The Palestine Papers: why the leak is so serious
Briefing: The leak of 1,600 documents spells doom for the Middle East peace process
Following an extraordinary leak of 1,600 documents, including maps, strategy papers and emails, the search for peace between Israel and Palestine looked to be in tatters. The documents, apparently leaked from the Palestinian side, appear to show that while the Palestinians have made huge concessions during the last decade of peace talks, nothing they have offered has been good enough for the Israelis.
The concessions included an offer made in 2008 by the Palestinians to allow Israel to annex all but one of the disputed Jewish settlements built in east Jerusalem. Tzipi Livni, the then Israeli Foreign Minister, rejected the proposal because it did not include all the settlements.
The extent of the Palestinian offers are considered by commentators today so over-the-top that they would never be accepted by the majority of Palestinian people. As a result, the leak could mean the collapse of the West Bank's ruling coalition, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization).
how do we know the documents are authentic?The documents were obtained by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera news network and shared with the Guardian. The newspaper claims to have identified the bulk as authentic by consulting former participants in the talks and and diplomatic and intelligence sources.
The US State Department is "reviewing" the documents but "cannot vouch for their veracity".
The chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA), Saeb Erekat, who has come out worst from the revelations so far, called them a "bunch of lies". Ahmed Qureia, another PA negotiator, said that "many parts of the documents were fabricated, as part of the incitement against the Palestinian Authority". PLO president Mahmoud Abbas has claimed that the documents have been purposefully twisted, insisting that the PA, "say things very clearly. We do not have secrets."
Tzipi Livni, Israeli foreign minister from 2006 - 2009, yesterday put out a statement saying, "We do not intend to comment on internal records or Palestinian interpretations, whether they are correct or not."
What are the key points of the leak so far? • Palestinian negotiators were willing to give up huge swathes of East Jerusalem. This is controversial because, according to international law, this area has been illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 and is publicly claimed by Palestinians for their future capital. But the huge concession, which included the heavily disputed Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, was not deemed enough by then foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
• For the first time ever, there was a suggestion that some sort of international body could be created to control the highly-sensitive Haram al-Sharif area. Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the area is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest site in Islam.
are there more documents to come?Yes. They are mooted to include reports that:
• The PA was willing to discuss limiting the number of Palestinian refugees granted the right of return to 10,000 over 10 years.
• Palestinian leaders were tipped off about Israel's plan to invade the Gaza Strip in late 2008, a claim President Mahmoud Abbas has strenuously denied in the past.
Who stands to gain from this leak?Hamas. They have claimed right from the start that negotiations are a dead end, and have also refused to recognise any peace settlement negotiated by Fatah, arguing that Mahmoud Abbas’s party are no longer the legally elected representatives of the Palestinians. They seized power by force in the Gaza Strip, but were never strong enough to do so in the West Bank. This information will give them renewed vigour, and give weight to their idea that diplomacy only leads to a ceding of Palestinian rights.
Speaking to al-Jazeera from Beirut, a Hamas spokesman said the Fatah leadership was "not honest". He added: "They have no credibility to negotiate. They were negotiating for what the Israelis would accept [and] for what the Americans may support, not what the Palestinians are looking for. This is why they betrayed their own people."
A small comfort for the Palestinian negotiating team is that the documents seem to show that Israel did indeed have a willing peace partner, the complete opposite of the picture the Israelis tried to paint. Jonathan Freedland, writing in today’s Guardian, said: "In the blame game that has long attended Middle East diplomacy, this could see a shift in the Palestinians' favour."
Who stands to lose?Fatah. Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of the PLO’s largest faction, Fatah. His official mandate to head the Palestinian National Authority - the West Bank and Gaza's governing body – ran out in January 2009. He remains in power, however, despite his government being seen as corrupt and crucially weak in the face of Israel and the US.
Abbas and his party now face serious opposition from both opposing factions and their own people. Today’s Guardian editorial said: "The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street."
Fatah’s lead negotiator, Saeb Erekat, is shown to be increasingly desperate in the face of an ever-immovable Israel. In a discussion with US envoy George Mitchell, he said, "What good am I if I'm the joke of my wife, if I'm so weak? … They can't even give a six-month freeze to give me a figleaf."
What are the implications for the peace process?The revelations will cement the suspicion among the Palestinian people, already fed up with years of stalemate and political posturing, that there is no point in negotiating with Israel. As former PLO representative Karma Nabulsi says: "These officials have led a new generation to believe that participating in public governance is base and self-seeking, that joining any political party is the least useful method to advance principals and create change."
The leaked documents also suggest that a two-state solution could be an impossible aim. The offers made by the Palestinian negotiators are already way beyond what most Palestinians would accept, whilst Israeli officials still say it isn't enough. No matter how far each side stretches, they can't seem to meet in the middle. These documents bring that home once and for all.
What will the fall-out be?The leaks will cause few ripples in Israel, as the leaders have spoken and acted in private exactly as in public. Tzipi Livni in particular, currently leader of the opposition party, Kadima, will likely come out of it well. The main Israeli papers - Ha'aretz, Ynet and the Jerusalem Post - are covering the leak, but not to the extent that al-Jazeera or the Guardian are, which further suggests that none of this comes as a big surprise to the Israelis.
In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, however, these documents will add fat to an already simmering fire. An atmosphere of discontent and disillusionment has been hanging over Palestinians since the last intifada, and there is a high possibility of civil unrest. If nothing is done to reassure them that there is another way forward to statehood, a renewed war/intifada may not be far off. ·
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