Jan 26, 2011
For more than a decade, since
the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000, the mantra of Israeli
politics has been the same: "There is no Palestinian partner for peace."
This week, the first of hundreds of leaked confidential Palestinian
documents confirmed the suspicions of a growing number of observers that
the rejectionists in the peace process are to be found on the Israeli,
not Palestinian, side.
Some of the most revealing papers, jointly released by AlJazeera television and Britain's Guardian newspaper, date from 2008, a relatively hopeful period in recent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
At the time, Ehud Olmert was Israel's prime minister and had publicly
committed himself to pursuing an agreement on Palestinian statehood. He
was backed by the United States administration of George W. Bush, which
had revived the peace process in late 2007 by hosting the Annapolis
In those favorable circumstances, the papers show, Israel spurned a set
of major concessions the Palestinian negotiating team offered over the
following months on the most sensitive issues in the talks.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has tried
unconvincingly to deny the documents' veracity, but has not been helped
by the failure of Israeli officials to come to his aid.
According to the documents, the most significant Palestinian compromise
-- or "sell-out," as many Palestinians are calling it -- was on
During a series of meetings over the summer of 2008, Palestinian
negotiators agreed to Israel's annexation of large swaths of East
Jerusalem, including all but one of the city's Jewish settlements and
parts of the Old City itself.
It is difficult to imagine how the resulting patchwork of Palestinian
enclaves in East Jerusalem, surrounded by Jewish settlements, could ever
have functioned as the capital of the new state of Palestine.
At the earlier Camp David talks, according to official Israeli documents leaked to the Haaretz
daily in 2008, Israel had proposed something very similar in Jerusalem:
Palestinian control over what were then termed territorial "bubbles."
In the later talks, the Palestinians also showed a willingness to
renounce their claim to exclusive sovereignty over the Old City's
flashpoint of the Haram al-Sharif, the sacred compound that includes the
al-Aqsa mosque and is flanked by the Western Wall. An international
committee overseeing the area was proposed instead.
This was probably the biggest concession of all -- control of the Haram
was the issue that "blew up" the Camp David talks, according to an
Israeli official who was present.
Saeb Erekat, the PLO's chief negotiator, is quoted promising Israel "the
biggest Yerushalayim in history" -- using the Hebrew word for Jerusalem
-- as his team effectively surrendered Palestinian rights enshrined in
The concessions did not end there, however. The Palestinians agreed to
land swaps to accommodate 70 percent of the half a million Jewish
settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and to forgo the
rights of all but a few thousand Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian state was also to be demilitarized. In one of the papers
recording negotiations in May 2008, Erekat asks Israel's negotiators:
"Short of your jet fighters in my sky and your army on my territory, can
I choose where I secure external defense?" The Israeli answer was an
Interestingly, the Palestinian negotiators are said to have agreed to
recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" -- a concession Israel now claims
is one of the main stumbling blocks to a deal.
Israel was also insistent that Palestinians accept a land swap that
would transfer a small area of Israel into the new Palestinian state
along with as many as a fifth of Israel's 1.4 million Palestinian
citizens. This demand echoes a controversial "population transfer" long
proposed by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's far-right foreign minister.
The Palestine Papers, as they are being called, demand a serious
re-evaluation of two lingering -- and erroneous -- assumptions made by
many Western observers about the peace process.
The first relates to the United States' self-proclaimed role as honest
broker. What shines through the documents is the reluctance of US
officials to put reciprocal pressure on Israeli negotiators, even as the
Palestinian team make major concessions on core issues. Israel's
"demands" are always treated as paramount.
The second is the assumption that peace talks have fallen into abeyance
chiefly because of the election nearly two years ago of a right-wing
Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu. He has drawn international
criticism for refusing to pay more than lip-service to Palestinian
The Americans' goal -- at least in the early stages of Netanyahu's
premiership -- was to strong-arm him into bringing into his coalition
Tzipi Livni, leader of the centrist opposition party Kadima. She is
still widely regarded as the most credible Israeli advocate for peace.
However, Livni, who was previously Olmert's foreign minister, emerges in
the leaked papers as an inflexible negotiator, dismissive of the huge
concessions being made by the Palestinians. At a key moment, she turns
down the Palestinians' offer, after saying: "I really appreciate it."
The sticking point for Livni was a handful of West Bank settlements the
Palestinian negotiators refused to cede to Israel. The Palestinians have
long complained that the two most significant -- Maale Adumim, outside
Jerusalem, and Ariel, near the Palestinian city of Nablus -- would
effectively cut the West Bank into three cantons, undermining any hopes
of territorial contiguity.
Livni's insistence on holding on to these settlements -- after all the
Palestinian compromises -- suggests that there is no Israeli leader
either prepared or able to reach a peace deal -- unless, that is, the
Palestinians cave in to almost every Israeli demand and abandon their
ambitions for statehood.
One of the Palestine Papers quotes an exasperated Erekat asking a US diplomat last year: "What more can I give?"
The man with the answer may be Lieberman, who unveiled his own map of
Palestinian statehood this week. It conceded a provisional state on less
than half of the West Bank.
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