2011-01-26 The Palestine Papers (Part 1 of 2)

On January 23, Al Jazeera announced their possession of 1,684 files of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and with the release of these documents, they launched their new Transparency Unit. They released the Palestine Papers and reported on their contents between January 23-26th, 2011. The documents include:

  • 275 sets of meeting minutes
  • 690 internal e-mails
  • 153 reports and studies
  • 134 sets of talking points and prep notes for meetings
  • 64 draft agreements
  • 54 maps, charts and graphs
  • 51 “non-papers” (including power point presentations)

These accounts of high level exchanges and strategy papers cover a period from 1999 to 2010. As promised by Al Jazeera, they have revealed new details regarding:

The Palestinian Authority’s willingness to concede illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and to be “creative” about the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

Erekat's solution for the Haram Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority (PA), had suggested unprecedented compromises on the division of Jerusalem and its holy sites. Minutes of negotiations at the US State Department in Washington DC indicate that Erekat was willing to concede control over the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, to the oversight of an international committee.

"The biggest Yerushalayim"In a June 15 meeting in Jerusalem, involving Condoleezza Rice, the then-US secretary of state, Tzipi Livni, the then-Israeli foreign minister, Ahmed Qurei, PA's former prime minister, and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Palestinian negotiators agreed to allow Israel to annex the settlement Ramat Shlomo, along with almost every other bit of illegal construction in the Jerusalem area – an historic concession for which they received nothing in return.

From the minutes:

Qurei: This last proposition could help in the swap process. We proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa). This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so in Camp David.

The "napkin map" revealed Not only did the Israeli government offer no concessions in return for the Jerusalem settlements, but Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert responded by adding the annex of more than 10% of the West Bank (including the major settlements in Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and elsewhere), in exchange for sparsely-populated farmland along the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel would keep all of its major West Bank settlements – Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, Kedumim and others – none of which were included in the Palestinian offers. Olmert also proposed a link between the West Bank and Gaza that would be under Palestinian control yet remain under Israeli sovereignty. A special road would connect Bethlehem with Ramallah, bypassing East Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem concessions are discussed further in "Shocking revelations" on Jerusalem.

The compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return.

PA selling short the refugees
Some six million Palestinian refugees are scattered around the world, including more than 400,000 in Lebanon where they are deprived of basic rights, not permitted to buy or sell property, and are banned from more than 70 job categories. They live in poverty, dependent on a United Nations agency for aid.

The Palestinian Authority chief negotiator, Saeb Erekats, told US diplomat David Hale on January 15, 2010, that the Palestinians offered Israel the return of "a symbolic number" of refugees. Further, Erekat said that refugees would not have voting rights on a possible peace deal with Israel.

In a meeting on March 23, 2007, between Erekat and then-Belgian foreign minister Karel De Gucht, Erekat said, "I never said the Diaspora will vote. It's not going to happen. The referendum will be for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Can't do it in Lebanon. Can't do it in Jordan."

In a negotiation meeting on January 27, 2008, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, told the Palestinian negotiators, "Your state will be the answer to all Palestinians including refugees. Putting an end to claims means fulfilling national rights for all."

Erekat seemed to buy into this idea. In a meeting with US diplomats, including Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, on October 21, 2009, Erekat said, "Palestinians will need to know that five million refugees will not go back. The number will be agreed as one of the options. Also the number returning to their own state will depend on annual absorption capacity".

So even a future Palestinian state could not accommodate the millions of displaced who would want to settle there.

Israeli aspirations to expel the Israeli Arab population.

Expelling Israel's Arab population? During several 2008 meetings with Palestinian negotiators, Tzipi Livni, Israel's former foreign minister, proposed annexing Arab villages to the future Palestinian state, forcing tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs to choose between their citizenship and their land. She described Israeli Arabs as "Palestinians" and the villages they lived in as "Palestinian villages".

From the minutes of a June 2008 meeting

There are some Palestinian villages that are located on both sides of the 1967 line about which we need to have an answer, such as Beit Safafa, Barta’a, Baqa al-Sharqiyeh and Baqa al-Gharbiyyeh.

The confusion of nationality with ethnicity is even more apparent in a meeting which includes senior Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei and Israeli negotiator Tal Becker:

Qurei: This will be difficult. All Arabs in Israel will be against us.

Becker: We will need to address it somehow. Divided. All Palestinian. All Israeli.

This is discussed further in A dangerous shift on 1967 lines

This is an earthquake. It not only up-ends the two-state solution as it is conventionally understood, but opens the door to possible future American acceptance of Israeli aspirations to create an ethnically-pure Jewish state by "exchanging" territories where many of Israel's 1.4 million Palestinian citizens are concentrated. This would be a violation of these Palestinians' most fundamental rights and a repudiation of the universally-accepted self-determination principles established at the Versailles Conference after World War I. It potentially replaces the two-state solution with what Israeli officials call the "two states for two peoples solution."

Details of the Palestinian Authority’s security cooperation with Israel.

Demanding a demilitarized state Israeli negotiators demanded that they keep Israeli troops in the West Bank, maintain control of Palestinian airspace, and dictate exactly what weapons could and could not be purchased by the Palestinian security forces. In May 2008, Tzipi Livni, the then-Israeli foreign minister, tells Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat In order to create your state you have to agree in advance with Israel – you choose not to have the right of choice afterwards. These are the basic pillars.

From a meeting between Amos Gilad, the Israeli general and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat:

Erekat: So no army, no navy… fine. But what do I do if my security is at stake? What should I do?

Gilad: Consult.

The above exchange is discussed in greater depth on January 25 The limits of autonomy

The al-Madhoun assassination Notes in the Paelestine Papers reveal an exchange in 2005 between the Palestinian Authority and Israel on a plan to kill a Palestinian fighter named Hassan al-Madhoun, who lived in the Gaza strip.

The Palestine Papers show how the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, once the spearhead of action against the Israeli occupation, has been transformed into a body that helps maintaining it.

With the common goal of destroying Hamas, the Palestine Papers reveal the extent to which the PA, the US and Israel were willing to work together, and the extent to which the PA linked the fate of Hamas with its own political survival.

From a meeting between Saeb Erekat, the PA’s chief negotiator with David Hale, the deputy US Middle East envoy on September 17, 2009.

Erekat: We have had to kill Palestinians to establish one authority, one gun and the rule of law. We continue to perform our obligations. We have invested time and effort and killed our own people to maintain order and the rule of law.

The recurring theme throughout The Palestine Papers of the Palestinian Authority's collusion with Israel to keep the pressure on Hamas.

Qurei: "Occupy the crossing" The 14km-long Philadelphi corridor between Egypt and the Gaza Strip has been controlled by Hamas since 2007. In February of 2008, after hundreds of thousands of Gazans entered Egypt to buy food and supplies, Ahmed Qurei, the former Palestinian Authority prime minister, asked Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, if Israel could re-occupy the Philadephi corridor to seal the border and cut off supplies to Hamas. During another meeting later that month, Livni reintroduced the subject.

Livni: Regarding Philadelphi, whether or not it was a mistake to leave it. If indeed it was a mistake, since Egypt is not effective like Jordan, can our agreement provide for Israeli presence in Philadelphi?

Qurei: Palestine will be independent but can co-ordinate. Agreement should reflect that with a commitment to security. Therefore regarding parameters I believe security is part of regional vision. Other neighbours don't have a problem -- regional security is interconnected.

This is discussed further in Cutting off a vital connection and in Erekat: "I can't stand Hamas".

A sense of moving backwards during meetings with Obama officials.

Deep frustrations with Obama Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told Obama early in the latter’s presidency that Israeli-Palestinian talks would not be credible without a complete Israeli settlement freeze, to no avail.

Netanyahu rejected the US president’s request for a complete settlement freeze, agreeing only to suspend new construction in the West Bank (thousands of new tenders were issued in East Jerusalem during the freeze period). But the White House accepted the offer, and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, would later praise Israel for its "unprecedented” concession".

During the 10-month West Bank freeze, the Jerusalem municipality approved, among other projects, 1,600 housing tenders in Ramat Shlomo; 377 in Neve Yaakov; 230 in Pisgat Ze’ev; 117 in Har Homa; and 20 in Sheikh Jarrah.

(Settlers in the West Bank quickly made up for lost time, too: They started 1,629 new houses in six weeks after the freeze ended, nearly as many as they started in all of 2009, according to the Israeli group Peace Now.)

Condoleezza Rice, the then-US secretary of state, explicitly endorsed using 1967 borders as a baseline for negotiations. Under Obama, the US "would not agree to any mention of ’67 whatsoever” in order to avoid “difficulties with the Israelis".

The role of Tony Blair and the British government

MI6 offered to detain Hamas figures The British government played a significant role in equipping and funding the Palestinian security forces, several of which have been linked to torture and other abuses and the UK’s MI-6 intelligence service proposed detaining members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Under the heading “degrading the capabilities of the rejectionist groups,” the MI-6 document suggests:

"... the disruption of their leaderships' communications and command and control capabilities; the detention of key middle-ranking officers; and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources held within the Occupied Territories. US and - informally - UK monitors would report both to Israel and to the Quartet. We could also explore the temporary internment of leading Hamas and PIJ figures, making sure they are welltreated, with EU funding."

An appendix to the document outlines how the British government might help the Palestinian Authority. It includes British plans to seize firearms and rockets from the West Bank and Gaza; to cut off funding to “rejectionist groups” like Hamas; and to reduce weapons smuggling through tunnels into Gaza.

Tony Blair's role is discussed in more detail in Blair's counter-insurgency "surge" and PA questions Tony Blair's role.

Part 2 of the Palestine Papers summary is here.

Given the governments of all

Given the governments of all our countries have effectively abandoned in the Palestinians and excluded them from the protection of International Law, I am not sure we are in a position to sit on judgement of what compromises the Palestinian Authority might feel obliged to make (no matter how much individually we disagree with our government's actions). The palestinian people do have a right to judge though. It will be interesting to see if a Middle East more democratic is about to emerge and what governments there run on popular lines might look like. We may be entering a King Log/King Stork situation. But lets hope not.

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