In the same way that the Pentagon Papers exposed the lies about the U.S. war in Vietnam,
the Palestine Papers have exposed the ugly truth of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This past week, Al-Jazeera obtained over 1,600 internal documents which, according the network, detail “the inner workings of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations”. The documents date between 1999 and 2010. High-level Israeli, American and Palestinian Authority officials were involved in these negotiations. The documents were also shared with the British newspaper the Guardian. What the documents essentially reveal is that Israel, with unconditional support from the U.S., has been able to achieve most, if not all, of its demands, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) appeases them.
Established by the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority was created to govern the Palestinians. The PA, which controls the West Bank, has long been distrusted by Palestinians for its corruption and authoritarianism. The Palestine Papers justify that distrust. Rather than serving the interests of the Palestinian people, the PA has collaborated with Israel in suppressing Palestinian aspirations. Saeb Erekat, a PA negotiator, offered to give Israel a large portion of Palestinian East Jerusalem with no concessions made by Israel. This would have included nearly all illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa). Despite being under Israeli military occupation, international law and 1967 borders recognize East Jerusalem (along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip) as belonging to the Palestinians.
The right of return of Palestinian refugees has also been a long-time contentious issue in negotiations. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 resulted in the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. There are close to five million Palestinian refugees around the world. The Palestine Papers reveal that Palestinian negotiators, under pressure from Israel and the U.S., gave up on fighting for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.
In addition to betraying the Palestinians on East Jerusalem and the right of return, the PA also worked with Israel to tighten the siege on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip -- a siege thatamounts to collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. Under pressure from the U.S. and Israel to continue negotiations, the P.A. also agreed to stall a vote in the United Nations Human Rights Council on the Goldstone Report, which found both Israel and Hamas guilty of committing war crimes during the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza (which the PA had foreknowledge of). The U.S. and Israel both criticized the Goldstone Report, claiming that the findings would harm negotiations. A UNHRC endorsement of the Goldstone Report would have brought Israeli officials closer to prosecution for war crimes and achieved some justice for 1,400 dead Palestinians. Not only did the PA agree to delay the vote but it also agreed not to prosecute Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court.
While the PA has betrayed the Palestinians on nearly every issue, Israel managed to achieve what it wants during the negotiations without any concessions. In a November 2007 meeting, Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, told Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, that she “believed Palestinians saw settlement building as meaning ‘Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible’.” She stated that Israel’s policy “is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we'll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state". Livni admitted that this had been the policy of the Israeli government “for a really long time”. Although, she would later claim that it was the policy of “some of the parties but not the government”. Despite this change in semantics, Israeli settlements on Palestinian land have increased exponentially over the past 40 years. The presence of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank violates international law, creates hardships for the Palestinians and undermines the possibility of a future Palestinian state. Yet, as these documents reveal, the peace process has been a diplomatic facilitation for Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land.
It is difficult to say what sort of impact the Palestine Papers will have on the peace process. And with the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and all throughout the Arab World, the future of the region is certainly up in the air. One thing is made clear from these leaked documents. Israel and the West need to fundamentally rethink how they deal with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab World.
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