Nothing is as it seems. The promise of Oslo and the two-state solution has collapsed into the equivalent of the honky tonk song in which a young couple dreams of living in a big two-story house. After years of cheating, secrets and small hurts, they get it. She’s got her story, he’s got his story, there’s not much peace in a two-story house.
Now Al Jazeera has its story too, what it calls “the Palestinian Papers,” more than 1,600 leaked documents containing the secrets and small hurts of the peace talks. The papers prove, depending on which Middle East newspaper you prefer, that the Palestinians didn’t have a partner in the Israelis, the Israelis didn’t have a partner in the Palestinians, the Israelis did have a partner in the Palestinians, and the Americans haven’t helped getting either side to the table in this y’all come back saloon.
Remember that apartment complex in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo, the one that was announced a year ago, though not constructed, during the visit of Vice President Joe Biden, an announcement that elicited outrage from the White House, casting a glacial chill over Israeli-American relations? Remember the scores of editorials that insisted that the peace process required a complete freeze on any and all Jewish construction in the Jerusalem and the West Bank?
None of that made any sense, says Al Jazeera (Jan. 23): “Israel had no reason to halt construction in Ramat Shlomo” since Palestinian negotiators “agreed in 2008 to allow Israel to annex this settlement [Ramat Shlomo], along with almost every other bit of illegal construction in the Jerusalem area — a historic concession for which they received nothing in return.”
The leaks show that the Palestinians offered Israel most of Jerusalem, except for Har Homa, the Arab and Christian Quarters of the Old City, part of the Armenian Quarter and perhaps some other token exceptions, while being “creative” about the Temple Mount.
The Arab world was enraged. Nadia Hijab, co-director of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, warned in Financial Times (Jan. 24) that the Palestinian Authority “is an increasingly hollow shell that may soon be blown away. The winds are coming from Tunisia. Palestine may be next.”
Gulf News (Jan. 24), published in Dubai, a place with considerable Western traffic and hardly among the more intransigent papers, said in an editorial that the leaks show that the PA negotiators are “spineless in the face of a hawkish Israel … The question must be asked: who gave them the right to negotiate on behalf of Palestinians specifically and Arabs in general when it comes to the fate of occupied Jerusalem?”
The PA “has utterly failed and can no longer continue,” added the Gulf News, while the Israelis are “not content with what amounts to land robbery and totalitarian control. It actually wants more.”
The “more” that Israel wanted has long been considered theirs, according to most American coverage and editorials. It has long been assumed that Israel would get to keep the major settlements hugging or near the Green Line.
According to Al Jazeera, the Palestinian negotiators were hardly spineless, demanding that Israel evacuate several major settlements — Maale Adumim, Efrat and Ariel, in particular. Maale Adumim is walking distance to the Green Line, Efrat is a short drive away, with Ariel not much further than that. Yet, Al Jazeera now describes these settlements as “deep in the West Bank… ruinous for the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.”
In an astounding revelation that almost no one ever suggested or predicted (other than Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun), the leaks reveal that the Palestinians proposed that some settlements, such as Maale Adumim, remain with its 35,000 Jews, in the proposed Palestinian state, albeit under Palestinian sovereignty.
Tzipi Livni, leader of the Kadima Party, has often criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not being sufficiently committed to the peace process. But Livni, foreign minister at the time, outright rejected the Maale Adumim proposal and the Jerusalem proposal.
Ali Abunimah, editor of Electronic Initifada, now charges that Livni is a racist, advocates transfer and is as undemocratic as the current foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. In an analysis for Al Jazeera (Jan. 24), Abunimah reports that that the leaks show that Livni wanted to “ethnically cleanse” non-Jewish Palestinian citizens from Israel “in order to create an ethnically pure Jewish state.”
Livni, he continues, has made it clear “that only Jews are guaranteed citizenship in Israel and that Palestinian citizens do not really belong even though they are natives who have lived on the land since before Israel existed.”
So much for the often reported idea that there will be a land exchange between Israel and the Palestinians.
Each side tells it story. The Times of India said Livni “expressed doubts over the PA’s ability to make peace.” The Guardian, in England, headlined, “Israel had a peace partner” and rejected it.
Reacting to the torrent of Arab media criticism that the Palestinians were too flexible, Nasser Laham, editor of the Palestinian news agency Maan, insisted that the Palestinians were not flexible.
“Nearly all of Al-Jazeera’s viewers think that most Palestinians are servants and slaves” of Israel, wrote Laham (Jan. 24), “as though the Palestinians have never refused to make concessions … never risen up [against Israel] … and have not sacrificed the best of their heroes to martyrdom and imprisonment.”
Laham asked Al-Jazeera: What do you want from us? Do you want us to commit suicide? Or to burn ourselves in the streets so that the rabbis can have a nice slice of Palestine? How about we hand Palestine over to you, so you can liberate it … while we spend a few years recovering in Qatar until you complete the task?”
The Guardian, which partnered with Al Jazeera in publishing the leaks, joined in attacking the Palestinian negotiators for losing “their collective sense of dignity.” That negotiator Saeb Erekat used the word “Yerushalayim,” the Hebrew word for Jerusalem, “will strike many as an act of humiliation,” said the Guardian.
Jackson Diehl, columnist for The Washington Post (Jan. 25), says the reaction to the leaks has been filled with “gross distortions. Not only have the reported Palestinian compromise positions been widely (if quietly) accepted by Arab governments [but] Israel, for its part, responded with far-reaching compromises of its own.”
Let’s remember, writes Diehl, that the Palestinians “are currently refusing to negotiate with Netanyahu in part because he has refused to freeze construction in East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods — the same neighborhoods that the Palestinians have agreed that Israel will keep.”
Now, writes Diehl, the Palestinians “are retreating even from their not-good-enough ideas. Far from coming under pressure to make new concessions,” Israel “can relax in the knowledge that the peace process is going backward.”