Jan 26, 2011

The Palestine Papers – Nothing New Under the Sun

David BrogBy David Brog
Christians United for Israel

For the past couple of days, Israel’s critics have been in full drama mode while reporting what they view as a significant new disclosure. Following closely on the heels of Wikileaks, the Al Jazeera network has received over 1,600 documents leaked by a source in the Palestinian Authority. These documents – already known as the “Palestine Papers” — purport to demonstrate the concessions the Palestinians were willing to make during peace negotiations with Israel in 2008. Many commentators have reacted to this disclosure by jumping to the irrational conclusion that if the Palestinians agreed to some concessions - no matter how few - then the Israelis must be to blame for the failure to reach a peace deal.

Yet the Palestine Papers contain nothing that is new or surprising. The only surprise is the rapidity with which the media has mischaracterized their significance, and the speed with which the Palestinians have denied their validity.

Here’s what we know. In 2008, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians an independent state in all of Gaza and over 93.5 percent of the West Bank. He offered them land swaps from Israel to make up for the less than 6.5 percent of the West Bank they would not receive. He also offered them half of Jerusalem. By some accounts, the Palestinians turned this offer down. By other accounts, they simply never responded to it.

Nothing in the Palestine Papers contradicts this narrative. Instead, these documents make the rather underwhelming disclosure that the Palestinians were prepared to accept some of the compromises suggested by Israel while rejecting others. In particular, it appears that the Palestinians were willing to let Israel keep the parts of Jerusalem with a Jewish majority and to give up the claim that all Palestinians refugees must be free to return to Israel. That’s great. But no one ever claimed that the Palestinians rejected all of the compromises offered by Israel. And accepting some compromises while rejecting others does not a peace agreement make. What is significant – and hardly news – is that the Palestinians ultimately rejected the deal.

This does not mean that the Palestine Papers have failed to provide surprises. But the surprises have come not from their content, but from the Palestinian reaction to their public disclosure. It has indeed been surprising – and quite disappointing – to see these relatively moderate men deny that they were willing to accept these necessary compromises on Jerusalem and refugees. They must deny such compromises because – as they well know – their public is not yet ready to accept them. This ongoing rejectionism explains why Yassir Arafat ultimately turned down a peace deal in 2000, and why Mahmoud Abbas ultimately turned down a deal in 2008. All of the private concessions in the world will not amount to peace. These days, peace deals are made – and signed – in public.

Let’s be clear. Ceding almost all of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem – the biblical and strategic heartland of Israel — is quite controversial in Israel. Yet Israeli leaders have consistently offered to do exactly this, and they have made these offers openly. These Israeli leaders have understood that they must do the difficult work of preparing their public for the tough sacrifices that peace will necessitate. And such leadership often comes at a price. Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated for offering to make these concessions. Prime Minister Ehud Barak was voted out of office for doing likewise.

Ultimately, the Palestinian willingness to make concessions for peace is meaningful only if they can make such concessions publicly. No secret deals can be made here. So long as Palestinian leaders must fear the public disclosure of the difficult concessions that must be made for peace, they will not – and cannot – sign on the line that is dotted. So long as the Palestinians must hide the price of peace from their public, peace will remain a dream.

Related Links

Palestinian papers: Leaks threaten my life, Erekat says - BBC
Papers are fakes and Palestinian Authority is the target, says Abbas - Sydney Morning Herald
Palestinian leaks to hinder peace talks - Financial Times
Palestine leaked papers make peace process more difficult, US admits - Telegraph.co.uk
Europe starts process of recognizing Palestine - Isael Today (Ryan Jones)