Friday, January 28, 2011

"The Palestine Papers": Now We Know the Real Story

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By Barry Rubin

We now know what actually happened in the negotiations mischaracterized by the "Palestine Papers," but before I tell you the true story, let me say some words about how it has been distorted.

Maybe it's just me out of step with the rest of the world, but someone tell me where the following paragraph is wrong:

The world is judging and condemning Israel on the basis of incomplete notes taken by people many of whom are not fluent English-speakers (of statements made by people who are not native-speakers of English) and who are passionate partisans of the Palestinian cause and who hate Israel; documents that have not been authenticated by anyone and whose translation has not been checked; documents that leave out much of what the Israelis said and leave out the concessions they made; then are filtered through the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, anti-Palestinian Authority (PA) al-Jazira (whose record of reportage is marked by some amazing lies) and the anti-Israel, pro-Hamas, anti-PA Guardian (which is more  radical sect than newspaper); which then misinterpret them in ways that seem deliberate to make Israel and the PA look bad; and then are quoted by journalists around the world who know little or nothing about the issues, haven't read the documents, have never seriously considered the possibility that they aren't 100 percent accurate, and ignore every other previous negotiation and public statement by Israel and the PA that contradict the claims being made; and who then add on even more claims that are neither in the documents nor in al-Jazira and the Guardian!

Sorry that paragraph was so long but it had to be to cover everything. Now have I missed something here?

The reaction to all of this in an age supposedly fixated on tolerance is more like that of a lynch mob than anything else. And have no doubt that before this is over there will be people who are lynched.

And now what actually did happen? The story is told here from interviews with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the papers came out. Briefly, Israel offered concessions; the Palestinian side talked about concessions. Olmert suggested they make a deal. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas hesitated and said he needed a few days, and then never responded, making public statements rejecting Israel's position.

And then read a brilliant piece by Benny Morris. He points out that there are only two concessions offered in the documents: Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem plus the Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old City go to Israel. This was Clinton's proposal in 2000. But the concessions don't deal with end of conflict and security guarantees (or recognition of Israel as a Jewish state despite misreporting in some newspapers). He also points out that there is no explicit offer of dropping the demand that all Palestinians who wished to do so (1948 refugees or their descendants) could come to live in Israel. In other words, these were real Palestinian concessions but far more limited than has been implied.

So this does not prove that the PA made a generous offer of peace and Israel rejected it, the spin put on it by the media and by selective release of badly flawed documents. The PA rejected peace, as usual. Of course, a big reason for doing so was the fact that they knew they could not sell it to their people (who would denounce it as a sell-out), or Hamas, or even the Fatah Central Committee.

Note the new spin will be that if only Olmert remained in office and Netanyahu had not been elected there would have been a two-state solution. In other words, it will still be portrayed as Israel's fault. But this is ridiculous since the PA did not, and could not, agree on the conditions it had discussed. This is the structural problem with the peace process and it has not changed. The latest affair has made it worse.

No Israeli prime minister could make peace with the Palestinians when the Palestinian leadership isn't ready to make peace.

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 and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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