Mark Perry: Inside the Palestine Papers debate

Before publishing the Palestine Papers, Al Jazeera invited a group of experts and journalists to Doha to study the documents. The group included political and military analyst, Mark Perry, who provided analysis in this week’s special report and the following background for War in Context. He is the author of eight books, including Partners In Command and the recently released Talking To Terrorists.

We Better Get Used To It
Inside The Palestine Papers Debate
By Mark Perry

Back in 1989, I was the recipient of hundreds of State Department cables dealing with nearly every aspect of American foreign policy. The material was breathtaking: cables on CIA support for the non-communist Cambodian resistance, a DIA report on a PLO political team in Central America, the theft of U.S. monies by Thai Generals in Bangkok – accounts of changes of government in half-a-dozen developing countries. The cables were marked “Top Secret” and provided me with the opportunity to write a series of articles for a number of major dailies. Until the leaker was caught.

What surprised me the most was not the subject matter of the cables, but the rumors surrounding them. The then-head of the Senate Intelligence Committee blamed “State Department officials” for the leak, the State Department blamed the Senate. Everyone was convinced – the cables were leaked by top officials for political purposes. In truth, the leaker was an overweight late-20s State Department polymath named Bill with a habit of dribbling salad dressing on his tie. His one notable tic was an uncontrollable stutter. Worried that his discovery would lead to his arrest, I felt itmy duty to warn him that his actions would mean the end of his career. “Why are you doing this, Bill?” I asked him. He blinked for a moment, hesitated, then told me: “Shhhh . . .she . . . mmm … makes fffff . . . fun of me.” There you have it: the reason he was leaking the cables was because his supervisor at the Cable Secretariat, cruelly caricatured his stutter in front of his fellow workers – to their great amusement. “I . . I . . . I’m going to gggggee . . . get her,” he said.

I was reminded of Bill when Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat requested the U.S. and U.K governments investigate Al Jazeera reporter Clayton Swisher (a U.S. citizen) and Alastair Crooke (a former British government employee – wink, wink), for leaking over 1600 documents on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Al-Jazeera. This is complete eyewash. As a part of a group of experts and journalists invited to Doha two weeks ago by Al-Jazeera to study the documents, it was clear to me then that the leaker was probably an employee in the PLO’s Negotiations Department. Of course, I could be completely wrong: I have no idea who the leaker is and was given no hint of his (or her, or their) identity by anyone at the network. That hasn’t stopped me from speculating: the leaker could be a Palestinian employee who wants to embarrass the Palestinian Authority, a translator who sat in on the meetings, a janitor with access to offices and files, or Erekat himself – who wanted to embarrass George Mitchell.

Even so, Erekat’s demand that the U.S. and U.K. search for the leaker provides an interesting sidebar to the papers’ release: for having initially denounced the 1600 documents in Al-Jazeera possession as “fabrications,” Mr. Erekat is now willing to concede their authenticity. His response might be a model for all those caught out by the truth – a narrative reminisicent of that common to terminal patients: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. In truth, while the identity of the leaker has now become a kind of cottage industry in the Arab press, the leaker’s name is not nearly as important as the leaker’s motives.

This came through clearly during my reading of the documents, for I focused initially on on a series of six meetings in September and October of 2009 between Saeb Erekat and George Mitchell. For me those documents showed Erekat as a tough, savvy, committed and stubborn nationalist, while George Mitchell appeared and talked like “Israel’s lawyer” – abandoning prior U.S. positions on the negotiation’s terms of reference and on the Road Map. I argued to my colleagues that Al-Jazeera’s “lead” should focus on Mitchell and the U.S., as Israeli supplicants. Whoever leaked these documents, I said, wanted to show us the depravity of the American position. My colleagues disagreed, though not because they had a different agenda – they had simply read different documents. For them, Erekat was a serial compromiser, having conceded traditional Palestinian positions on Jerusalem, refugees and borders.

I did not win this argument, but on reflection it’s easy to understand why. If the Palestine Papers had been leaked to CBS, NBC, ABC or CNN (for example), there’s no doubt in my mind that Mitchell (and the Obama administration) would have been the focus of subsequent reports. If the papers had been leaked to the BBC, the focus would have been on Tony Blair and MI-6. In a sense, then, my initial discomfort with Al-Jazeera’s coverage is a reflection of America’s discomfort: we say that Al-Jazeera has an “agenda” – that their journalism is not as credible as ours. And we’re right, but only to this degree: Al-Jazeera is an Arab network with an Arab viewership that covers Arab politics and leaders. Their coverage of the world isn’t less credible – it’s different. What we’re really uncomfortable with (and what I was uncomfortable with) is that Al-Jazeera doesn’t put America at the center of the world. What we have to say is less important to them than what they have to say – their focus is on what is happening outside of their door, not ours. We better get used to it.

Here’s a coda: after feting my own leaker through six months of dinners and discussions, I showed up at his apartment to find him gone. There was simply no trace of him, and all of my attempts to reach him by other means led to nothing. But one day, in 1994, I received a call from him from his mother’s home in Nevada. He confirmed that the State Department had identified him as my leaker and he’d been summarily fired. He told me he was lucky he hadn’t been prosecuted – but he seemed happy and was starting his life over again. “So,” I asked. “Did you ever get her? You know, your supervisor – the woman who made fun of you.” There was a moment’s hesitation: “Oh yeah,” he said. “I got her good. She got a bad evaluation and left her job.” It was only after I hung up that I realized: his stutter was gone.

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Palestine Papers: PA stonewalled the Goldstone vote

The Palestine Papers reveal:

On October 2, 2009, the UN Human Rights Council was widely expected to pass a resolution supporting the Goldstone Report, the UN’s probe of war crimes committed during Israel’s war in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

The Council instead agreed to delay a vote on the report until March 2010, following major reservations expressed by the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Israel.

A UNHRC endorsement of the report would have brought Israeli officials one step closer to prosecution before a war crimes tribunal, an event many Palestinians were anxious to see.

But, as The Palestine Papers reveal, the Palestinian Authority apparently sacrificed a potential victory for Palestinian victims in exchange for favorable assurances on negotiations from the United States and, they hoped, from Israel.

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Palestine Papers: With US support, Palestinian Authority engaged in torture

Mark Perry writes:

The Palestine Papers provide unprecedented access into the internal workings of the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process. But the leaked documents and meetings also touch on other key issues surrounding U.S. intervention in the conflict – including dozens of documents on Palestinian security issues. At the heart of these is the work of the Office of the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), what many refer to as “The Dayton Mission,” – a designation derived from the USSC’s chief, Lt. General Keith Dayton, who retired last October. Among other things they confirm – from Dayton’s own mouth – that Palestinian Authority forces supported by the United States engaged in torture.

The establishment of the USSC – its mandate and purpose — is fraught with misunderstandings. The first is that U.S. military officers are training Palestinian security personnel. That’s not true. Palestinian security personnel were initially trained by American contractors (in this case, Dyncorp) – the same kind of contractors who have given the U.S such problems in Iraq. Later, these private contractors were joined by trainers provided by the Jordanian Public Security Directorate. While the facilities for the training (located outside of Amman) are provided by the United States, the Palestinian trainees were (and are) equipped by the Egyptians.

While the now-retired Dayton was a senior three-star military officer (he was preceded by General William Ward and has been succeeded General Michael Moeller), he never reported through a military chain of command. Rather, he reported directly to the Secretary of State – first to Condoleezza Rice, under the Bush administration and, later, to Hillary Clinton, under President Barack Obama. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that his mission is controversial among senior Pentagon officers, who argue that a U.S. training mission (whose goal is to create a military force that cooperates with Israel), will raise serious objections among Arabs. As a U.S. Army colonel told me in 2009: “This is just a stupid idea – it makes us look like we’re an extension of the Israeli occupation.” This of course is a view that many Palestinians, including Hamas, also take.

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Palestine Papers: MI6 drew up plan for crackdown on Hamas

The Guardian reports:

British intelligence helped draw up a secret plan for a wide-ranging crackdown on the Islamist movement Hamas which became a security blueprint for the Palestinian Authority, leaked documents reveal. The plan asked for the internment of leaders and activists, the closure of radio stations and the replacement of imams in mosques.

The disclosure of the British plan, drawn up by the intelligence service in conjunction with Whitehall officials in 2004, and passed by a Jerusalem-based MI6 officer to the senior PA security official at the time, Jibril Rajoub, is contained in the cache of confidential documents obtained by al-Jazeera TV and shared with the Guardian. The documents also highlight the intimate level of military and security cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli forces.

The bulk of the British plan has since been carried out by the West Bank-based PA security apparatus which is increasingly criticised for authoritarian rule and human rights abuses, including detention without trial and torture.

The British documents, which have been independently authenticated by the Guardian, included detailed proposals for a security taskforce based on the UK’s “trusted” Palestinian Authority contacts, outside the control of “traditional security chiefs”, with “direct lines” to Israel intelligence.

Alastair Crooke writes:

Many have questioned why the European Union failed to provide an independent view to that of the United States on Middle East policy during the last decade. It is not a simple question to answer. Partly the EU failed to assert its voice because, at the beginning of the decade, it was scrambling to contain the impact of inflating US hubris, fuelled by the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Partly it was also a simple reflection of most European politicians’ dependency on Washington. But the release of The Palestine Papers provides another answer.

They show how Tony Blair in particular had so undercut the political space, that there was effectively no room for it. In a secret policy switch in 2003, he tied the UK and EU security policy into a major American counter-insurgency (COIN) ‘surge’ in Palestine.

It was an initiative that would bear a heavy political cost for the EU in 2006, and for years to come, when Hamas won parliamentary elections by a large majority. The EU’s claims for democracy have rung hollow ever since. Blair’s ‘surge’ also left the EU exposed as hypocrites: On a political level, for example, the EU might talk about its policy of fostering reconciliation between Palestinian factions, but at the security plane, and in other ways, the EU was pursuing the polar opposite objectives.

In 2003, US efforts to marginalize President Arafat by leeching away his presidential powers into the embrace of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, collapsed. Arafat dismissed Abbas as PM. This was a blow to the US policy which – even then – was focused on creating a ‘de-Fatah-ised’ Palestinian Authority. Bush complained to Blair bitterly about Abbas’ dismissal: the Europeans still were ‘dancing around Arafat’ – leaving the US to ‘do the heavy lifting’ with the Israelis. Europeans were not pulling their weight in the ‘war on terror’, Bush concluded.

Blair’s COIN surge was his response to Bush: The Palestine Papers reveal ‘a security drive’ with the objective of “degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists: Hamas, PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], and the Al Aqsa Brigades – through the disruption of their leaderships’ communications and command and control capabilities; the detention of key middle-ranking officers; and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources held within the Occupied Territories. US and – informally – UK monitors would report both to Israel and to the Quartet. We could also explore the temporary internment of leading Hamas and PIJ figures”.

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Palestine Papers can’t slow down a stationary peace process

Jerusalem Post:

The US State Department acknowledged Monday that the “Palestine Papers,” released by Al-Jazeera, complicated American efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. But it said it wouldn’t slow the Obama administration’s work toward that goal.

George Mitchell can be as busy as a hamster in a treadmill without actually getting anywhere. Still, the key rhetorical marker that the administration’s efforts have reached their termination point will be transparent when State Department spokesman PJ Crowley starts responding to questions about Israel with what has become Obama’s signature expression: “We’re monitoring the situation.”

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The Palestine Papers — live updates

6:29 Ali Abunimah writes:

One of the more astonishing revelations in The Palestine Papers — detailed records and minutes of the Middle East peace process leaked to Al Jazeera — is that the administration of US President Barack Obama effectively repudiated the Road Map, which has formed the basis of the “peace process” since 2003. In doing so it has backed away even from commitments made by the George W. Bush administration and blown an irreparable hole in the already threadbare “two-state solution.”

But even worse, the US position perhaps unwittingly opens the door to dangerous Israeli ambitions to transfer — or ethnically cleanse — non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel in order to create an ethnically pure “Jewish state.”

Alastair Crooke writes:

Al Jazeera’s release of The Palestine Papers helps to make clear why there is no Palestinian state. It illuminates a key flaw in Palestinian and western understanding of Israeli thinking. It is this flaw which helps explain why a state has failed to emerge – despite the many, many opportunities in the last nineteen years in which it could have.

The root premise has been, since the outset of the ‘process’, that Israel was intent on having and maintaining a Jewish ‘majority’ within Israel, and that with time – and a growing Palestinian population – Israel would have to acquiesce to a Palestinian state simply to maintain its Jewish majority: that is, by losing Palestinians into their own state, Israel’s Jewish majority could be conserved – and by these means, and only by such means, finally could such a majority be conserved.

It is a very compelling narrative. It suggested that a Palestinian state was inevitable: Palestinians simply had to ‘prove’ their readiness to assume statehood to Israel – and a state would be given them.

Professor Mushtaq Khan from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies argued in a recent talk that it was precisely this type of analysis that lay behind Fatah’s approach to Oslo. It explains, he argues, why the Palestinian leadership at this time never made real attempts to create serious bargaining power vis-à-vis Israel: the leadership simply did not think it necessary. They saw their task to be ‘confidence building’ with the Israelis.

“The Obama way”:

4.29: At a moment when the success of the Tunisian revolution is sending a message across the region about the effectiveness of people’s power and arousing renewed hope for the restoration of lost dignity, the image of Palestinian negotiators ingratiating themselves before Israeli ministers, strikes a very discordant note.

When Ahmed Qurei, a former Palestinian prime minister, told Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni that, “I would vote for you,” he might have been joking, but such a fawning expression of admiration for a minister who so strongly supported the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, exposes the Palestinian leadership in the worst possible light.

3.30: Mark Perry and Ali Abunimah describe how the Obama administration, contrary the image it presented as being willing to put pressure on the Netanyahu government, has in fact never swerved from the role of acting as “Israel’s lawyer”:

A series of six key documents dating from February of 2009 – a core element of the confidential memos, monographs and meeting notes leaked to Al Jazeera as part of The Palestine Papers – show that George Mitchell and his coordinating team, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have consistently pressured Palestinian negotiators (and in particular chief negotiator Saeb Erekat) to accept Israeli demands on a host of core negotiating issues.

In addition, the documents show that the United States has been willing to ignore and even abandon key agreements and principles that, in years past, it insisted both parties follow. The evidence for this, in the documents, is compelling – even overwhelming. It explodes the idea that the Obama administration ever even attempted to pull the United States off a doomed course.

The evidence that America remains Israel’s lawyer emerges first in the account of a February 27, 2009 meeting between Mitchell and key members of his team, with Saeb Erekat (and a top assistant) at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem.

3.08: Al Jazeera reveals Israeli plans for the expulsion of Israel’s Arab population:

During several 2008 meetings with Palestinian negotiators, Livni proposed annexing Arab villages to the future Palestinian state, forcing tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs to choose between their citizenship and their land.

“The US position on borders perhaps unwittingly opens the door to dangerous Israeli ambitions to transfer — or ethnically cleanse — non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel in order to create an ethnically pure ‘Jewish state.'”

Her clearest language came on June 21, 2008, when she told senior Palestinian negotiators Ahmed Qurei and Saeb Erekat that their land swaps should include Israeli Arab villages. Udi Dekel, a top adviser to the then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, rattled off a list of villages that would be annexed to Palestine.

Livni: We have this problem with Raja [Ghajar] in Lebanon. Terje Larsen put the blue line to cut the village in two. [This needs to be addressed.] We decided not to cut the village. It was a mistake. The problem now, those living on Lebanese soil are Israeli citizens.

Dekel: Barka, Barta il Sharqiya, Barta il [Garbiya], Betil, Beit Safafa…

Qurei: This will be difficult. All Arabs in Israel will be against us.

Becker: We will need to address it somehow. Divided. All Palestinian. All Israeli.

Two months earlier, in another meeting with Qurei and Erekat, Livni herself mentioned the same villages, describing them – their status in the state of Israel – as a problem in need of resolution.

Livni: Let us be fair. You referred to 1967 line. We have not talked about Jerusalem yet. There are some Palestinian villages that are located on both sides of the 1967 line about which we need to have an answer, such as Beit Safafa, Barta’a, Baqa al-Sharqiyeh and Baqa al-Gharbiyyeh.

Livni’s choice of words is striking. Beit Safafa, Barta’a and Baqa al-Gharbiyya all sit at least partly on the Israeli side of the Green Line; their inhabitants carry Israeli passports, pay taxes to the Israeli government, and overwhelmingly self-identify as Israelis.

But Livni describes them as Palestinians – and suggests that they do not belong in the state of Israel.

2.19: It has long been understood that a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would involve so-called “land swaps” through which some of the occupied territory outside Israel’s 1967 borders on which Jewish settlements have been constructed would become part of Israel, in exchange for areas of land within the ’67 borders that would become part of the new Palestinian state.

The following exchange between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators during a meeting held on March 12, 2008, makes it clear that the Israelis do not even recognize the existence of the 1967 line. Keep in mind that these were negotiators representing the so-called moderate government of Ehud Olmert.

The following Israeli [I] and Palestinian [P] negotiators attended the meeting: Israeli: Udi Dekel [UD] and Dani Tirza [DT]; Palestinian: Dr. Samih Al-Abed [SA], Khaled Elgindy [KE], Nizar Farsakh [NF].

Udi Dekel [I]: Now, about today’s meeting, I don’t know what Abu Alaa and [Tzipi] Livni agreed but, as I understand it, we need to agree on a common language when it comes to territory and borders. From your side, I know there was discussion of percentages, or areas (in sq. km)… In the previous two meetings with Abu Alaa and Livni, we started to explain all the considerations of what we mean when we talk of territory and borders.

SA [P]: You are jumping directly into discussing areas. We need to discuss parameters or guidelines. You spoke of sq. km, but we already have a starting point, which is 1967. We just need to have all the maps. This is what we need for a breakthrough. We must have a common language, agree on common maps and data, and then we can have a discussion about the issues.

UD [I]: As you know, our guiding principles are UNSC Res. 242, the need for boundaries that can provide security for Israel, and we’re talking about the situation on the ground, as per Pres. Bush’s letter.

SA [P]: Do you mean the situation as it was then, or now?

UD [I]: Reality now… But we’re not going to argue. We can’t change reality on the ground. We don’t see the 1967 border as a reference, first because we don’t even know exactly where the line is.

SA [P]: We have all the maps that were signed by you.

UD [I]: But that wasn’t exactly the line on the ground.

SA [P]: If not the 1967 line, then what is your reference?

UD [I]: We said already, the situation on the ground.

SA [P]: The wall?

UD [I]: The security fence is not a border. Unfortunately, it is needed for security. Every week we intercept 3 to 4 suicide bombers. As we’ve said before, the fence is not a border and can be moved like we did with Lebanon.

NF [P]: What is your frame of reference?

UD [I]: We’re talking about blocs of settlements—not far in the West Bank, but close to the area we are talking about—are to be part of Israel. In Oslo we used the West Bank outline map.

DT [I]: It is the West Bank outline map, in which under our law Israeli military law is applied.

SA [P]: This is your law. In our law, the line is 1967.

DT [I]: Based on which maps? There is no…

SA [P]: This is the standard we’ve worked from, from Oslo to Taba… we are not going to discuss any other line. If we’re going to waste time this is something else.

UD [I]: This is your opinion, but not our opinion. It is very difficult to locate the exact line of the situation that existed on 4 June 1967.

1.54: This is one of those days when a lot of American journalists must know what it felt like being a native journalist in the Soviet Union — never allowed to swerve from the official line. At the Los Angeles Times, Edmund Sanders yawns: “The documents so far haven’t revealed anything that someone moderately familiar with the Mideast hasn’t already heard.”

12.19: Amjad Atallah suggests that the release of the Palestine Papers “may have the same emotive impact among Palestinians that the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi had in Tunisia” — another event in which Al Jazeera‘s groundbreaking news coverage played a key role.

WikiLeaks’ data dump of U.S. diplomatic records; the demonstrations in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen; and Hezbollah’s success in Lebanon have created an atmosphere of empowerment among a normally dispirited Arab public. Change is no longer impossible — and the United States no longer needs to be the agent of change.

This means there may be more exhibitions of “people power” with unpredictable consequences. The Arab authoritarian systems (most with the support of the U.S. government) are ill-equipped to deal positively with this type of demand for change.

Different forces in the region will now begin to see how they can take advantage for good or bad from this new reality. Unfortunately, if the United States stays true to form, we’ll simply struggle to see whether we can maintain the status quo.

In other words, President Obama is likely to yet again act as an obstacle, not an instrument of change in the world.

11.59: Noam Sheizaf assesses the effect of the Palestine Papers on the Israeli side.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will probably not suffer any damage on the home front, at least in the short term. Netanyahu might even use the papers to claim that his government’s construction projects in occupied East Jerusalem pose no threat to the peace process, since the Palestinians have already agreed to give up most of the Jewish neighborhoods in this part of the city.

The Israeli government would also benefit from a renewal of the internal war on the Palestinian side. For years, Israel has tried (and for the most part, succeeded) to break Palestinian society into sub-groups with different political interests and agendas. When those groups fight each other, the Palestinian cause suffers.
Yet from a wider perspective, the release of the Palestinian offers during the 2008 talks serves as proof that Israel in fact had a partner for peace on the Palestinian side. Actually, the question from now on will be whether Israel itself is a partner for an agreement. Furthermore, after the steps Palestinian and Israeli negotiators took towards each other in previous rounds of talks, the current Israeli offers, such as a temporary state on half of the West Bank’s territory, will appear cynical and unrealistic.

For years, Israel has used the peace process as a way to hold back international pressure on the Palestinian issue. It will be harder to do so from now on. This will be Netanyahu’s greatest problem.

11.47: Rashid Khalidi on Democracy Now!: Leaked “Palestine Papers” underscore weakness of Palestinian Authority, rejectionism of Israel and U.S.

“The biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history”

11.35: In the Financial Times [registration required], Nadia Hijab writes:

When, some 30 years on, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat returned from the failed Camp David summit in 2000, he was excoriated by the US and Europe for rejecting Israel’s “generous offer”. By contrast, many Palestinians heaved a sigh of relief that Mr Arafat had refused to sign an agreement that would have ceded Jerusalem, and trisected the West Bank.

Now these new leaks reveal that it is the PLO/PA that has been making the generous offers, and Israel has been rejecting them. If the documents are to be believed, almost all of East Jerusalem has been on the table. Perhaps this time we should be grateful Israel hasn’t signed.

What next? The Palestinian leadership have two plausible options, but will likely take neither.

The first would to be attempt to retake the high ground. This would mean dissolving the PA, and refocusing its attention on the PLO’s primary task – the liberation of Palestine. This would also involve repairing relations with Hamas, and trying to bring all Palestinian political and civil forces into a rejuvenated organisation.

The second is to continue down the road of hoping that someone, somewhere will exert pressure on Israel to give up the occupied territories and recognise Palestinian rights.

10.56: The Guardian describes anger and disbelief among Palestinians in Gaza reacting to the release of the Palestine Papers:

Tailor Maher Mohammad, 50, said the revelations were incredible. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I watched it, this is cheating to Palestinian people. Jerusalem is a holy land, nobody can make concessions regarding it because it’s not for Palestinians only but for all Muslims.”

Mahmoud Ismael, 58, a shopkeeper, questioned the motives of the person who leaked the documents. Palestinians, he added, expected little from their leaders whether Fatah or Hamas. “Both of them don’t care about Palestine, they care only about their benefits,” he said.

Salah Bardaweel, a senior Hamas leader, said the organisation was studying the document. “We are asking the president Mahmoud Abbas to go to the public and announce his position on what was leaked by Al Jazeera, and make it clear we don’t accept that and assure the Palestinian principles on the key issues.”

The main problem now, he added, was “not between Hamas and Fatah, it’s now between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian negotiator”.

10.03: Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat accused of treason:

9.23: Some Palestinians who don’t like the message have attacked the messenger. AJ’s Alan Fisher tweets: “The crowd has managed to get into the office in Ramaallah. #aljazeera’s staff is ok. Some walls have graffiti”. Fisher nows says the crowd has gone and the AJ building is under police protection.

9.17: An editorial in The Guardian said:

[The British member of parliament] Gerald Kaufman once described Labour’s 1983 manifesto as the longest suicide note in history. If ever a set of documents merits this epithet, it is surely the one we publish today. Written by Palestinian officials, obtained by al-Jazeera and shared with the Guardian, the papers are the confidential record of 10 years of efforts to seek a peace agreement with Israel.

It is hard to tell who appears worst: the Palestinian leaders, who are weak, craven and eager to shower their counterparts with compliments; the Israelis, who are polite in word but contemptuous in deed; or the Americans, whose neutrality consists of bullying the weak and holding the hand of the strong. Together they conspire to build a puppet state in Palestine, at best authoritarian, at worst a surrogate for an occupying force. To obtain even this form of bondage, the Palestinians have to flog the family silver. Saeb Erekat, the PLO chief negotiator, is reduced at one point to pleading for a fig leaf: “What good am I if I’m the joke of my wife, if I’m so weak,” he told Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell.

9.12: AJ’s Clayton Swisher outlines the land swap agreement that Palestinian negotiators were offering — a swap that would be like exchanging real estate in Manhattan for vacant desert lots in Arizona:

9.05: Tariq Ali says that the extent of the capitulation documented in the papers would have shocked even Edward Said, who at its inception described the Oslo peace process as a ‘Palestinian Versailles’:

Even he would have been taken aback by the sheer scale of what the PLO leadership agreed to surrender: virtually everything except their own salaries. Their weaknesses, inadequacies and cravenness are now in the public domain.

Now we know that the capitulation was total, but still the Israeli overlords of the PLO refused to sign a deal and their friends in the press blamed the Palestinians for being too difficult. They wanted Palestine to be crushed before they would agree to underwrite a few moth-eaten protectorates that they would supervise indefinitely. They wanted Hamas destroyed. The PLO agreed. The recent assault on Gaza was carried out with the approval of Abbas and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, not to mention Washington and its EU. The PLO sold out in a literal sense. They were bought with money and treated like servants. There is TV footage of Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton at Camp David playfully tugging at Arafat’s headgear to stop him leaving. All three are laughing. Many PLO supporters in Palestine must be weeping as they watch al-Jazeera and take in the scale of the betrayal and the utter cynicism of their leaders. Now we know why the Israel/US/EU nexus was so keen to disregard the outcome of the Palestinian elections and try to destroy Hamas militarily.

9.00: Haaretz‘s Akiva Eldar says Palestine Papers trump US State Department cables released by WikiLeaks:

The documents revealed by Al Jazeera are much more important than the documents recently released by WikiLeaks. The former document the talks that took place in 2008 between the head of the Palestinian negotiating team and then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as with American officials, which is not just a chapter in history.

The compromises presented by the Palestinians vis-a-vis permanent borders in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are relevant to today. The Palestinian map that was shown to Ehud Olmert and representatives of the Bush administration was presented again two months ago to representatives of President Barack Obama, as well as Obama’s Mideast envoy George Mitchell and later Netanyahu’s representative Isaac Molcho. Molcho refused to accept the document.

The leaked documents completely discredit the claim that there is “no peace partner” made by the leader of the newly formed Atzmaut faction, Ehud Barak, and his boss, Benjamin Netanyahu.

8.53: Al Jazeera interviews Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor Al-Quds Al-Arabi

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The Palestine Papers

Introducing the Palestine Papers:

Over the last several months, Al Jazeera has been given unhindered access to the largest-ever leak of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are nearly 1,700 files, thousands of pages of diplomatic correspondence detailing the inner workings of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. These documents – memos, e-mails, maps, minutes from private meetings, accounts of high level exchanges, strategy papers and even power point presentations – date from 1999 to 2010.

The material is voluminous and detailed; it provides an unprecedented look inside the continuing negotiations involving high-level American, Israeli, and Palestinian Authority officials.

Al Jazeera will release the documents between January 23-26th, 2011. They will reveal new details about:

  • the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to concede illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and to be “creative” about the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount;
  • the compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return;
  • details of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel;
  • and private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone Report was being discussed at the United Nations.

In The Guardian, Seumas Milne and Ian Black write:

The overall impression that emerges from the documents, which stretch from 1999 to 2010, is of the weakness and growing desperation of PA leaders as failure to reach agreement or even halt all settlement temporarily undermines their credibility in relation to their Hamas rivals; the papers also reveal the unyielding confidence of Israeli negotiators and the often dismissive attitude of US politicians towards Palestinian representatives.

Last night Erekat said the minutes of the meetings were “a bunch of lies and half truths”. Qureia told AP that “many parts of the documents were fabricated, as part of the incitement against the … Palestinian leadership”.

However Palestinian former negotiator, Diana Buttu, called on [chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb] Erekat to resign following the revelations. “Saeb must step down and if he doesn’t it will only serve to show just how out of touch and unrepresentative the negotiators are,” she said.

In an article on the origin of the documents, The Guardian reported:

The bulk of the documents are records, contemporaneous notes and sections of verbatim transcripts of meetings drawn up by officials of the Palestinian negotiation support unit (NSU), which has been the main technical and legal backup for the Palestinian side in the negotiations.

The unit has been heavily funded by the British government. Other documents originate from inside the PA’s extensive US- and British-sponsored security apparatus.

The Israelis, Americans and others kept their own records, which may differ in their accounts of the same meetings. But the Palestinian documents were made and held confidentially, rather than for overt or public use, and significantly reveal large gaps between the private and stated positions of Palestinian and, in fewer cases, Israeli leaders.

The documents – almost all of which are in English, which was the language used by both sides in negotiations – were leaked over a period of months from several sources to Al Jazeera. The bulk of them have been independently authenticated for The Guardian by former participants in the talks and by diplomatic and intelligence sources.

The NSU – formally part of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – is based in the West Bank town of Ramallah under the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. It has drawn heavily on the expertise of Palestinian-American and other western-trained diaspora Palestinian lawyers for technical support in negotiations.

Al Jazeera has made the complete searchable database of the documents available on its new Transparency Unit site.

Karma Nabulsi writes:

It’s over. Given the shocking nature, extent and detail of these ghastly revelations from behind the closed doors of the Middle East peace process, the seemingly endless and ugly game is now, finally, over. Not one of the villains on the Palestinian side can survive it. With any luck the sheer horror of this account of how the US and Britain covertly facilitated and even implemented Israeli military expansion – while creating an oligarchy to manage it – might overcome the entrenched interests and venality that have kept the peace process going. A small group of men who have polluted the Palestinian public sphere with their private activities are now exposed.

For us Palestinians, these detailed accounts of the secretly negotiated surrender of every one of our core rights under international law (of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, on annexing Arab Jerusalem, on settlements) are not a surprise. It is something that we all knew – in spite of official protests to the contrary – because we feel their destructive effects every day. The same is true of the outrageous role of the US and Britain in creating a security bantustan, and the ruin of our civic and political space. We already knew, because we feel its fatal effects.

For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, official Palestinian policy over these past decades has been the antithesis of a legitimate, or representative, or even coherent strategy to obtain our long-denied freedom. But this sober appreciation of our current state of affairs, accompanied by the mass protests and civil society campaigns by Palestinian citizens, has been insufficient, until now, to rid us of it.

The release into the public domain of these documents is such a landmark because it destroys the final traces of credibility of the peace process. Everything to do with it relied upon a single axiom: that each new initiative or set of negotiations with the Israelis, every policy or programme (even the creation of undemocratic institutions under military occupation), could be presented as carried out in good faith under harsh conditions: necessary for peace, and in the service of our national cause. Officials from all sides played a double game vis-à-vis the Palestinians. 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. [Continue reading...]

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