This past week, Al Jazeera and The Guardian released on their websites a set of 1,684 confidential Palestinian Authority documents known as “The Palestine Papers”. These internal emails, minutes of meetings, maps, preparatory notes and other materials are a treasure-trove of political and diplomatic information regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations between 1999 and 2010.
Although some of the more eye-catching documents have already been widely reported, there is much more to the Palestine Papers than just these attention-grabbing headlines. We are currently combing through the documents and look forward to providing a thorough analysis soon.
At first blush, the Palestine Papers should be seen as a source of optimism. They reveal a Palestinian Authority that is serious about making peace and willing to make historic compromises, and they detail a negotiating process under the Olmert/Livni government that, notwithstanding the gaps, was making headway toward an agreement. In this sense, the Palestine Papers validate the longtime perspective of the pro-Israel/pro-peace camp: That there is a Palestinian partner for peace; that the window on a two-state solution is not (yet) closed; that an agreement that meets the minimum demands of both sides is realistic and achievable.
In the meantime, as a service to readers who have been inundated by the plethora of new information, we have collected below the impressions of Israel’s leading diplomatic, political and security journalists in order to offer you their takes on the Palestine Papers.
January 28, 2011
Israeli journalists comment on the Palestine Papers
Haaretz newspaper (editorial): The documentation …illustrates the serious and down-to-business approach of the Palestinians with regards to the central core issues – borders, Jerusalem and holy places. The documents testify yet again that Israel has found a pragmatic Palestinian partner, interested in implementing the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders. This solution consists of border adjustments that would enable annexing a considerable part of the settlements, in this way gaining international recognition for annexing the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Akiva Eldar: The documents are testimony that the Palestinians are willing to go the distance for peace: They will relinquish their claims on the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, the Etzion settlement bloc and the settlements along the Green Line. This would all be in return for territories on the western side of this line, including the region of Gilboa and Mount Hebron. According to a map that was shown to me two weeks ago, the major territorial disputes remain over Ariel, Elkana, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Har Homa suburb of East Jerusalem (which was built after the 1993 Oslo Accords). The documents in Al-Jazeera’s hands also confirm that the Palestinian leadership would be willing to abdicate sole autonomy in the Old City of Jerusalem and keep it under special rule.
Aluf Benn: The documents show that contrary to the “no-partner” image perpetuated by Israelis, the Palestinians were holding serious negotiations on the borders of their future state and that they produced a detailed map of territorial exchanges in the West Bank and neighborhood partitions in East Jerusalem…the Palestinians will be able to use the leaked documents to reinforce their claim that they have no partner on the Israeli side. Just look, they’ll say, we drew a map and agreed to effectively give up the right of return, and got nothing.
Nahum Barnea: The real answer to the question as to whether we have a partner or not is not to be found in the documents that were published by al-Jazeera but, rather, in the streets of the West Bank. If the Olympian quiet that was maintained there yesterday continues, that is a sign that the Palestinian Authority of Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and Salam Fayyad is a genuine sovereign power, and that its policies have the support of a majority of the public. … The response that was issued in Netanyahu’s name was … infuriating. It noted that Netanyahu was puzzled why the Palestinians were demanding a construction moratorium in East Jerusalem since they had already conceded the neighborhoods in which the construction was supposed to be prosecuted. It turns out that Netanyahu is the first prime minister of Israel to mock the Palestinians for their willingness to make concessions.
Nahum Barnea (2): There wasn’t any bluff here, neither on the Palestinian side nor on the Israeli side … The two parties were separated by a large gap, but anyone who claims the gap cannot be bridged is mistaken.
Amira Hass: Indeed, the “Palestine Papers” confirm an open secret: Contrary to the declarations recited in public, the leadership of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority is prepared for far-reaching concessions on the Holy Grail of the traditional Palestinian position: the right of return of refugees from the Palestinian “nakba” of 1948.
Gideon Levy: Never, but never, will Israel be offered a better deal than the one now revealed – and what came of it? Israeli rejection. Rejectionism.
Ben Caspit: Documents about negotiations that were published by al-Jazeera show the enormity of the lost opportunity. The fact that there were serious negotiations, that there is a partner to speak to comfortably and with mutual trust. …The gaps weren’t closed, but they were reduced. An additional, last creative effort could have been made to reach a formula. After all, the Geneva Initiative folks did it. … From now on it will be impossible to say there is no partner. There is. The problem is that the partner is problematic, weak, frightened and hesitant. In order to make that additional step it would need support, encouragement, an Arab and international security belt. Instead of all that, it is getting Al-Jazeera on the head and Netanyahu between the eyes. One day we will miss Abu Mazen, like now we miss all his predecessors, like we now regret the fact that we did not make peace with Syria in time, when it was still possible, when Hezbollah was small and Iran far away.
Roee Nahmias: The situation throughout the Middle East is volatile ever since the Tunisia upheaval. Arab rules are waiting for the dust to settle and for order to be restored. Yet precisely at this time, al-Jazeera arrived with its bombastic reports, which directly undermine the legitimacy of Palestinian Authority leaders, even if most of the “concessions” were already known in advance and thoroughly covered by the media before… If one day we see bloody riots in the West Bank similar to the ones we saw in Gaza, it would be worthwhile to go back to the latest al-Jazeera project. This is yet another step, and apparently a deliberate one, in weakening the PA, a move that one party stands to benefit from: The Hamas movement. It is for good reason that Hamas already uses the term “popular revolution” in its reports. And should such revolution indeed take place, heaven forbid, it won’t benefit Israel. This is some food for thought for those who are overjoyed by our neighbors’ troubles.
Carlo Strenger: Netanyahu’s government is the most immediate loser. Nobody on the international scene believed their adage that the Palestinians are the peace refuseniks to begin with. If anybody had any doubts left that their position is both insincere and false, the leaks have made it clear beyond any doubt that their position is cheap propaganda. Abbas and his team come across as eminently sensible; they have good understanding of Israel’s needs, particularly when it comes to security. Most importantly, they showed flexibility in what is by far the most pressing existential issue for Israel, the Palestinian right of return…This didn’t prevent foreign minister Lieberman from saying immediately that the leaks prove that there is no chance for a final status agreement. This has further cemented Lieberman’s status as the Israeli Sarah Palin: Nobody in his right mind expects to hear anything from him other than the same, tired repetitions of right-wing clichés.
Avi Issacharoff (and here): Another conclusion rising from the leaked documents is that they really do not say anything new. Almost every detail has been publicized in the past. In fact, the Palestinian Authority did not even make any effort to hide some of the details that have been made public… None of the documents the station presented contained any information about the negotiations that was not already known by the Israeli and the Palestinian publics. The sensitive issue of Israel sovereignty over parts of East Jerusalem had been discussed and agreed in the July 2000 Camp David talks. As for security coordination between Israel and the PA, every Palestinian knows this to be a fact since the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip.