January 24, 2011

Leaked Documents Show Decline of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Sinking Peace: Leaked Documents Said to Show Decline of Middle East Talks

HuffPost Politics
January 23, 2011

The Guardian and Al Jazeera served the world a fresh batch of leaked documents Sunday, with the material spanning a decade in the Israel-Palestine peace process. The picture is nothing if not depressing; the story is one of desperation, humiliation and dead-ends.

The explosive news is the great concessions allegedly made by the Palestinians to the Israelis in round after round of talks. (The New York Times reports that State Department officials will not vouch for the documents' authenticity.) Palestinian negotiators appear to have offered to allow Israel to annex all but one of the East Jerusalem settlements, a point of contention between Israelis and Palestinians for decades.

Even the ever-unresolved question of a Palestinian Right of Return -- that is, the right of Palestinian refugees driven, forced or scared out of Israel in 1948 to return to their ancestral homeland -- appears, on the Palestinian side, to have been wobbly at best. The offer, apparently, was for a tiny number of returnees -- a thin veil, in other words, to save face for negotiators, but otherwise a complete caving-in on the issue.

Other major concessions included a proposal for a joint-committee to control the Temple Mount in the old city of Jerusalem. Finally it seems there were back-room conversations between Israelis and Palestinians around Gaza. And most of these concessions were made two years ago, a desperate effort, well before this last process, to end this hundred-years war.

The appearance of this huge release of papers, which encompasses the bulk of the last decade of negotiations on the seemingly intractable issue of peace in the region, could not come at a worse time. After tremendous build-up and fanfare, and a joint State Department and White House launch this September, the peace process is at a standstill. Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlement building and the Palestinians, to save face, refused to return to the table. The Obama administration is scrambling now to restart talks. It will be much more difficult in light of this material.

The Guardian calls the first impression of Palestinian negotiators in these leaks -- namely Saeb Erekat, who has been working on the peace process since the Madrid conference of 1991 -- as "weak" and "desperate."

In a conversation with the U.S. envoy George Mitchell -- sent last spring to conduct back-room conversations -- Palestinian senior negotiator Erekat is said to have cried out:
"Nineteen years of promises and you haven't made up your minds what you want to do with us. . . . We delivered on our road map obligations. Even Yuval Diskin [director of Israel's internal security service, Shabak] raises his hat on security. But no, they can't even give a six-month freeze to give me a figleaf."

Blasting the United States for caring only about "PR" and "quick news," he added, "What good am I if I'm the joke of my wife, if I'm so weak?"
On Al Jazeera, as reported by the Israeli daily Haaretz, Erekat's quiet and personal frustration was revealed even more. The negotiator complained that he couldn't get his calls returned by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And that even small niceties, like acknowledging the holidays each religion observed, were overlooked.
"I called Uzi Arad before Passover and arranged a call from Abbas to Netanyahu to congratulate him," Erekat said to U.S. diplomat David Hale. "I got nothing. Come Ramadan, the feast, nothing. I called them to meet from the beginning, they kept canceling. This is Netanyahu."
Hale was apparently pushing Erekat to restart negotiations. This was in the time period just before the 10-month moratorium on settlement building had begun. Erekat is angered that the United States won't be clearer on its position. And he believes the Israelis aren't sure partners in peace.
"Israelis want the two-state solution but they don't trust," Erekat told Hale. "They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians."
Then he mentions a position paper that explicitly sets out the Palestinian Authority's red lines.
"What is in that paper gives them the biggest Jerusalem in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarized state. . . . What more can I give?" Erekat said.
The publication of these papers may be intended to embarrass the United States, or Israel, but in actuality, it is not so much "news" to those who have been following the years of front- and back-room deals for years as a very public declaration in a region that trades on quiet talk. It will more than likely be a blow to Palestinian leaders who have conceded more than they would like the public to know.

The publication will surely be another blow to what is terribly weakened, if not dead, process.
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