Monday, January 24, 2011

The Palestine Papers

The big news out of the Middle East is the leak by al-Jazeera of the so-called Palestine Papers, which appear to demonstrate a Palestinian government offering record concessions on issues important to Israel. Unfortunately, the Netanyahu government broke off negotiations upon its election, and the Palestinian Authority has refused to renew them, so we're at an impasse.

On the one hand (operating on the assumption that the documents are accurate), it's obviously a good thing that Palestinian negotiators were willing to make such drastic concessions on the issue of settlements ringing Jerusalem -- not so much because I have strong beliefs as to who gains ultimate jurisdiction about any (well, most) particular acre of land near the Green Line as because I prefer a great deal about agreement being closer rather than further, and concessions on points of contention -- regardless of my Platonic ideal resolution of the conflict -- further that interest. To that end, it is of course disheartening that the PA has been forced into furious denials over the contents of the memo. Their defensiveness is understandable -- the only thing more unpopular than making controversial concessions in pursuit of independence and a comprehensive peace agreement is making controversial concessions and then not getting independence or peace. But I would hardly say it is doing anyone any favors to, say, write that "The shame on the ‘negotiators’ (collaborators) who offered this will never be eradicated." The political fallout is disheartening, but it reflects well on the PA that it was willing to take a bold leap of faith here, and poorly on the Israeli government that it wasn't able to reciprocate.

Hence the conventional wisdom -- that the Palestinian Authority is a true partner for peace, but it is questionable the extent to which it can deliver democratic legitimacy to the peace process, seems to me apt. At the same time, for all the famous lines about Palestinians "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity", it seems very obvious that the Israeli government missed a major opportunity to push the ball forward during this round of negotiation, and it deserves to be held to task for its failing.

Meanwhile, the first half of the Turkel Committee report on the Gaza flotilla incident is out. I've skimmed part of it (I was curious as to whether my intuitions regarding the legality of the blockade under San Remo were on target), but I haven't read it carefully (I was hoping that Opinio Juris would have weighed in on it, but they haven't yet). I will note that it is released just in time to greet a new flotilla ready to sail to Gaza, so that's "good".


joe said...

One wonders, with the PA having offered major concessions and the Israeli government having walked away from the table, if we can expect much talk in political and media circles of there being "no partner for peace" on Israel's side.

One doesn't wonder too hard, however.

N. Friedman said...

We have the problem here that not only do Palestinian officials state unequivocally that the proposals are untrue but, in fact, the proposals are rather mysteriously the same in their essentials as the Israeli proposal. So, (a) joe's comment makes no sense because, in fact, we know what the Israeli proposals are and (b) we have no good reason to believe that the proposals are real.

You might want to read Barry Rubin's blog, RubinReports, for January 24, 2011 titled "SCOOP: Explaining How The "Palestine Papers" Story Is A Fabrication That Teaches Us The Truth," which shows pretty clearly that the documents are forgeries, mistranslations or have been altered to switch who made what offers. As he puts it, with reference to the proposal on Jerusalem - and in support of the PA's view of the matter _: "Wait!!! This sounds familiar. It is the ISRAELI NOT THE PALESTINIAN position. In other words, either deliberately or in the translation they REVERSED the story!" On this point, he has to be correct, since Israel's position on Jerusalem was published.

He further explains:

The other explanation--by no means inconsistent--is that this is a dissident Fatah forgery or at least the documents making the most sensational assertions were altered in order to discredit the PA. The proof would be whether the originals say that Israel was making this offer (meaning there was a deliberately inaccurate translation or reporting) or it says the Palestinians made the offer (meaning the documents are forged or altered).