The extraordinary release of the Palestine Papers has generated so much controversy that both Israelis and Palestinians are disputing the findings. The main discovery here is that the Palestinian negotiators offered far more concessions than previously thought to the Israelis in exchange for peace, and yet the Israelis still rebuffed them:
The documents – many of which will be published by the Guardian over the coming days – also reveal:
• The scale of confidential concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators, including on the highly sensitive issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
• How Israeli leaders privately asked for some Arab citizens to be transferred to a new Palestinian state.
• The intimate level of covert co-operation between Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority.
• The central role of British intelligence in drawing up a secret plan to crush Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
• How Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders were privately tipped off about Israel’s 2008-9 war in Gaza.
As well as the annexation of all East Jerusalem settlements except Har Homa, the Palestine papers show PLO leaders privately suggested swapping part of the flashpoint East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah for land elsewhere.
Most controversially, they also proposed a joint committee to take over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City – the neuralgic issue that helped sink the Camp David talks in 2000 after Yasser Arafat refused to concede sovereignty around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques.
The offers were made in 2008-9, in the wake of George Bush’s Annapolis conference, and were privately hailed by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, as giving Israel “the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew name for Jerusalem] in history” in order to resolve the world’s most intractable conflict. Israeli leaders, backed by the US government, said the offers were inadequate.
By the way, blame Al Jazeera on this one, not Wikileaks, as they obtained the confidential documents. The Guardian’s release of the papers includes some Wikileaks cables to reinforce the documents, but the main reports come from elsewhere.
The Israelis look bad on this one for essentially having no interest in the peace process no matter what they could receive from the Palestinians. And the Palestinians look really bad to their hardliners for being willing to give up so much for a homeland. Ultimately, this will not help efforts at reconciliation. But it’s important to let the public know the level of concessions Palestinian negotiators were willing to put up with. I think you can conclude that only one side acted in good faith in those negotiations. But since this will only confirm suspicions of weakness among Hamas, the most immediate outcome of this release could be internal struggles for the Palestinians. Saeb Erekat, the lead negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, called the papers a bunch of lies, but observers have already called for him to step down.
The full papers are here.
…I agree with Jonanthan Freedland – how could Palestine ever negotiate with Israel after this release? Isn’t the notion of negotiation with this generation of Israelis severely damaged? And isn’t the claim in Israel that there was never a partner for peace obliterated by these documents?