The “Palestine papers” leak

Posted: January 23, 2011 by Rex Brynen in peace process

Al-Jazeera and the Guardian have unveiled a treasure-trove of documents on the Middle East peace process, which—at first glance—appear to have been leaked from within the Negotiation Support Unit of the PLO. You can access the documents here and here and here.

To read or listen to the press coverage, the documents reveal in scandalous detail the lengths to which the Palestinians were willing to concede on publicly enunciated positions. Based on what has been published so far, however, the only folks who might be surprised are those who haven’t been paying attention the last 18+ years, and who haven’t the faintest sense of the political realities within which the Palestinian negotiating position is inevitably constrained (and will be so in the future). The Israelis aren’t about to offer the evacuation of settlements in East Jerusalem, nor the right of return to 4.7 million refugees. There is no feasible Palestinian negotiation (or resistance) strategy that is likely to get them to do so. That may be unjust, but bargaining is about getting what is obtainable, not holding out for the unobtainable.

Moreover, what is it the Palestinians are offering in the documents revealed so far? Pretty much the Clinton parameters/Geneva initiative positions that we all knew, or suspected, were where the sensible middle ground lay. Again, no real surprises (so far).

On the refugee issue, only one significant document appears to be leaked today, although there is the promise of more to come. This takes the form of a summary of Ehud Olmert’s “package offer” to Mahmud Abbas on 31 August 2008 (click on the image to see the full document):

Here there are certainly no revelations—these details (indeed, pretty much all the details) in the offer had already been reported. It should probably also be noted that this is the Israeli offer–which the Palestinians never accepted.

What will the effect of this be? At the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland comments:

The pessimistic view is that what little life remained in [the peace process] has now been punched out. On the Palestinian side these revelations are bound to strengthen Hamas, who have long rejected Fatah’s strategy of negotiation, arguing that armed resistance is the only way to secure Palestinian statehood. Hamas will now be able to claim that diplomacy not only fails to bring results, it brings national humiliation.

But the despair will not be confined to the Palestinians. Others may well conclude that if a two-state solution is not possible even under these circumstances – when the Palestinians go as far as they can but still fail, in Livni’s words, to “meet our demands” – then it can never be achieved. This is the view that sees Israelis and Palestinians as two acrobats who, even when they bend over backwards, just cannot touch: the Palestinian maximum always falls short of the Israeli minimum.

The optimistic view will hope these papers act as a wake-up call, jolting the US – exposed here as far from the even-handed, honest broker it claims to be – into pressing reset on its Middle East effort, beginning with a determination to exert proper pressure on Israel, pushing it to budge.

It goes without saying that in any wager between optimists and pessimists in the Middle East, the smart money is usually on the latter.

I think he’s probably right. I suspect that the PA will weather the storm: after all, most Palestinians knew these were the sorts of parameters under negotiation. Heck, Khalil Shikaki has been polling them on precisely this sort of outcome for years.

But weathering the storm is all that they’ll do. Given that Israeli positions have hardened more from the Olmert days, and the Obama Administration has yet to shows signs of a major rethink of its policies, the prospects for the “peace process” seem as dim as ever.

  1. Nadim Shehadi says:

    Hi Rex, I can’t find the Haaretz article on the Olmert proposal, there were many references to it as being acceptable by PA officials. Are we sure this is all there is?

  2. Rex Brynen says:

    The PA/PLO never responded to the Olmert proposal. According to Olmert’s version “He (Abbas) promised me the next day his adviser would come. But the next day Saeb Erekat rang my adviser and said we forgot we are going to Amman today, let’s make it next week. I never saw him again.”

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