Al Jazeera, and the Misreading of the Middle East Peace Process

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 25, 2011

Robert Danin is worth reading on this topic:

Palestinian leaders have done a lamentable job of preparing their public for the types of concessions necessary for an enduring Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Accordingly, the far-reaching compromises that were under discussion will likely come as a shock to many on the streets of Ramallah and Hebron. The ensuing outrage, unfortunately, makes it possible that the leakers could sabotage the peace process, as they seem to have intended.

It would be mistaken, however, to draw conclusions about the course of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from the documents released so far. This is not the equivalent of the National Archives opening up the public record for scholars to reconstruct the diplomatic narrative. Only a few documents have been publicly released to date, which means that any context for the discussions is absent. According to my Palestinian sources, more documents are likely to be posted online in piecemeal fashion over the days ahead.

The first batch of documents focuses largely on the 2008 final-status negotiations between the PLO and Ehud Olmert’s government that followed the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007. They are meant to demonstrate that Palestinian negotiators are desperate quislings, willing to cooperate shamelessly with the Israeli occupiers, while selling out sacrosanct Palestinian positions on the status of Jerusalem and the “right of return.”

However, the documents actually show that the Annapolis process had succeeded in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, under U.S. leadership, to discuss the most sensitive issues that divide them. They show flexibility, agility, and candor on both sides of the debate. “It actually makes me proud of my leadership. It showed that they are smart, subtle, and know what they are doing,” one non-affiliated Palestinian told me today. “I just wish they let us know that this is the case.”

Unfortunately, in the near term, perceptions of Palestinian weakness in negotiations with Israel appears to be outrunning reality, as pointed out by the following excerpt:

The line put forward to date, eagerly advanced by Al Jazeera, insinuates that the Palestinians were willing to give away Jerusalem for nothing. Al Jazeera’s website featured a huge, above-the-fold photo of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat next to the quote: “We are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history,” suggesting his willingness to deal away what Palestinians expect to be their future capital. The documents do not discuss the Israeli concessions that would have led him to follow through on that offer.

There clearly needs to be some kind of sustained public relations pushback against al Jazeera’s misrepresentations. Alas, in the near term, no such pushback appears to be in the offing.

Previous post:

Next post: