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Leak Shows Huge, Secret Jerusalem Concessions

Israel rejected big offer; news is bad P.R. for P.A.

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Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (L) and President Mahmoud Abbas.(Khale Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday Al Jazeera and the Guardian published excerpts from “the Palestine Papers,” an unprecedentedly large trove of leaked confidential notes from Palestinian negotiators. Among other things, we learn that in 2008 the Palestinian Authority was offering Israel nearly all of Jerusalem—much more than the P.A. (which has called for a halt to Jewish building in East Jerusalem) has ever publicly proposed, and, as negotiator Saeb Erekat memorably calls it, “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history.”

Resolution of the “right of return” issue for a merely token price was also on the table.

It seems safe to say the leak did not come in an official capacity from the P.A., since it will hurt the credibility of the West Bank’s governing authority: As the New York Times reports, the P.A. has (un-credibly) called the documents “a pack of lies,” while Hamas, the P.A.’s chief rival for allegiance in the territories, said the documents showed the P.A. was “attempting to liquidate the Palestinian cause.” And indeed, if your definition of the Palestinian cause includes at least some form of sovereignty over much of East Jerusalem (and it should), then it is actually difficult to dispute Hamas’s allegation.

The document dump is also unrelated to WikiLeaks. But much like that group’s revelations, the news here is less the substance itself and more the evaporation of plausible deniability. Close followers of the peace process have known that the two sides actually did get close in 2008, as the documents prove; almost by definition, “getting close” would have meant the Palestinians offering in private far more than they have in public and the Israelis still turning it down. What the leak has done is ensure that everyone knows that the P.A. was willing to offer this much: News not likely to play well at home. (According to the Guardian, more documents, touching on matters like Palestinian cooperation with Israeli security authorities—also a touchy subject on the streets of Nablus, and also one already reported on—will be rolled out in the coming days.)

Critics of Israel will argue that the documents reveal an Israeli leadership—one even less obstinant than the current one—that was not willing to meet Palestinian leadership more than halfway. As the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland argues, “International opinion will see concrete proof of how far the Palestinians have been willing to go, ready to move up to and beyond their ‘red lines,’ conceding ground that would once have been unthinkable.”

But was that willingness truly there—or, more importantly, was it truly credible? Supporters of Israel will rightfully note that Israeli negotiators may have had reason to be skeptical of the P.A.’s ability to convince its constituents to go along with these generous concessions—a skepticism confirmed by the wide gap between what the P.A. says in public and what, we now know, it says in private. In other words, if Israel had said yes, the offer would no longer have been secret, and it would have had to be sold to the Palestinian public; and the fact that the P.A. felt the need to keep it private, and has now felt the need to deny it (“pack of lies”), indicates that the P.A. believes the Palestinian public will overwhelmingly react to the deal negatively.

So while I want to agree with Freedland’s analysis, I predict international decision-makers will not be able to help from noticing that this Palestinian willingness to make broad concessions was strictly private, and that, made public—as it now has been—it will be so unpopular as to require backtracking—as it already has. As Freedland himself reports, “These texts will do enormous damage to the standing of the Palestinian Authority and to the Fatah party that leads it.” Given that the alternative to these is Hamas, I don’t see how these revelations actually represent further bricks on the road to a peaceful, internationally accepted Palestinian state.

One would like to imagine an Israeli leadership daring enough to call the Palestinian bet and force all hands on the table—whether in the form of agreeing to the 2008 deal or, in 2010, extending the settlement freeze, whether to East Jerusalem or past its September expiration. Such a concession would have either demonstrated to the world the fundamental stagnancy of the peace process, or—maybe?—have taken a real step toward its fulfillment. We’ll never know.

Among the revelations:

• Erekat tells the Americans that the Palestinians have offered “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history”—his ostentatiously choice of Hebrew word—“plus symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarized state” [sic]. Under this secret Palestinian proposal, Israel would annex all of Jerusalem except for the Jewish district of Har Homa—the most expansive offer the Palestinians have been known to have made.

• Speaking of the refugees, the deal that seems to have been on offer regarding right-of-return was articulated, in August 2008, by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; under it, Israel would acknowledge “suffering of” but “not responsibility for” Palestinian refugees and would absorb 5,000 such refugees over five years on “humanitarian” grounds.

• Were Israeli-Syrian talks, conducted through Turkey, more advanced than we know? Here, in May 2008, Tzipi Livni remarks, “We’re giving up the Golan.”

• Former Palestinian prime minister and negotiator Ahmed Qureia insists on the need to maintain contiguity between Arab parts of Jerusalem and the Arab town of Bethlehem in the West Bank “to address natural growth”—“natural growth” being a key Israeli buzzword in terms of settlement construction. Funny!

• In the same document, Erekat confirms the offer of “the largest Jerusalem in history.”

• In May 2008, Livni acknowledges, “I appreciate how hard it was for you to make the suggestion.”

The Palestine Papers: The Documents [Guardian]
Al Jazeera Cites Palestinian Offer of Concessions [NYT]
Palestine Papers: Now We Know. Israel Had a Partner. [Guardian]

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mantra says:

The Palestinians would have sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem (as in the Clinton parameters, Geneva Initiative…), so I don’t know why the author says this, in concurring with Hamas:

“Hamas, the P.A.’s chief rival for allegiance in the territories, said the documents showed the P.A. was “attempting to liquidate the Palestinian cause.” And indeed, if your definition of the Palestinian cause includes at least some form of sovereignty over much of East Jerusalem (and it should), then it is actually difficult to dispute Hamas’s allegation.”

Ken Besig, Israel says:

Al Jazeera and it’s British counterpart The Guardian are both notoriously unreliable news outlets, their reporting is generally tendentious, biased, deeply opinionated, and of course, bitterly anti Israel. Al Jazeera is also a supporter of Arab terrorist groups like Hizballa and particularly Hamas, and thus has for some time now grinding an ax against the Palestinian Authority and it’s leaders.
The Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, Saib Erekat, and all the other Palestinian gangsters are well known prevaricators with only an occasional relationship with honesty or truth. They have also never made a serious offer of compromise or peace with Israel, verbal or written. And they have certainly never offered to surrender any part of Jerusalem.
And most importantly, the Palestinian Israel peace negotiations are the most lied about, misinformed, disinformed, and massively abused event of modern times.
Thus anyone who takes these “leaked” documents seriously especially from tainted sources like Al Jazeera or the Guardian newspaper should have their head examined.

Nothing new here, just al Jazeera going WikiLeaks. Those concessions by the Palestinians were old news when the White House pounced on the announcement of a construction permit for East Jerusalem during Biden’s visit to the area to “jump start” those ill-begotten and three-week long “peace talks.” Har Homa had long been agreed by the Palestinians to be included within Israel proper. In fact the specific outlines of a peace agreement had already been defined at Camp David in 2000, including the refugee problem. And, according to Abbas the pie had even been sweetened by Israel’s then prime minister, Olmert. The problem was never that both sides were not within inches of agreement but that, when the moment of decision arrives, the Palestinians choose not to sign.

As regards this entire “settlement problem” that had suddenly become the sine qua non pre-condition to even talk with Israel, this “deal-buster” was the invention of President Obama who introduced it as a Pre-Condition of his administration during his first meeting with Netanyahu in May, 2009. Once the President of the United States, perhaps the result of naïveté and/or foreign policy inexperience, created an issue that never, in the years since Oslo, presented a problem intruding on direct talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, the Palestinians could not demand less than their new advocate.

The only thing that I do find surprising in this misbegotten Obama Intrusion is not that both the Palestinians and Israelis were forced to back away from open negotiations, but that such experienced Middle East hands as do surround the president, from Biden and Clinton to Kurzer and Ross, not only appear to have little impact on the president’s slow learning curve in the area of foreign relations, but that they do so quietly. Is their employment in the White House really worth the ignominy that will attach to their careers when their jobs end?

Mantra is absolutely correct. Israel offered to give up sovereignty in Arab portions of East Jerusalem. The assertion in this article is an explicit distortion of the Israeli position.

In a very real sense, these revelations are not new at all. Obama pushed strongly for a 3 month settlement freeze because he saw both sides so close to an agreement along the lines highlighted in these leaked documents that he (originally) thought he could pull off a formal agreement in 3 months.

Now comes the elephant in the room. Israelis have been bracing for “far-reaching concessions” through explicit statements along these lines by Netanyahu and Oren. The Palestinian streeet on the other hand has received no parallel message. To the contrary, anti-Israel and anti-semitic incitement continuing unabated in Palestinian media during these negotiations and beyond. Israel indeed has no negotiating partner because the PA can’t deliver the Palestinian people’s buy-in – each concession is tantamount to surrender. This is the mentality that Al Jazeera feeds.

Michael N says:

This news should be an embarrassment to the Israeli governments who usually claim that their magnanomous offers are rejected by the Palestinians. It’s pretty shocking that the Israelis would not consider the position to be a great starting point. The revelations also mirror the reports that came out of the Taba negotiations in 2001 that indicated the difference between the two sides regarding swap of territory was 3%! One can’t help but to think that ideology, fear, and uninspired leardership on BOTH sides serve as barriers to progress.

Michael N., the Palestinians did reject Israeli offers. Here is Erekat, March 27, 2009, translated by MEMRI:

“Let me recount two historical events, even if I am revealing a secret. 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.
In November 2008… Let me finish… 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…
TV host: Okay…”

Here’s Erekat again, same interview:

There will be no peace whatsoever unless East Jerusalem – with every single stone in it – becomes the capital of Palestine.

Saeb Erekat: They will never have this. Like President Abu Mazen said in front of President Bush and PM Olmert: I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. East Jerusalem is an occupied area, just like Khan Yunis, Jericho, and Nablus were. Its status in international law will never be anything else. Therefore, any arrangements regarding East Jerusalem are categorically unacceptable.

–Again, the dichotomy between what is private and what is public.

Here’s the link:

Michael N says:

FW: Thanks for your (civil) retort. The issue revolves around perspective. Both sides often say things in public that do not reflect what is said in negotiations. For an alternative reading of what you presented, see the arrticle by Robert Malley ( who was in the Clinton administration and present at the negotiations) and Hussein Agha (a Palestinian participant in other negotiations) entitled “Camp Daavid: The Tragedy of Errors” (NYR August 9, 2001) that addresses in part the tendency to but the blame solely on the Palestinians (though this is not the main point in the article). I don’t think it helps to characterize negotiations in the polar manner that our side often takes.

An oft-under-reported contextual quote from Erekat:

“Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”


I must say, this is the first such congenial exchange by persons who consider themselves on opposite sides that I have encountered in a very long time. Congratulations to all!

As Barry Rubin as pointed out, not one media outlet yet has questioned the validity of the report. The report as stated presents the Israeli offer, not the Palestinian offer: i.e., Israel was willing to divide the old city of Jerusalem, to end the right of return except for 100,000 people and asked the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state. It was Israel’s compromise that was offered which the Palestinians rejected.

As can easily be seen by the response of the Palestinian public, no one in the PA who wanted to live would have offered what the Israeli’s were offering!

But will the media concede it ran the story in error? If so they would need to remind their readerships that the Israeli offer was met with Palestinian rejection in 2008 and since then the Palestinians have refused to cooperate with peace talks.

Also Erekat stated shortly after the talks with Ohlmert(2008) that they rejected his offer despite Ohlmert conceding all of East Jerusalem. But this media report forgets these facts and would claim that the Palestinians offered East Jerusalem to Israel?

All Palestinian negotiators know the offers indicated in the reports could never be sold to the Palestinians.

These supposed leaks were designed to make Israel look bad and to make the world believe the Palestinians have been negotiating for peace in good faith all along, something contradicted by even pro-Palestinians such as Hussein Agha (of the PA) and Robert Malley.

Once again the world media offers up fabrications without responsible fact-checking just as it did in the Flotilla incident.

The PA will reassure their people that it is all lies, but the rest of the world will have been propagandized to believe Israel is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

The Tablet should have had the sagacity to see this.

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Leak Shows Huge, Secret Jerusalem Concessions

Israel rejected big offer; news is bad P.R. for P.A.

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