bitterlemons.org
January 31, 2011 Edition 3 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
 
Al-Jazeera leaks and the future of the peace process
 
Al-Jazeera lynch  - Yossi Alpher
Mahmoud Abbas was spot-on.


Al-Jazeera and accountability  - Ghassan Khatib
The al-Jazeera leaks did a lot of damage to the public position of the Palestinian leadership.


There was indeed a partner  - Aluf Benn
The forsaken proposals of 2008 have come back to haunt the leaders.


Borders in the talks and in al-Jazeera leaks  - Mohammed Najib
The border issue was one of the two top issues in the United States-mediated proximity talks in May 2010.


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AN ISRAELI VIEW
Al-Jazeera lynch
 Yossi Alpher
Midway through last week, I got a phone call from Doha: would I agree to appear that evening on the nightly presentation by al-Jazeera of documents leaked from the PLO negotiations department in Ramallah. The topic that evening was billed as an expose of security cooperation between the PLO and Israel and the PLO and Britain's MI6 intelligence service.

Having just watched PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat respond, flabbergasted, in a live Jazeera broadcast, to the initial leaked papers--it was obvious he had no foreknowledge of what was about to be presented--I asked if I could review the security documents in advance. "Maybe we can give you 15 minutes notice," came the reply. I turned down al-Jazeera.

The broadcast that evening featured a series of western and Arab commentators, all known for their radical and at times pro-Islamist views. The discussion of every excerpt was slanted against the PLO leadership. I recalled PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas' initial response to the leaks, to the effect that this was an attempt to defame him and kill prospects for peace. I don't often agree with Abbas, but this time he was spot-on: the anonymous leakers, al-Jazeera, and behind it the government of Qatar, deliberately exploited the papers to lynch Abbas, the peace process and the Palestinian Authority.

Interestingly, at least locally they appear to have failed. In the West Bank, Palestinians did not get worked up about the PLO negotiating stance as revealed in the leaks. And in Israel, people were generally impressed with the way then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni handled themselves in the talks, as reported in the Palestinian documents.

There was also a lot to be learned from the leaks, both positive and negative, with regard to future prospects for a negotiated two-state solution. Not that any of the negotiating offers described in the leaks was new to those who have followed events closely. But the dynamic of the talks was revealing.

On the one hand, both sides made serious efforts to bridge the substantive gaps in their talks in 2008. Progress regarding the division of Jerusalem into two capitals was particularly impressive. Had Olmert's own mistakes in the Second Lebanon War and his alleged involvement in corrupt practices not caught up with him, and had Livni been more adept at forming a new government after Olmert resigned, we would have seen more progress.

On the other hand, some of those gaps were indeed substantive. Concerning the settlement blocs, the leaks reflect a Palestinian position that would have required of Israel to uproot and absorb upwards of 150,000 settlers from Maaleh Adumim, Ariel and Efrat in addition to the mountain heartland settlements. While gaps concerning the number of 1948 Palestinian refugees to be absorbed by Israel seemed bridgeable, nowhere was the Palestinian position regarding the actual "right" of return--a stand understood by Israelis to imply a demand that Israel in effect admit it was "born in sin" in 1948--discussed seriously. Nor was there a serious discussion about arrangements for sovereignty and administration of the Jerusalem holy places.

And then there was the issue of the structure of negotiations in 2008 as reflected in the leaks. That Olmert and Livni, veteran political rivals, did not closely coordinate their tracks is clear. Livni, for example, refused to discuss Jerusalem while Olmert went into great detail on this topic. But Abbas and then-chief negotiator Ahmed Qurei were also apparently out of sync. Qurei offered Livni detailed maps of a territorial settlement, while Abbas (according to Olmert) claimed he didn't know the terrain well. The duality of negotiating tracks on both sides reflects not only negotiating tactics, but also years of toxic interaction between the peace process and both Israeli and Palestinian internal politics. Had one of the tracks reached agreement, it is debatable whether the political structure on either side could have sustained and supported this success.

The leaks tell us little about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since Binyamin Netanyahu became prime minister, since there really have been no negotiations. Clearly, though, Netanyahu and his government are not candidates to discuss the issues with the degree of trust, openness and readiness to narrow the gaps that was displayed by Olmert and Livni.

Finally, at a much broader regional level, the radical and aggressive way al-Jazeera sought to manipulate the leaks against the peace process must also be understood against the backdrop of Hizballah's successful power play in Lebanon and the danger that militant Islamists will exploit instability in Tunisia, Egypt and conceivably elsewhere in the region. In future, it may be far more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to recruit vital regional Arab backing for a reasonable peace settlement with Israel.-Published 31/1/2011 bitterlemons.org


Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons.net family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Al-Jazeera and accountability
 Ghassan Khatib
Recent weeks have witnessed two major leaks of documents that dominated the international media. The first was Wikileaks, which included State Department documents covering a variety of issues, including Israel/Palestine. The other was a stash of documents presented by al-Jazeera television that seem to have been taken in some way from the Palestinian negotiations support unit.

The main difference in the way Wikileaks and al-Jazeera dealt with these documents is that Wikileaks only posted these documents on a website available for all to see, while al-Jazeera both presented these documents in a website and devoted four days of extensive television coverage presenting and explaining and analyzing these documents.

While Wikileaks were not terribly controversial because there seems to be a world-wide consensus that media has the right to publish information that the public might be interested in, the Jazeera leaks were controversial because of the way that al-Jazeera dealt with these documents in these extensive television programs.

As far as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned (and particularly for the Palestinian side), the Wikileaks documents did not generate a great deal of problems or much embarrassment. In fact, those Wikileaks documents that received the widest coverage showed that the Palestinian leadership and Egyptian leadership turned down an Israeli request that they take over the Gaza Strip after an Israeli military operation against Hamas.

The al-Jazeera leaks, however, did a lot of damage to the public position of the Palestinian leadership, in particular the negotiators. A closer look shows how this damage varied depending on the audience. While these leaks, which presented a fluid Palestinian negotiations performance, were taken at face value by the average Arab and Palestinian audience outside the Palestinian territories, their negative impact backfired as far as the Palestinian public in the occupied Palestinian territories was concerned.

In the occupied territories, the public differentiated between two aspects of the leaks: first, the documents that were leaked and their context, and second, the way the documents were presented and used by al-Jazeera. While there was a generally positive reception to the idea of publishing the documents, members of the public were able to point out differences between their content and the way they were presented on al-Jazeera television.

The feeling of the majority of the Palestinian public, as shown in a public opinion poll conducted on this issue a few days later, was that al-Jazeera was taking positions out of context and sometimes stretching certain language in order to incite the public against its leadership. This created feelings of animosity towards al-Jazeera which appeared similar to old-fashioned state and partisan media that use television programs for political propaganda and the purpose of political campaigning.

In conclusion, these leaks by al-Jazeera, which were perceived by most of the Palestinian public as part of a political campaign of discrediting their government, did not have much of a negative effect on that government's public stand in the occupied Palestinian territories. They did do some damage to the Palestinian leadership's standing among the Palestinian diaspora and the Arab people. This can be explained by the phenomenon that is seen repeatedly: Palestinians in the occupied territories are more realistic because they are closer to the reality of the Israeli occupation.

There is some accountability expected by the Palestinian public--whether over the government's failure to protect these documents from being leaked or some problematic performances in negotiations. Such accountability measures will definitely remedy at least some of the negative effects of this leak.-Published 31/1/2011 © bitterlemons.org


Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

AN ISRAELI VIEW
There was indeed a partner
 Aluf Benn
Having spent the better part of my career covering peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, from Oslo through Annapolis and beyond, I was stunned by al-Jazeera's opening of the Palestinian diplomatic archives. Here was the real thing: not late-night phone briefings on deadline, or waiting in hotel lobbies and presidential palaces to get a word from leaders and negotiators. Even if the documents depict only official exchanges and not back-room whispers and corridor gossip, reading the minutes of high-level and working-group meetings comes as close as can be to sitting in the room.

The 1,600 "Palestine Papers" follow the trail of Palestinian diplomacy from before Camp David until early last year. Their focal point lies in the most recent effort to reach a final status deal, following the Annapolis conference of November 2007. Flipping through the scores of documents, I was surprised by the breadth of negotiations held between Israel's former leaders, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and their Palestinian counterparts, Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and chief negotiator Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala). The papers indicate a sustained and serious effort to cover the entire scope of Israeli-Palestinian relations, from the "core issues" of borders, security, Jerusalem, and refugees down to legal affairs, tourism, and promoting the "culture of peace." Both sides did their homework and brought well-prepared positions to the table.

The key disclosure in the leaked documents was the Palestinian proposal on borders and Jerusalem, including a detailed map of territorial swaps, and verbal explanations by Palestinian negotiators. The map undermines the Israeli "no partner" argument that has prevailed in mainstream political thinking since the collapse of Camp David. According to this argument, in 2000 Chairman Yasser Arafat rejected Prime Minister Ehud Barak's proposal without making a counter offer; in September 2008, Abu Mazen followed suit by refusing to sign Olmert's map. Now we know that the Palestinians preceded Olmert with their version of the future border, which they presented to Livni in May 2008, only to be rejected out of hand by the Israeli side.

This does not mean that the Palestinian offer was right and Olmert's was wrong. Each side viewed its counterpart's proposals as insufficient. But the map and the accompanying remarks by its authors--Saeb Erekat's "We are offering you the greatest Yerushalaim in Jewish history"--show that the Palestinian leadership went beyond its usual all-or-nothing rhetoric to offer a compromise. Moreover, Abu Ala and his team sold their plan to Livni based on their understanding of Israel's interests, rather than demanding "justice" and "fulfilling Palestinian rights". Here is testimony to Palestinian pragmatism and realism that is rarely shown in public discourse.

The details of Olmert's counter-proposal were less surprising, as they had been disclosed previously in the Israeli media. Unlike the Palestinian negotiators, who were fiercely criticized for their "concessions" and had to defend themselves against al-Jazeera, the former Israeli leader now stood proudly behind his map. In a chapter from his coming memoir, serialized to coincide with the Palestine Papers leak, Olmert defended his plan--and his failed dictate to Abu Mazen--as the most daring and near-successful effort ever to resolve the conflict.

Olmert's self-praise notwithstanding, the Palestine Papers indicate that despite their seriousness, both sides were too far apart in their positions to close a deal. The gaps were compounded by the political crisis in Israel, which brought down the Olmert government, and by the lame-duck presidency of George W. Bush. Livni's more realistic conclusion is less confident than Olmert's; she is still unsure whether a final status agreement is possible, even if Kadima returns to power.

When Binyamin Netanyahu replaced Olmert in 2009, his first order of business was to shrug off the Annapolis process and declare a "policy review." The review called for a fresh start and added a new demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as "the state of the Jewish people." The Palestinians demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition for talks, and upped their maximalist rhetoric on borders and refugees. The talks stalled, and President Barack Obama cut his losses and pulled out.

Now, through the Palestine Papers, the forsaken proposals of 2008 have come back to haunt the leaders. If and when the talks ever resume, the maps and position matrices will serve as the basis for negotiations--just as Camp David and Taba were the blueprints for Annapolis after a seven-year respite. Exposure has blocked the path of retreat.

Interestingly, Netanyahu was careful not to criticize Olmert and Livni for their "reckless concessions" as might be expected from the leader of the Israeli right wing. He sufficed with mocking the Palestinians for "demanding a settlement freeze in areas they already conceded". Perhaps Netanyahu regrets his hasty decision to halt negotiations upon taking office, rather than picking up where his predecessors left off. But now, with negotiations replaced by diplomatic warfare, it appears too late to go back.-Published 31/1/2011 bitterlemons.org


Aluf Benn is the editor-at-large for Haaretz.

A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Borders in the talks and in al-Jazeera leaks
 Mohammed Najib
The border issue was one of the two top issues in the United States-mediated proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians in May 2010 and a short time later.

In two sessions that were held between US Special Envoy George Mitchell and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in May 2010, the PLO stuck to its position proposed during the talks between the Palestinians and then Israeli PM Ehud Olmert in 2008. They did not want to start from a new point with new Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

But later, in proximity and direct talks, Israel refused to cede security control over the Jordan Valley border area to the Palestinians, saying that it could be infiltrated by terrorist elements seeking to enter the West Bank and attack Israeli targets. A proposal of deploying a multinational force to work alongside Palestinians was floated.

Palestinians and European diplomatic and security intermediaries monitoring this trend strongly believe that deployment of the UNIFIL model of southern Lebanon could be the solution for security control over the Jordan Valley, despite the fact that Jordan prefers having Palestinian security forces along its borders rather than an Israeli or multinational force.

Palestinians believe that reaching an agreement over borders is necessary to resolve the other complicated final status issues. If Palestinians were to receive Israeli recognition that the Palestinian state will be established on the June 4, 1967 borders, then other issues such as settlements, Jerusalem and water would be easier. Recognition of borders means recognition of control and sovereignty.

However, settlement construction within those Palestinian state borders must be stopped, and Israel cannot continue its measures against Jerusalemites and their property, including the demolition of their homes, their displacement outside the city and the seizure of their lands for settlement or governmental purposes.

Moreover, Palestinians believe that state sovereignty starts with the definition of their borders, control over ground crossings, and guarantee of geographic continuity in the West Bank as well as between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A compromise on the border issue would mean for both Palestinians and Israelis that the two-state solution is still an option, and the alternative--a bi-national state--is not yet in play.

Some Israelis seem to believe that the end of the two state-solution possibility means that Israel will be able to dictate the Palestinian state borders, either through a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from some parts of the West Bank or through cooperation with Palestinian moderates that might accept the Israeli offer of a state with no clear borders that excludes East Jerusalem.

The US supports the definition of Palestinian state borders, apparent in its training and equipping of ten National Security Forces battalions at the Jordanian International Police Training Center near Amman to be ready to ensure security in the promised state and protect its borders.

The Palestinian Authority leadership has absolutely rejected a Hamas proposal offered by leader Ahmed Yousef in 2006, who expressed Hamas' willingness to accept a state with temporary borders.

Indeed, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's newly-proposed map appears based on Israeli illusions that the current power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians, and the Obama administration's weakness in applying serious pressure to Israel, means Palestinians are going to accept his dictates regarding the borders of their state.

A land swap proposal has been considered a creative solution by observers of this trend, and the Palestinian leadership has shown interest in this prospect for either the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Their proposals are based on an equal land swap and not--as mentioned in al-Jazeera leaked documents--a very uneven land swap in east Jerusalem.-Published 31/1/2011 bitterlemons.org


Mohammed Najib is a correspondent for Jane's Defense Weekly.