The release this week by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera of what it calls “The Palestine Papers” has raised more questions about the stalled Mideast peace process, and the possibility of future talks. Palestinian officials are attacking al-Jazeera, accusing the network of a smear campaign although many analysts say the documents seem authentic. Some experts say blame for the stalled peace process should be shared by all the parties.
Across the Gaza Strip and the Israeli occupied West Bank, anger over documents that allegedly show Palestinian negotiators willing to grant major concessions to Israel during negotiations in 2008 and 2009. The documents were released by the Qatar based al-Jazeera television network.
The documents indicate that the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, was willing to cede almost all of Arab East Jerusalem and mostly give up on the right of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.
Publically, the Palestinian Authority was saying that Palestinian refugees have that right.
Israel, mostly absent from the documents, is quoted as proposing that areas of the Jewish state with dense populations of Arab citizens should be transferred to the new Palestinian state, a controversial idea. The lead Palestinian negotiator at the time, Saeb Erekat, claims that some of the documents were made up.
“I think we are facing the most severe smear campaign in the history of journalism,” said Erekat.
Geoffrey Aronson is with the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He says the Palestinian Authority, which administers the occupied West Bank, comes off as weak.
“I think it’s readily apparent that the leadership itself isn’t terribly confident of its own place,” noted Aronson.
Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations says Palestinian leaders did not honestly inform Palestinians about the negotiations.
“One of the unfortunate realities is that the Palestinian leadership was not preparing the people for the concessions that they were willing to make and so those concessions now are appearing as a surprise to the people,” said Danin.
The leaked papers focus on the period of then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when negotiations were making progress.
But when Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s prime minister in 2009, analysts say, he insisted on starting over.
“As I understand it, the Netanyahu government has yet to respond to repeated U.S. requests for specific policy positions on basic issues. So we’re at Square One in that process,” added Aronson.
Last September, the Obama administration hosted direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, aiming for a peace deal within a year.
Analysts say the U.S. is partly to blame for the failure of those talks because it didn’t push hard enough for its own proposals, like an Israeli settlement freeze in the occupied territories.
“We’ve suggested ideas that in the end we’ve proven not to be committed to, i.e. a settlement freeze, which have undermined credibility of our own role, the credibility of the process,” explained Aronson.
In Washington, during an appearance with the Jordanian foreign minister, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington remains committed to peace and “a two-state solution that will assure security for Israel and realize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.”
But analysts say reviving peace talks will be difficult now.
“It’s going to be more difficult for President Abbas to return to the negotiating table without very firm conditions being met,” noted Danin.
Aronson says Hamas, the rival group that rules the Gaza Strip, is likely to come out stronger among Palestinians, partly because of the documents.
Al Jazeera says the files, covering an 11-year period from 1999 to 2010, are the largest leak of confidential documents on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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