The publication of the Palestine Papers by Al-Jazeera, and by The Guardian, has come as a great shock to those who believed that Israel and/or the US ever sincerely sought to bring peace to Palestine through the 2-state solution that was agreed in Oslo. Indeed, they have made it clear that they are only interested in bringing peace by eliminating the Palestinian population altogether.
Whether through sincere belief that US imperialism would seriously pursue a viable 2-state solution, or through anxiety to get hold of US financial support, or to avoid Israeli military intervention and economic sanctions, the Palestinian Authority, after the death of Yasser Arafat, renounced all violent resistance to Israel’s aggressive expansion into more and more Palestinian territory. Worse, it became an accomplice to the Israeli and US war of terror against the Palestinian resistance.
The Palestinian Authority as an accomplice of imperialism and Zionism
The Papers show that there was an intimate level of covert cooperation between the Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority, with British intelligence forces offering a secret plan to crush Hamas, and Israel providing tear gas and training in crowd control. The Palestinian negotiator, Erekat, was happy to reassure the US representative, George Mitchell, for instance, that the Palestinian Authority had been successful in arresting 3,700 members of armed groups, summoning a further 4,700 for questioning and confiscating 1,100 weapons in 2009. It is hardly a secret that in the West Bank, hundreds of Hamas and other activists have routinely been detained without trial in recent years and subjected to widely documented human rights abuses, i.e., torture.
Israel asked the PA in 2005 to kill a militant (Hassan al-Madhoun, aged 32, an al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade commander) ostensibly in retaliation for a suicide bombing effected by Islamic Jihad who had killed 5 Israelis, but in fact because he was resisting the PA’s efforts to turn the Al-Aqsa brigades into a tool for suppressing Hamas. Although the PA demurred at itself organising the fatal attack, the militant in question died the following month in an Israeli drone attack on his car. While it is remotely possible that the PA was not implicated in this, it is noteworthy that this murder was discussed by Israel with the PA. It is hard to escape the conclusion that in all probability someone in the PA tipped Israel the wink as to where Hassan-al-Madhoun could be found. Erekat openly admitted that in order to keep order in the West Bank the Palestine Authority had “had to kill Palestinians”.
Worse is the fact that WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables reported that in June 2009 Ehud Barak told a US Congressional delegation that Israel “had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas”. Although it seems that neither was willing to undertake that particular dirty role, there was no public denunciation of Israel’s dastardly plans. Both Egypt and Fatah kept quiet. In fact, so far has the Palestinian Authority abandoned the interests of the Palestinian people that it 2009 Erekat was heard to complain to George Mitchell that not enough was being done to seal off the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza!
After the criminal war on Gaza, the Goldstone report was published at the instance of the Security Council of the United Nations exposing the war crimes that Israel had committed during that war. The Papers reveal that the PA held up the Goldstone report for some time, cooperating with US officials in an attempt to postpone reference to Israeli war crimes (though the PA later reversed its decision).
Obama worse than Bush
The Palestine Papers make clear that while the PA was ostensibly condemning settlement expansion by the Israelis, in private and behind closed doors its negotiators had already offered to concede some of these territories to Israel. One example of this is Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem, where a furore arose in 2009 when US Senator Joe Biden was visiting Israel, because the Jerusalem municipality chose just that moment to announce the approval of 1,600 new housing tenders. Under pressure from the US, who howled that this was undermining peace negotiations, Israel delayed the construction, which to this day has not restarted. Nevertheless, the Palestine Papers show that this was all a charade designed to restore the US’s severely damaged credibility in the Middle East, and to give the impression that Obama was a sea change from George Bush. The fact is, however, that Palestinian negotiators had already agreed to allow Israel to annexe this settlement and nearly all other illegal construction in the Jerusalem area. This offer was made at talks on 15 June 2008 between Rice, Livni, Ahmed Qurei (ex PA prime minister) and Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator. Although it might be thought that the offer lapsed because the Israelis did not accept it, in fact this is not what has ever happened to concessions offered by the Palestinians. In practice, all Palestinian concessions that are rejected are “banked”, i.e., accepted but nothing given in return. They merely become a base from which to demand further concessions.
Obama has as a result of the publication of the Palestine Papers been shown to be, if anything, even worse than George Bush:
“Confidential Palestinian documents leaked to Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based television network, suggest that Mr Obama retreated from a promise that territory occupied by Israel after the Six Day War of 1967 should become the basis for a future Palestinian state.
“The documents, part of a second tranche of the “Palestine Papers” released by Al Jazeera …, indicate that Mr Obama’s change of heart was the result of Israeli pressure.
“That fact alone is likely to damage Mr Obama’s carefully-cultivated image as a friend of the Arab world.
“According to the papers, Condoleezza Rice, President George W Bush’s secretary of state, explicitly endorsed the use of 1967 borders as a basis for future negotiations on dividing territory in the months after the Annapolis peace conference in 2007.
“The gesture was a hugely significant one for the Palestinians as it acknowledged the broad outlines of the state they craved.
“It was accepted that adjustments to the border would have to be made to allow Israel to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank in return for land in Israel.
“But Palestinian hopes that the matter had been settled were dashed when Mr Obama came to power.
“Records of a meeting in October 2009 between Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and George Mitchell, Mr Obama’s Middle East envoy, show the Americans wavering.
“The minutes indicate that Mr Erekat urged the United States publicly to declare its support for ‘two states along the ’67 border with agreed swaps’, a commitment Ms Rice only made in private.
“Mr Mitchell noted that the US had come under fierce Israeli pressure to resist such a move, but promised to pursue the matter.
“The next day, however, he told Mr Erekat to drop the subject.
“’Again, I tell you that President Obama does not accept prior decisions by Bush,’ the documents show Mr Mitchell as saying. ‘Don’t use this because it can hurt you.’
“Mr Erekat seems stunned by the warning, replying: ‘But this was an agreement with Secretary Rice… For God’s sake, she said to put it on the record.’
“Many Palestinians are likely to respond bitterly to the irony that President Bush, who was widely hated in the Arab world, made them a much valued if unexpected undertaking only for Mr Obama, whose election they almost universally cheered, to take it away again” (Adrian Blomfield, ‘Middle East peace talks leaks: Obama ‘backed out of land promise to Palestinians’, Telegraph, 25 Jan 2011).
Obama’s position is all the more shocking in that all that Obama was being asked to do was to give his backing to what is already international law. Every single encroachment by Israel on the Occupied Territories is a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. To return to the Palestinians the whole of the Occupied Territories is merely to carry out an obligation of that Convention. What Obama has done, therefore, is to demonstrate that at Israel’s bidding he is entirely prepared to act illegally even by the canons of bourgeois international law.
Fatah leadership tries to sell Palestine, but the Zionists won’t buy
Faced with a clear Israeli intent, fully backed by the US, to annexe further Palestinian territory, or even all of it, permanently, the Palestinian Authority quite lost its head, forgot about Palestinians’ legal rights, never mind the question of justice, and made offer after offer to hand over Palestinian land to Israel, only to have all these offers rejected. As Hamas representative, Osama Hamdan, writing in the Guardian of 26 January 2011, quite rightly pointed out: “Had Palestinian offers been accepted by the Israelis, it would have been the biggest act of treason in the region’s history.
“The Palestinian negotiators violated the national consensus achieved in 2006 when, in response to an appeal for national unity from Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, various Palestinian factions agreed on a political programme based on full Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines, dismantling of all settlements and the right of return for all refugees.”
Every bit of Israel has been stolen from the Palestinians. Until 2006, Hamas was not prepared to concede to Israel any of the stolen land. It did, however, in 2006 reluctantly agree to go along with the 2-state solution on the basis mentioned above in order that Palestinians should be able to present a unified voice. The Palestine Papers demonstrate that behind everybody’s backs, the Palestinian authority was negotiating:
(a) to hand over to Israel a further 119 square kilometres of Palestinian land without receiving any land in return, and to exchange certain settlements built illegally on Palestinian land for arid, undeveloped land on the northern boundary of Gaza;
(b) to hand over to Israel virtually the whole of Jerusalem, including all illegal settlements except one, and including the Palestinian areas of Gilo and Sheikh Jarrah, leaving the Palestinians with only a few isolated areas separated off from such of the occupied territories as Israel did deign to return to the Palestinians, in such a way that East Jerusalem could never realistically be the capital of the new Palestinian state as had been envisaged by the Oslo Accords;
(c) to hand over Haram-al-Sharif, including the al-Aqsa mosque (the third most holy Islamic site) to the control of an “international committee” consisting of the US and its friends (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.).
(d) to limit the number of Palestinian refugees granted the right to return to 10,000 over 10 years (out of some 5-6 million!).
However, it has to be admitted that the PA’s treachery has had the merit of demonstrating to the whole world that there is no way that Israel is ever going to be satisfied with less than the total elimination of Palestine. The concessions offered were way beyond anybody had any right to expect, and yet they were still turned down because they weren’t enough for the Israelis.
The sticking point was supposedly that Israel (backed by the US which instructed it on no account to give up Ma’ale Admin) was insisting on annexation by Israel of the large internationally illegal West Bank settlements of Ma’ale Admin, Ariel, Ephrat and Giv’at Ze’ev, and the Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, which even for Erekat was a step too far, since these settlements (with the exception of Har Homa) are located deep in the West Bank, and their inclusion in Israel is incompatible with the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state. Ariel, for example, is nearly halfway to Jordan. We have no doubt, however, that if every one of these settlements had been conceded, another sticking point would be reached.
Venetia Rainey, writing in The First Post (‘The Palestine Papers: Why the leak is so serious’), could not but conclude that “The leaked documents … suggest that a 2-state solution could be an impossible aim. The offers made by the Palestinian negotiators are already way beyond what most Palestinians would accept, while 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 for once and for all.”
Even Robert Grenier, former Director of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center, says: “The overwhelming conclusion one draws from this record is that the process for a two-state solution is essentially over”.
Erekat said it all when he remarked to George Mitchell, the Obama’s representative in the Middle East: “What good am I if I’m the joke of my wife … They can’t even give me a 6 month freeze to give me a figleaf”.
There can be no question that the Palestinian Authority has lost all credibility as a negotiator on behalf of the Palestinian people, let alone as the sole negotiator on their behalf! This has strengthened the hand of those who are calling for a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. There have been demonstrations in the West Bank against the Palestinian Authority, even though demonstrations are banned and are dispersed violently. According to Human Rights Watch, there was a demonstration on 5 February in Ramallah’s Manara Square in which hundreds of Palestinians filled the square, chanting slogans supporting demonstrators in Egypt, as well as slogans critical of the PA. “The chants included, ‘The people want an end to Oslo’, referring to the agreement that created the PA …” and, “‘The people want an end to the division’, referring to the conflict between the West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza”. Events have prompted the PA, no doubt with advice from the US and Israel, to call its elections (now two years overdue!) for next September. However, with hundreds of activists for the main opposition, Hamas, languishing in jail, there would not be any prospect of a fair election, and Hamas is refusing to stand unless a reconciliation is effected first.
However, with the seismic shifts in the balance of forces currently taking place in the Middle East, that have already swept aside the tyrannical pro-imperialist regimes of Tunisia and Egypt and are seriously threatening other US puppets in the region too (e.g. Bahrain and Yemen), it is impossible at this point in time to predict what will be the outcome for Palestine in the immediate future. It is a time of exceptional opportunity in the fight for justice, and we have every expectation that the Palestinian people will seize it with both hands.