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By Barry Rubin
The "Palestine Papers" hoax is (or, more accurately, should be) turning into the most teachable moment about the Israel-Palestinian conflict in modern history. At least, everyone has reversed what happened: The compromise position was offered by Israel; the Palestinians rejected peace. Are we going to see this story corrected?
The “Palestine Papers” have been "obtained" by al-Jazira, the Guardian, and perhaps others, in imitation of Wikileaks.
They purport to show, in the media version, that the PA made Israel a big offer of peace and Israel rejected it. Naturally, this is being accepted by these and other newspapers as true without verification or considering how these claims stack up against other information. Also claimed is that the PA was ready to accept Israel as a Jewish state and give up the demand that Palestinian refugees can live in Israel, again things it has totally opposed.
Hello? Is anyone out there actually following Israel-Palestinian issues?
Here's how the Los Angeles Times summed it up: "Al Jazeera said the documents also revealed that Palestinians were willing to divide the Old City, limit the return of Palestinian refugees to 100,000 people and recognize Israel as a Jewish state."
Wait!!! This sounds familiar. It is the ISRAELI NOT THE PALESTINIAN position. In other words, either deliberately or in the translation they REVERSED the story! It should read:
"The documents also revealed that the Israelis were willing to divide the Old City, limit the return of Palestinian refugees to 100,000 people and [asked the Palestinians to] recognize Israel as a Jewish state."
This is the explanation, offered by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, and although I can't verify it the idea does make sense. If this is true it should instantly change the world's thinking. Abbas suggests that the documents or the translation reverses the Israeli and Palestinian positions. In other words, it is Israel offering compromise and the Palestinians rejecting it. In general, it is Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, not the PA that is proposing to divide east Jerusalem and so on. This does fit much of what has already been known publicly
Now if that is true, much of the media should announce that it has made a mistake and that in fact they have got the story wrong all along. The headlines should read: Israel Offers Compromise, PA Rejects It. Oh, and by the way remember this information is from 2008 and since then the PA has basically refused to negotiate at all.
The other explanation--by no means inconsistent--is that this is a dissident Fatah forgery or at least the documents making the most sensational assertions were altered in order to discredit the PA. The proof would be whether the originals say that Israel was making this offer (meaning there was a deliberately inaccurate translation or reporting) or it says the Palestinians made the offer (meaning the documents are forged or altered).
Fool me once, shame on you/
Fool me twice, shame on me/
Fool me ten thousand times, it's the Palestinians and anti-Israel crowd dealing with the Western media!
But wait it gets even better! Al-Jazira did NOT quote the documents as saying the Palestinians offered to recognize a Jewish state. In other words, the reporting added on another Palestinian "concession" to make Israel look worse. How's that for evidence of bias.
Only a few days ago I wrote that the media should have learned not to trust Palestinian fabrications given the long history of falsehoods but obviously nothing has been learned.
Let's begin with a statement by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat in March 2009 about what happened at the meetings where the PA allegedly offered such huge concessions over Jerusalem:
"In November 2008 Olmert, who talked today about his proposal to Abu Mazen, offered the 1967 borders, but said: `We will take 6.5% of the West Bank, and give in return 5.8% from the 1948 lands, and the 0.7% will constitute the safe passage, and East Jerusalem will be the capital, but there is a problem with the Haram and with what they called the Holy Basin.' Abu Mazen too answered with defiance, saying: `I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine – the June 4, 1967 borders – without detracting a single inch, and without detracting a single stone from Jerusalem, or from the holy Christian and Muslim places. This is why the Palestinian negotiators did not sign."
So here is Erakat--shortly after the talks took place--saying that the Palestinians angrily rejected any concession on getting all of east Jerusalem for themselves! But the media coverage forgets all this and is now willing to credit the claim that they offered to give up much of it!
Incidentally, in the same interview, Erakat explained the wider Palestinian Authority view on the Jerusalem issue, which remains unchanged:
"On July 23, 200, in his meeting with President Arafat in Camp David, President Clinton said: `You will be the first president of a Palestinian state, within the 1967 borders–give or take, considering the land swap– and East Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, but we want you, as a religious man, to acknowledge that the Temple of Solomon is located underneath the Haram Al-Sharif.'
"Yasser Arafat said to Clinton defiantly: `I will not be a traitor. Someone will come to liberate it after 10, 50, or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian state, and there is nothing underneath or above the Haram al-Sharif except for Allah.' That is why Yasser Arafat was besieged, and that is why he was killed unjustly."
Note that even for a Palestinian state, Arafat would not yield one inch of Jerusalem. In 2009, Erakat--the man who allegedly offered to give up most of east Jerusalem--praises that stance (and, incidentally, the most moderate PA leader of all--I'm not being sarcastic here--can't help but throw in a claim that the Israelis assassinated Arafat!
Now, the other key negotiator in the 2008 talks, Ahmed Qureia, told The Associated Press that "many parts of the documents were fabricated, as part of the incitement against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian leadership." He denied making an offer about the Jewish enclaves in east Jerusalem, claiming that Israel refused to discuss the issue.
[See Appendix below for even more documentation contradicting this new version of events offered by these fabricated documents]
But suddenly we are supposed to believe--and it is being accepted by some uncritically--that the Palestinian position was always the opposite of everything we knew about it!
So note the following points:
1. At best these are alleged Palestinian notes, not documents. The only material on Israeli positions is what the PA says they are. In other words, these are PA memos, not a balanced account.
2. We don't know if these are accurate or fabricated. There is ample reason to believe they are fabricated at least regarding the newsworthy bits.
3. They contradict every statement and negotiating position the PA has ever taken before, pubicly or privately.
4. All Palestinian leaders know that these concessions could never be sold to their public, the Fatah leaders, or even most of the PA itself. Here's how a colleague satirized it: Anti-Israel media.
'But we're trying to help you by making Israel look bad.'
PA: 'No you fools. Youre making us look bad by making out we want peace. You'll cost us the street! We want war and bloodshed no less than Hamas!'
6. Saeb Erakat, the chief negotiator, Abbas and Abu Ala, another negotiater denied they are accurate, even though the story is benefitting the Palestinians
7. Do you believe that the PA was ready to turn most of east Jerusalem over to Israel? Do you believe the PA is ready to give up the "right of return" demand for Palestinians reducing it from, say, two million to 100,000 without any Israeli concession? 100,000 that's the Israeli position.
8. Note that the coverage fails to compare these materials to known major Israeli concessions that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced long ago in public and the PA never contradicted. In other words, since Olmert is on the record as having offered the PA big concessions so how can the media say now that Israel offered nothing.
9. Moreover, If this documentation were true the United States would have known about it and would have factored it into U.S. policy and statements. For example, U.S. policymakers, eager for progress, would have stepped up their efforts even further and put forward bridging proposals over Jerusalem. Yet none of these points have been taken up by American policymakers, nor ever leaked into the media, not even the slightest hint of them.
10. What's going to happen is that the PA will generally let the world believe that it really wanted peace but Israel said "no." At the same time, the PA will tell Palestinians and the Arab world that it never made any such offer. This is a clue that they would never have dared to make such an offer.
11. If the PA is so eager for peace and ready for compromise, why hasn't it been demanding negotiations during the last two years instead of doing everything to avoid them.
Apparently, the blogosphere is all atwitter about how this "proves" that the Palestinians are eager for peace while Israel rejects it. Funny, they've never had any proof before and this is not much to base your case on. Presumably, little of the above will ever be covered in the media to poke holes in this story, much less draw any lessons from it.
Sort of reminds me of the fabricated Hitler Diaries which fooled a major newsmagazine. After they were shown to be false the magazine published a response something like: Whether true or not, this has forever changed our view of the events involved. A writing expert who examined them said they weren't even a particularly good forgery.
But, naturally, this has already been topped in this case. Ziyad Abu Zayad, a relatively moderate PA supporters, said in a radio interview that the documents were forgeries but (emphasis added) they proved the Palestinians want peace and Israel doesn't. Yes, you read that correctly.
Speaking of how people suspend their use of logic and fairness when a forgery matches their political views, here's a good example that shows how this process works when it comes to slandering Jews or Israel.
Here is the version of the PA’s Hussein Agha and the pro-PA Robert Malley in their June 11, 2009 New York Review of Books essay "Obama and the Middle East."
They wrote: "After months of talks, Abbas declined a far more concessive Israeli proposal—on the size of the territory for Palestinians, for example—than the one Yasser Arafat turned down eight years ago and for which the then Palestinian leader was excoriated as an implacable enemy of peace. There is little reason to believe that more tweaking of the accord would have made a difference."
Again, according to two experts widely known for their sympathy to the Palestinian perspective, it was Abbas himself who "declined" Olmert's offer (as Arafat had "turned down" Barak's offer years before). Interestingly, Olmert himself reportedly said last February (see "Abbas never responded to my peace offer"), that he did not get a final response from Abbas. It's Agha and Malley who put the stronger word "declined" on Abbas's action, or lack of any.
Also, in a widely discussed Newsweek piece, "Olmert's Lament" (June 13, 2009) Kevin Peraino wrote the following about the percentage of West Bank land offered to Abbas and confirmed by Saeb Erekat:
"At the end of Olmert's term he tried one last maneuver in an effort to secure a legacy. Olmert told me he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in September 2008 and unfurled a map of Israel and the Palestinian territories. He says he offered Abbas 93.5 to 93.7 percent of the Palestinian territories, along with a land swap of 5.8 percent and a safe-passage corridor from Gaza to the West Bank that he says would make up the rest. The Holy Basin of Jerusalem would be under no sovereignty at all and administered by a consortium of Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. Regarding refugees, Olmert says he rejected the right of return and instead offered, as a "humanitarian gesture," a small number of returnees, although "smaller than the Palestinians wanted—a very, very limited number."
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, confirmed that Olmert had made the offer. "It's very sad," Erekat said. "He was serious, I have to say." Erekat said that he and Abbas studied the materials and began to formulate a response, coordinating with the Americans. But time eventually ran out. A few months after Olmert presented his offer, war erupted in Gaza. Shortly after that, Olmert was out of power.
Incidentally, we are now supposed to believe that after Olmert offered to put the holiest sites' area under joint control the Palestinians offered to give part of it to Israel!
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.