The Palestine Papers: An end to the myth of Israel’s generosity

Posted: January 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Instead of going through the commentary on the recently released “Palestine Papers,” I suggest readers start by checking out some of the documents themselves. Even for those suspicious of the “generous Israeli offer vs. Arab rejectionism” narrative of the 2008 talks as I was, some of the documents are quite shocking.

Take, for example, this meeting, in which the Palestinian side learns that the Israeli negotiators wouldn’t agree to use 1967 borders even as a starting point (h/t Matt Duss):

Udi Dekel (Israel):     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.

Samih al-Abed (Palestinian):      Do you mean the situation as it was then, or now?

UD:     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:      We have all the maps that were signed by you.

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

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

UD:     We said already, the situation on the ground.

And here Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni insists on annexing the settlement of Ariel – which lies some 15 miles to the east of the Israeli border, deep in the West Bank:

Livni: The idea behind our desire to annex Ariel settlement was not to get more water but because thousands of people live there. We want to have an answer for those who have lived there for forty years.

Future borders will be complicated but clear. I have seen in Yugoslavia how areas can be connected. The matter is not simply giving a passport to settlers.

Abu Ala: Having Ariel under our control means also that the water basin will be under our control.

Livni: We have said that even if we agreed to have Ariel under Israeli control, we have to find a solution to the water issue.

Abu Ala: We find this hard to swallow.

Rice:  Let us put Maale Adumim and Ariel aside. I am not trying to solve them here.

Or the now-famous Yerushalyim quote, in which Palestinian negotiator Dr. Sael Erakat used the Hebrew name when referring to Jerusalem:

Erekat: Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state… what more can I give?


The obvious result of the massive leak of documents would be a blow to the Palestinian Authority’s credibility, and most notably, to the public image of president Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.

The documents, published by Al Jazeera and the Guardian, reveal the extent of concessions offered by the Palestinian leadership at those talks, and expose the PLO leaders to charges of betrayal of the Palestinian cause – not so much because of the offers themselves, but more due to the tone used by the Palestinian negotiators (Erekat calling PM Sharon “our friend,” using the Hebrew name for Jerusalem, and more), and due to their cooperation with Israel in the persecution of Hamas activists. It’s not clear yet whether the PA leadership can survive this crisis.

Evaluating the effect of the Palestine Papers on the Israeli side is even harder.

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.

As far as the Israeli public is concerned, opposition leader Tzipi Livni comes out fine from the papers. Unlike the Palestinian negotiators, Livni can’t be accused of double talk. She presented the same hardline positions both in public and in private. Yet Livni will soon try to position herself as an alternative for the right-wing government of Netanyahu, which had Israel isolated in the world and damaged relations with the US. Given her attitude during the 2008 talks, how could Livni convince the Israeli public and the international community that she can succeed in negotiating a deal with the Palestinians?

More than anything, it’s the very notion that Israelis and Palestinians can reach an agreement on the two-state solution that suffered another tremendous blow (some people in the US administration apparently gave up on this even before the papers were released). Many people believe that Israel went as far as it could in the offers that were handed in 2008 to the Palestinians; now they may think that the Palestinians did the same, and yet the distance between the two parties remains too big. It seems that Israeli leaders are simply unable to deliver the minimum required to solve the Palestinian problem. No wonder that one of the first Israeli politicians to comment on the papers was Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, which said that the documents proved a final agreement impossible to achieve.

Even for those who don’t subscribe to Lieberman’s ideas, it’s clear that a new approach is needed. Will it be the unilateralism president Abbas is promoting, the mounting international pressure on Israel, the “nation building” effort by PM Salam Fayyad, or even another Palestinian uprising that changes the political dynamic? Only time will tell.

10 Comments on “The Palestine Papers: An end to the myth of Israel’s generosity”

  1. 1 maayan said at 9:37 am on January 24th, 2011:

    I’m confused. What did you learn from these documents that you didn’t know before? That the Palestinians accepted the close Jewish neighborhoods to the Green Line? That they did back in Barak’s time. That they were willing to part with the Jewish Quarter? That they also did in Barak’s time. That they refuse to go past the 2% line of the West Bank to concede any settlements such as Ariel? That also was their position at Taba. That they refuse to accept a deferral or removal of 194? That also goes back to Taba.

    Seriously, what is new here?

    Also, what is so special about Erakat’s quote about Jerusalem? He was trying to sell something to the Israelis and Americans. He’s an excellent salesperson, we already know this. So he added a little poetry to close the sale. Big deal.

    What is he talking about? That they accept French Hill and Givat Ze’ev as long as there’s a bridge between them? Big deal. The fact is the Jerusalem he’s proposing for Israel is SMALLER than what Israel has currently. It’s like a car salesman telling you that the Honda Civic is better than the Accord because it’s the biggest small car that you can get, even if the Accord is a bigger car.

    Seriously, what is new here? The only things that are valuable so far are the knowledge that the Palestinians negotiate like equals to Israel, not like they’re in a hurry or desperate for a state. Also, for the first time, we have actual maps that let us see differences and similarities between the two sides. Finally, it is confirmed that the Palestinians continue to reject any movement on 194 while also demanding that talks (arguably contrary to 242) be based on 1949 armistice lines.

    Also, if you read the mannerisms of Abu Ala, you see a confident, sly negotiator who is pleased to play the Israelis. He actually says to Livni that Israel WILL sign on to 194. She says that Israel will not sign on to 194 and he says, “you will.” When Livni brings him the early Olmert offer, he says to her casually that the Palestinians can wait until Israel is done making peace with Syria first. Livni keeps her cool and says that she could have had the same response when the Palestinians came with their first offer a few weeks earlier.

    In other words, the facts borne by these documents are precisely the opposite of what the Guardian and Al Jazeera – and now you – are trying to convey as the meaning of these documents. All these documents show us is how the sausage is made. It is ugly to watch, even if fascinating.

    For me, the most important part of all of this is that it’s obvious that both sides are really close on borders. The Palestinians walked away in 2008 (that hasn’t been refuted) and Livni didn’t become PM because she wasn’t willing to play dirty and give Shas what they wanted. Otherwise, maybe we could have peace. And that is the greatest tragedy of all, and what we learn from these papers.

  2. 2 noam said at 9:41 am on January 24th, 2011:

    Obviously the Jerusalem Arekat is offering is smaller than the one Israel has now. this is exactly what most people consider as “parting” a city.

    I guess Israeli negotiators, much like yourself, have a diffrant view of things, which explains why we fail to reach an agreement again and again.

  3. 3 noam said at 9:43 am on January 24th, 2011:

    “The Palestinians walked away in 2008 (that hasn’t been refuted)”

    In one of our previous debates I promised you an answer to this one. I didn’t find the piece I was looking for (Israeli papers’ archives are a mess), but surprisingly enough, Bush’s memoir, which I just finished reading, actually backs the Palestinian version… I’ll post this soon

  4. 4 maayan said at 11:23 am on January 24th, 2011:

    But I am willing to “part” the city and so was Olmert. The issue was how to divide it, and I believe that was negotiable. The real problem lay with Palestinian rejection of any Israeli area past al-Issawiya and Qalqilia. In other words, Maaleh Edumim and Ariel. However, this was a negotiation. If it were me, I’d horse-trade. They want a bridge between Givat Ze’ev and French Hill? Fine, we get Har Homa. They want Har Homa? Fine, we get the land cutting off Shuafat and between French Hill and Givat Ze’ev. As for Maaleh Edumim, that also isn’t so complicated and it looks like Olmert gave a map that was intended to be negotiated. He asks for a lot of empty land around settlements the Palestinians rejected. Presumably, he thought that they would counter with “no” and Israel would offer to cut down the open land considerably but keep the settlements in question and that would be the compromise.

    The reason we keep failing to reach an agreement isn’t me or the Israeli negotiators, in my humble opinion. The reasons are 194, Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount AND especially what you’re seeing right now which is that historically – and I mean going back to the ’40s – every time an Arab leader even thinks about compromise, he gets shouted down by opponents, the media and religious leaders in the Arab world.

  5. 5 maayan said at 11:35 am on January 24th, 2011:

    As for the Bush memoir, the best analysis I’ve seen so far of what he says is this one:

    The problem, you will note, is that the “Palestinian Papers” don’t show a negotiation that goes to the point of consent by the Palestinians. Since obviously the people who leaked the papers were trying to harm the PA leadership, I can’t imagine they would avoid including this particular document if it exists. Therefore I conclude it doesn’t exist.

    I suspect Bush is giving himself a little bit more credit than he deserves, but also going by the developments that are now clear to us all thanks to these documents. It’s clear the sides were talking seriously and making progress enough for people to be optimistic that things would be resolved. Olmert maintains that the Palestinians never came back after his offer. Well, in the Palestinian Papers, we see Olmert’s 7.3% plan, and we also have the “Napkin Map” which presumably comes afterward when Olmert and Abbas are talking one on one privately. So then where is the smoking gun that shows the Palestinians responded or were going to respond favorably? It doesn’t exist. Instead, we have Olmert continuing to state that Abbas never got back to him.

  6. 6 maayan said at 11:41 am on January 24th, 2011:

    Btw, my pet theory is that Dahlan leaked these papers to get back at Abbas or completely have him removed. You are welcome to use this theory and run with it in an earth-shattering investigative report that you can sell to Yediot for a gazillion shekels.

  7. 7 noam said at 11:47 am on January 24th, 2011:

    second time we agree on something (not the money I’ll make, but the theory). I’m starting to worry for you.

  8. 8 maayan said at 1:07 pm on January 24th, 2011:

    One day, 20 years from now, you’ll look back and see that I was generally right most of the time. ;)

  9. 9 maayan said at 10:24 pm on January 24th, 2011:

    I have to say, edited though it is by some interested party and al Jazeera, this stuff is fascinating. Take a look at this (GM is George Mitchell):

    “SE reiterated the need to restart negotiations from where they left off. GM argued that because of the “nothing agreed” rule nothing was binding on the parties. A discussion ensued on the interpretation of this rule and whether the current administration is bound by the position stated by Sec Rice during the Annapolis negotiations with respect to the 67 line. GM proposed to say that the negotiations will be “guided by” previous discussions. SE noted that is it a shame to lose all that was done in previous negotiations.

  10. 10 maayan said at 10:26 pm on January 24th, 2011:

    Sorry, here’s the link:

    This is taking place in the new administration, after Olmert and Bush are out of office.