The “Palestine Papers,” leaked documents purportedly revealing the inner workings of the Palestinian delegation in negotiations with Israel during the government of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have triggered an avalanche of spin by advocates on both sides of the Middle East conflict.
We are among those who see too many unanswered questions to draw sweeping conclusions. What was the source of the leak and the motives behind it? What was the context of the remarks that have drawn the most attention? In diplomacy, context is everything; ideas tossed around a conference table do not necessarily reflect real positions.
That said, the documents offer revealing clues about the stalled negotiations.
While the Netanyahu government contends that Israel lacks a partner willing to get into the nitty gritty of a peace deal, the Palestine Papers seem to undercut that argument. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted in an editorial, the documents illustrate “the serious and down-to-business approach of the Palestinians with regards to the central core issues — borders, Jerusalem and holy places.”
But that also points to a devastating failure by Palestinian leaders: holding fast to rigid, extreme positions in public while showing latitude for compromise in private. A public schooled only in the maximalist rhetoric of the PA and the outright incitement of the PA-sanctioned media and education system can only create political conditions that make it all but impossible for leaders to take the final steps toward peace.
The fact that Palestinian leaders are now furiously denying the validity of documents showing their greater willingness to compromise suggests they have not learned that lesson.
Still, the documents offer glimmers of hope in an otherwise bleak negotiating environment. So do the maps of proposed borders compiled by David Makovsky, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In an effort to meet the core demands of the Palestinians and Israelis, he has proposed land swaps that use the 1967 borders as a baseline but keep 80 percent of the approximately 330,000 Jews living in the West Bank inside Israel’s borders. Most of what Makovsky proposes has been discussed before. What’s remarkable is that these detailed scenarios are coming from a thoroughly mainstream pro-Israel think tank with ties to the pro-Israel lobby.
Negotiating the borders and land swaps that Makovsky proposes will be a huge challenge, and there is much the proposal does not address, including the delicate issue of Jerusalem. Still, he is trying to show that “the impossible is attainable,” in his words. And we are heartened that serious analysts whose concern for Israel’s security is unimpeachable are working on the compromise solutions that ultimately will be essential for the peace and security that Israelis both crave and deserve.