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

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk