A Deathblow to the Peace Process?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 24, 2011

Al Jazeera has leaked a whole host of documents concerning Middle East peace negotiations, which have caused a stir in international circles. The Palestinians deny the accuracy of the documents, which is a good move, I suppose, because if the documents are found to have been accurate, it could mean significant political problems for the Palestinian Authority. The Financial Times explains:

Palestinian negotiators were ready to allow Israel to keep virtually all Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem as part of a broader peace agreement between the two sides. Their offer, made two years ago, was turned down by Israeli officials as insufficient.

According to a cache of more than 1,600 documents leaked to the al-Jazeera news channel, Palestinian officials told Israel in 2008 that it could retain all Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem save for Har Homa, a controversial settlement that cuts off the city’s southern neighbourhoods from Bethlehem.

Al-Jazeera said that because of the sensitive nature of the documents, it could not reveal their sources.

One of the leaked documents quotes Ahmed Qurei, a former Palestinian prime minister and at the time the head of the negotiating team, as saying: “This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so in Camp David”, the site of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2000.

However, he was rebuffed by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister at the time.

An editorial from Nadia Hijab, who is listed as being “co-director of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network,” offers the following analysis:

The 16,076-document leak bombshell that cable television station al-Jazeera dropped yesterday on an unsuspecting Middle East will have major repercussions for weeks to come. It is likely to deal a deathblow to an American-led peace process already on life support, and hasten the end of the Palestinian Authority (PA) created by the 1993 Oslo accords.

The leaders of the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which is formally responsible for negotiations with Israel, quickly challenged the veracity of the document trove. But Oslo has already so damaged their credibility that their denials do not carry weight.

In any case, the revelations simply confirm what has been clear to Palestinians for decades: their leadership is negotiating with itself, and in the process giving up on almost all internationally recognized Palestinian rights. Indeed, as every concession has been met with no response from Israel, they have given up a little more.

This seems a somewhat incorrect appraisal of what the Palestinians have given up. As the first story notes, Middle East peace negotiations proceed on the assumption that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, which means that the Israelis are not allowed or able to simply pocket a host of concessions from the Palestinians, and then hold out for more. The Palestinian concessions may be withdrawn, and do not have to serve as the basis for any negotiations until and unless the Israelis reciprocate. The fear that the Palestinian leadership “is negotiating with itself” is therefore likely not valid.

However, none of this may matter, as the leaks themselves have caused something of a firestorm in the Middle East, and actual facts on the ground may do nothing to impede the diminishment of the Palestinian Authority’s credibility. I hope that I am incorrect in writing this, but post-leak developments may entail a significant loss of political power for the Palestinian Authority. If that entails the PA’s replacement by a more radical political enterprise, then we may well and truly say that the Middle East peace process is comatose, if not entirely dead. And perhaps that’s what people like Nadia Hijab want, and are pushing for via editorials like the one that she has written for the Financial Times.

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