Donald Macintyre: Few of the 'revealed' concessions are new, or conclusive
In the public 2003 Geneva Initiative, the Palestinians went further on territory than seems the case in the leaked papers
Tuesday 25 January 2011
What have we learnt from the leaks?
The documents have exposed concessions on territory and refugees that Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian leadership was willing to make to secure a state in land occupied for 43 years. They are selected snapshots, albeit in vivid detail, of the negotiations over several years. But on one broad level we have not learnt a lot.
Few of the concessions are exactly new, including the idea that to advance a two-state solution to the conflict some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem would be Israel's in return for a land swap elsewhere; or that descendants of the 700,000 Palestinian refugees that fled or were forced from their homes in the war of 1948 would be allowed compensation and/or resettlement in the new Palestine or in third countries rather than return, other than in token numbers, to their old homes in what is now Israel. To take a single example: the 2003 Geneva Initiative, the unofficial but entirely public model agreement, reached when Yasser Arafat was still alive, between Yasser Abed Rabbo of the PLO and Israel's Yossi Beilin, embodied both those concepts.
Indeed, on territory the Palestinians went further than they are disclosed to have done in the new leaked papers; all the big East Jerusalem settlements – or Jewish "neighbourhoods" as Israel prefers to call them – would have become Israel's, including Har Homa, which in the discussions with Tzipi Livni in 2008 the Palestinians insisted on being part of Palestine. And Geneva only talked of token admission of refugees at Israel's discretion - not even the 10,000 over ten years that the leaked papers are reported to show the Palestinians agreed to.
So what's all the fuss about?
The candour of the private discussions, especially on the Palestinian side, heavily reinforced by the spin in the coverage by Al Jazeera to whom the documents were leaked, have helped to convey an impression that a desperate Palestinian leadership in Ramallah was prepared to pay any price for a deal. The impression is one which its Hamas rivals have, unsurprisingly, done nothing to dispel. Some cringe-making language didn't help. Many Palestinians, moreover, will strongly object to chief negotiator Saeb Erekat's dismissal to the Belgian foreign minister of the idea that Palestinian refugees in Jordan or Lebanon should vote on a final peace deal. And Mr Erekat's rhetoric, to put it mildly, has hardly prepared their public for what he says in negotiations. (Any more than that of Israel, whose leaders have mostly been notoriously bad at admitting in public that a shared capital of Jerusalem is a minimum requirement for a deal.)
Is the whole story one of Palestinian concession piled on concession?
No. One surprise is that Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian negotiator, was insisting that the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, which the US and Israel have always envisaged as being Israel's in a two-state deal, should be in Palestine. And there is even the occasional unexpected nod in the Palestinian direction by Israel. For example, Ms Livni breaks with current Israeli consensus at one point by saying on 4 May, 2008, that in the settlement of Ariel "some areas" will have to be annexed, suggesting that others might not be. Finally, the biggest problem with the "total cave-in by the Palestinians" narrative is that there isn't actually a deal.
How will all this affect a future political process?
The relative inconclusiveness of the leaks is best illustrated by the fact that everyone has used them to push his own line, from Hamas to Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said it showed that only his plan for an interim solution on a derisory 40 to 50 per cent of the West Bank will work.
Clearly the leaks threaten to undermine the authority of Mr Abbas and his negotiators among swathes of the Palestinian public. Conversely, some of the most thoughtful voices yesterday were those in Israel urging their fellow citizens and government to accept, in the words of Peace Now, that Mr Abbas is the "most pragmatic partner Israel can ask for" and that if they fail to seize the opportunity that offers, it won't be the Palestinians who will be to blame.
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