daily, Yediot Ahronot. Nahmias notes that al-Jazeera has used the documents to launch an all out media war on the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority – ambushing officials on TV, running story after story condemning their alleged concessions and attempting to stir up Palestinian street with man in the street interviews. He also notes that al-Jazeera, funded by the Qatar government, has long been more sympathetic to Hamas, and appears to be deliberately trying to benefit Hamas in this and other stories. For Nahmias’ full exposure of this important element of the PaliLeaks story, CLICK HERE. Agreeing with him about al-Jazeera‘s deliberate anti-PA agenda is Jerusalem Post Palestinian Affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh as well as PA spokesmen. Meanwhile, both analyst Emanuele Ottolenghi and British thinktanker Robin Shepherd note that the Guardian seems almost as outraged as al-Jazeera in its condemnation of the PA for compromising on settlements and east Jerusalem, while British writer Melanie Philips suggests its eagerness to condemn the PA may have lead the paper to misinterpret the documents.
Readers may also be interested in:
- PA President Mahmoud Abbas suggests that the al-Jazeera and Guardian stories may be presenting Israeli positions as Palestinian ones.
- Ami Issacharoff of Haaretz suggests Abbas and the PA may actually benefit from the leaks, despite the efforts of al-Jazeera.
- Speculation on the leaker of the documents is discussed here and here.
- Some Israeli political reactions to the document leak is discussed here, here and here.
- David Makovksy of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy has published an important new study which contains detailed maps of a number of proposals for land swaps which would allow Israel to annex West bank settlements housing most of the settlers, and compensate the Palestinians with equal amounts of arable land.
- Israel has released the first report of its Turkel Commission looking into the Gaza flotilla clash of May 31 last year – its key findings are summarised here. The key legal arguments it makes about the Israel blockade and the status of Gaza are discussed here.
- The Jerusalem Post admonishes the biases of those who insist the report must be a whitewash, despite the distinguished commissioners and the endorsement of two international observers.
By HERB KEINON
Jerusalem Post, 01/24/2011 20:56
• First, WikiLeaks it ain’t.
While many of the US diplomatic cables published on the WikiLeaks site were written by relatively objective US observers in capitals around the world, the PaliLeaks documents were written by a party to the negotiations – invested in the negotiations – who present a Palestinian perspective of events that transpired.
• It is not clear if, or how, the documents were edited.
With the WikiLeaks cables, one reads the entire US diplomatic cable, complete with all the diplomatic shorthand (like GOI for Government of Israel).
Here, the reader does not know exactly what kind of document one is reading – whether it is the full document, or if not, what has been left out.
Just as all knowledgeable media consumers know not to take what is reported on Al- Jazeera as eternal truth, but to strain it through layers of skepticism to filter out the network’s own agenda (the same is true, to a lesser extent, with the Guardian’s reporting on the Middle East), that same mechanism must kick in when analyzing these documents.
Why is Al-Jazeera releasing the documents? Which documents is it releasing? What is Qatar’s agenda? Remember, Al-Jazeera is funded by Qatar, which is quarreling with Saudi Arabia, trying to cover its bets with Iran, and known for its sympathy for Hamas. Qatar, and thereby Al-Jazeera, is not necessarily guided by a desire to see success in Israeli-PA negotiations.
• The Israeli public does not pay enough serious attention to what the Palestinians say.
One of the glaring elements in the documents has to do with the Palestinian position on Ma’aleh Adumim.
Since a parade of Israeli politicians, from Yossi Sarid and Yossi Beilin on the Left, to Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon in the Center, have said in the past that Ma’aleh Adumim will be part of Israel in any future agreement, there is a tendency among the Israeli public to believe that this is indeed what eventually will transpire.
Read these documents, however, and it becomes clear that this given – it even appeared in the Geneva Accords – is no given at all.
The Palestinians are adamantly opposed to Israel annexing Ma’aleh Adumim, as well as Ariel, and give no indication of softening that position.
This is a bit reminiscent of the rude awakening many Israelis had in 1993, after the Oslo Accords. Much of the public had convinced itself that there was no way in the world the Palestinians could really believe that under a peace agreement, the Palestinian refugees would be allowed back into Israel – only to wake up and find that, indeed, the Palestinians really believed that.
Not only did they believe it, but they were going to battle for it.
• There is not that much new there, though just a little.
After the dust settles, it will become apparent that there is nothing earth-shatteringly new in the documents. That the Palestinians were willing to let Israel annex the Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line, with the exception of Har Homa, is not new, nor a sign – whatever Al-Jazeera and the Guardian would have one believe – of unsurpassed flexibility.
This was discussed at Camp David, and enshrined in the Clinton parameter formula – that the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem would be under Israeli sovereignty, and the Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty.
It was part of the 2003 Geneva Accord, as well as one of the principles of the 2002 agreement drawn up by Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh.
If anything, the Palestinian demand in the documents for Har Homa is a step back from this benchmark.
Furthermore, that there was discussion regarding “a creative solution to the issue of the Holy Basin” should not been seen as a sign of great Palestinian elasticity, since everyone knows that ideas about this were discussed as far back as 2000 (if not earlier) by Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David.
One new element that emerged, or an element that the public might not be aware of, is a Palestinian willingness to let the settlements remain in a future Palestinian state, if the Jews living there agree to live under Palestinian sovereignty.
The default setting among Israelis when talking about a future agreement was that all settlements have to be evacuated and all Jews moved out, as was done in Sinai and Gaza.
But then one reads the documents and hears Ahmed Qurei saying the Jews can stay. That, for many, will seem new.
Will they be safe? That is a completely different question – which Tzipi Livni answers in the negative in the documents. But the PA is not – at least according to these documents – demanding a state totally free of Jews.
• The PA reaction shows we’re moving backward.
Rather than taking the publication of the documents and saying loudly and proudly that this shows a willingness to give up on maximalist Palestinian demands, the PA reaction was the complete opposite. It was to deny everything, and to say that the PA would not give in an inch.
And that’s a problem.
The documents, like WikiLeaks, show again the huge gap between what Arab leaders say in public and what they say in private. In the WikiLeaks documents, this was seen in how Arab leaders talked about Iran behind closed doors, compared to what they said in front of the microphones.
The same can be seen here.
In public it is “not one inch,” though in private the tone is somewhat different.
The PA had the chance Monday to say in public what it apparently said in private: that it was not cleaving to the last grain of sand.
But it failed the test – something that doesn’t bode well for the future.
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by Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relations,
Posted on Monday, January 24, 2011
Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert arrive at the Elysee Palace in Paris to meet with France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy on July 13, 2008 (Philippe Wojazer/Courtesy Reuters)
Al Jazeera and The Guardian newspaper are publishing what they claim are hundreds of previously secret Palestinian documents about Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in the latter Bush and Olmert years, especially 2007-2008. My first look at these documents, which cover a period when I was much involved in those negotiations, leads to three preliminary conclusions.
First, some of the papers seem inaccurate to me, going solely by memory. They put into people’s mouths words I do not recall them saying in meetings I attended. This is not shocking: written records of meetings can be inaccurate even when there’s a serious effort at accuracy. Moreover, Palestinian officials reviewing the documents after the meetings may have “improved” them, putting words in their own mouths (rather in the way our own members of Congress can “revise and extend” their remarks to improve them) or with less friendly objectives putting words in the mouths of others. Or, I may have missed parts of meetings or simply not be recalling accurately. But I would not take every one of these documents as necessarily 100% accurate.
Second, these negotiations over possible compromises will surprise no American and no Israeli. In the United States and in Israel there have been twenty years of discussions of the compromises needed for a final status agreement. This has not been the case among Palestinians, where the debate has been far less free. There are still constant calls among Palestinians and in Arab capitals for a complete return to the 1967 “borders,” which are in fact the 1949 armistice lines and to which there will never be a return. Palestinians may be surprised to learn that their negotiators understood this quite well and that the negotiations were actually about how far from the 1949 lines a final deal might go.
Third, what some newspapers are calling “offers” or “agreements” made in the 2007-2008 negotiations are far less than that–are in fact most often preliminary probes or efforts to smoke out the other side. The Israelis and Palestinians never reached an agreement and in many areas, as the papers so far published show, were very far apart. It is often said that “everyone knows what a final status agreement will look like” but these documents powerfully undermine that conclusion; a good example here is the Palestinian refusal to accept that Maale Adumim, a “settlement” with a population just short of 40,000 that is actually a suburb of Jerusalem, will remain part of Israel. It may be true that the range of options is limited, but the negotiators never concluded on agreement and the proposal made by then-prime minister Olmert in 2008 was not accepted.
The release of these “Palestine Papers” may be healthy. Anything that helps Palestinian public opinion move toward greater realism about the compromises needed for peace is useful. The impact on specific individuals is a different matter, one to be played out in the coming days.
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Arab network’s deliberate effort to weaken PA may end up provoking Palestinian revolution
Don’t underestimate al-Jazeera’s latest reports on the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The revelations made by the Qatari network Sunday and the ones that were expected to follow may exact a heavy price from both sides.
The live ambush prepared by the network to senior Palestinian Authority officials was not predicted by any of them. This was certainly the case for chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who found himself burned at the stake. Erekat, who was infuriated and speechless – not a small matter for such a skilled orator – saw excerpts of words he uttered, presented without offering any explanation or context.
PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abd Rabbo fiercely slams Qatari network for exposing papers documenting negotiations between PA, Israel. ‘Quotes said in ironic tone were presented as Palestinian answers,’ he says; calls for independent Palestinian body to investigate leak
The opening shot declared: “Erekat to Livni on June 30, 2008: We are offering you the largest Jerusalem in history.” It was followed by several spectacular headlines about supposed Palestinian concessions. No background information was provided and no explanation that the sides concurred earlier that “until we reach an agreement on everything, it’s as though we agreed on nothing.”
Meanwhile, in ambush-like coverage planned in advance, network reporters were deployed in the field. The Al-Jazeera correspondent in Lebanon was sent to the Burj al-Barajne refugee camp in order to elicit reactions to “the Palestinian renouncement of the right of return.” Meanwhile, several commentators in the studios were fuming, including the editor of the hawkishLondon-based al-Quds al-Arabi, Abdul Bari Atwan, a Palestinian who constantly slams senior PA officials.
“Who gave you the right, Saeb Erekat, to renounce Palestinian rights?” Atwan declared loudly. The chief negotiator attempted to defend himself in the short time allotted to him. “You didn’t tell me this was the theme of the show. We have nothing to hide,” he said. “You’re showing a map. I have the original map, here.” Yet to no avail. The message was sharp and clear: Senior Palestinian Authority officials “sold out Palestine” and gave up all the sacred principles.
Many people in the Middle East must have been infuriated over Sunday’s broadcast, for their own respective reasons. Some were mad about “selling off Palestine,” while others may have been outraged by the missed opportunity to secure an agreement. In any case, one should not be making light of al-Jazeera’s effort (and not for the first time) to present PA officials as willing collaborators with Israel, who sell off their people and make concessions behind closed doors. This was the case during Operation Cast Lead as well.
Now try to explain that “renouncing the settlements in east Jerusalem” is a notion presented by President Bill Clinton. As to the large settlement blocs, anyone who has ever spoken to a Palestinian who does not share Hamas’ views knows that these blocs will not constitute a problem, and will likely remain in Israel’s hands one way or another. The refugee issue is also expected to be resolved outside Israel’s borders.
Nonetheless, the overall package presented by the Qatar-based network was a resounding “You sold out Palestine.” When this message is conveyed to a Palestinian who lives in a Lebanon refugee camp, or worse than that, to a Palestinian living in a West Bank refugee camp, what can you expect them to feel?
The situation throughout the Middle East is volatile ever since the Tunisia upheaval. Arab rules are waiting for the dust to settle and for order to be restored. Yet precisely at this time, al-Jazeera arrived with its bombastic reports, which directly undermine the legitimacy of Palestinian Authority leaders, even if most of the “concessions” were already known in advance and thoroughly covered by the media before.
Such reports and claims, which have been repeated in various forms and more forcefully in recent years, are gradually weakening the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority. It is being portrayed as a weak, submissive, failed and corrupt entity, as opposed to Yasser Arafat’s era, for example. And when this is the impression created by the most popular network in the Arab world, can one assume this will not have future implications?
Even if the likelihood of this is slim at this time, we should take into account the possibility that ongoing erosion in legitimacy and image may one day provoke riots against the PA, or at least prompt a power struggle amongst its leaders, thereby dramatically toughening its positions.
If one day we see bloody riots in the West Bank similar to the ones we saw in Gaza, it would be worthwhile to go back to the latest al-Jazeera project. This is yet another step, and apparently a deliberate one, in weakening the PA, a move that one party stands to benefit from: The Hamas movement. It is for good reason that Hamas already uses the term “popular revolution” in its reports. And should such revolution indeed take place, heaven forbid, it won’t benefit Israel. This is some food for thought for those who are overjoyed by our neighbors’ troubles.