Palestine Papers: The secret negotiations

Palestine Papers: The secret negotiations
The leaked documents shocked the world with the minutes of secret negotiations between the PLO and Israel in our No. 9.

Gregg Carlstrom, Al-Jazeera: 27 Dec 2011 14:50

Were the Palestine Papers "the death of the two-state solution", a "pack of lies" or a "great blessing"?
Al Jazeera's release of The Palestine Papers, a trove of more than 1,600 leaked documents detailed nearly a decade's worth of negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The documents, which include meeting minutes and internal memos, were published in full on Al Jazeera's website.

They show the PLO offering concessions that would have been overwhelmingly rejected by the Palestinian public, and receiving nothing in return from an Israeli government that budged little on core issues.

One document, for example, revealed that the PLO was willing to concede all of the illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, with the exception of Har Homa. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the offer would give Israel "the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history".

Others showed Tzipi Livni, Israel's then-foreign minister, proposing to "swap" Israeli Arab villages into a future Palestinian state. Such a deal would have forced tens of thousands of Arab citizens of Israel, who supposedly enjoy equal rights under the law, to choose between their citizenship and their land.

Some of the most striking exchanges involved the PLO's compromises on the status of refugees, one of the conflict's core issues; in a 2010 meeting, Erekat said the PLO offered to accept just "a symbolic number" of the six million Palestinian refugees scattered around the globe.

The PLO's reaction to the papers was initially quite hostile. Yasser Abed Rabbo called them an attack on the Palestinian leadership; Erekat called them a "pack of lies", and claimed many of the papers were fabricated.

Erekat would later reverse that claim, though, and he resigned from his post in February after an internal investigation showed that the papers came from his office. (He has since gone back to work, saying that he only resigned from the PLO's central committee, not from his job as chief negotiator.)

In Gaza, though, Hamas officials hailed the release of the papers. Mahmoud Zahar, a spokesman for the group, called for protests around the Arab World in response to the PLO's proposed concessions; Fawzi Barhoum, another Hamas spokesman, called the negotiations treason, "a betrayal of precious and long-held national goals".

In Israel, too, the papers met with some praise: Gilad Erdan, a member of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud party, called them a "great blessing" for revealing the PLO's positions.

A number of commentators called the papers the death of the "two-state solution", and indeed, little has changed in the so-called "peace process" since the papers were released in January. The last round of direct talks collapsed in September 2010, and despite ongoing efforts by the Quartet and the Obama administration, Israel and the PLO are still not talking.