The Palestinian Authority’s decision to seek a deal with Hamas is being seen in
Jerusalem as a gamble intended to attract support from the international
community for a declaration of statehood from the United Nations General
Assembly in September.
The PA is wagering that it is more important to
present the world with an image of Palestinian unity in both the West Bank and
Gaza Strip ahead of the vote than to distance itself from the terrorism of
Hamas. By building a government of technocrats that would limit terrorism – at
least for a few months – the Palestinians are trying to eliminate excuses that
could be raised to prevent a state from arising.
Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu intended to tell European leaders in his visit to London and Paris
next week that supporting the UN resolution in September would be giving the
Palestinians theatrics but no state, while a state – and a peace agreement –
could only be born via negotiations.
However, the Palestinian unity
announcement, which took Israeli intelligence agencies by surprise, could make
it harder for Netanyahu to make that argument, because there is no chance for
negotiations with a Palestinian government built with a Hamas that refuses to
renounce terrorism. Or the Palestinians might have played into Netanyahu’s hands
by making it easier for him to warn the international community against creating
a state that could serve as a base for terrorism against Israel’s
Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas will travel the world
between now and September to try to sell their respective sides of the story.
One element that could be crucial in getting world leaders to accept their
narratives ahead of September 2011 is to make sure they understand why
substantive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ended in September
This is especially important now because the Palestinians justified
seeking a state from the UN and an agreement with Hamas by saying that reaching
a deal with Israel was not an option. One of the central arguments that Abbas is
making to world leaders is that he tried to reach an agreement with Netanyahu’s
dovish predecessor Ehud Olmert, and he came close, but the criminal
investigations that brought down Olmert’s government also ended chances of
Olmert has argued that the reason peace was not achieved
is that he offered Abbas a sweetheart deal and the Palestinian leader never
responded. He says that on August 31, 2008, three weeks before he resigned, he
offered 100 percent of West Bank land (minus 6.8% in land swaps), 10,000
Palestinian refugees returning to Israel’s final borders, and the holy basin of
Jerusalem’s Old City coming under joint Israeli-Palestinian-American-
Jordanian-Saudi control. He last met with Abbas on September 16 of that year –
five days before he resigned, and more than six months before he left office –
and Abbas did not respond or make a counteroffer.
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The 1,700 documents
revealed by Al Jazeera and the Guardian in January, called “the Palestine
Papers” or “Palileaks,” were seen by much of the world as proof that the
Palestinians were willing to make unprecedented concessions on Jerusalem and
refugees in Abbas’s talks with Olmert. That impression was fed by the analysis
of the two media outlets that released the documents selectively in a way that
made Abbas seem overly generous and Israel overly hard-line.
But a new
reading of the documents by a Christian organization in the United States found
that unlike the way they were reported, the Palestine Papers actually proved the
Israeli point of view correct on all the key issues.
Christians for Fair
Witness on the Middle East – which bills itself as a liberal, non-Evangelical
Christian (mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic) organization focused on
bringing facts about the Arab-Israeli conflict to American churches – had a team
of researchers read through all of the 1,700 Palestine Papers.
organization has been trying to get the world to look more deeply into the
papers as well, rather than accept the misreporting of them as fact.
KEY concession that the Palestinians were reported to have made was control over
Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Al Jazeera broadcast that the Palestinians
had offered to “let Israel keep all but one of the Jewish enclaves it built in
East Jerusalem,” referring to Har Homa, and settlements over the Green Line
amounting to some 2 percent of the land controlled by Jordan between 1948 and
But Christians for Fair Witness found that the Palestine Papers did
not indicate that Abbas made a counter- offer to Olmert’s August 31 proposal.
They revealed documents indicating that the Palestinians had decided ahead of
the final Olmert-Abbas meeting on September 16 not to issue a counter-offer at
that meeting and that Abbas had been advised by his team to wait to respond
until George W. Bush was out of the White House.
A December 2, 2008, memo
indicated that in response to Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs
David Welch’s question about Olmert’s offer, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb
Erekat told Welch that “We offered a 2% swap that would allow 70% of the
settlers to remain.”
But the 2% figure is not mentioned at all in either
a September 16, 2008, memo of “talking points” for Abbas at his final meeting
with Olmert, or a September 22, 2008, memo of “Palestinian Talking Points
Regarding Israeli Proposal.” Therefore, it appears that the 2% figure did not
play a part in the Palestinian thinking about possible responses to Olmert’s
package offer. Moreover, there is no indication whatsoever of this figure having
been presented to Olmert post-September 16, 2008.
“Nowhere in the
Palestine Papers is there any indication that Abbas ever communicated this
‘counter-offer’ of a ‘2% swap’ – or any other – to Olmert,” the organization
“And while the Palestinians had memos and maps outlining the
Israeli offer in detail, there is no documentation in the Palestine Papers of
the parameters of a counter-offer designed to respond to this offer.”
SECOND concession the Palestinians reportedly made in the talks with Olmert
involved the fate of the Temple Mount and the Holy Basin.
proposed international control of the key Jerusalem holy site,” the reports
But the documents revealed by Christians for Fair Witness found
that Al Jazeera had wrongly portrayed the international control over the Holy
Basin as an official PA proposal. In the document, Erekat told American
diplomats – and not Olmert – that he was speaking in his private capacity “That
was not an offer, it was just talk,” the organization said.
the refugee issue, Al Jazeera reported that the Palestinians had agreed that
Israel would only take in 10,000 refugees a year for 10 years for a total of
100,000, giving up their demand that all refugees from 1948 and their
descendants – amounting to several million people – enter Israel.
documents highlighted by Christians for Fair Witness report a conversation
between Abbas and Olmert that Erekat recounted, in which Abbas said, “Are you
joking?” to Olmert’s figure of 10,000 over 10 years. In a September 22, 2008,
internal memo drafted in response to Olmert’s offer, it states that “while we
agree to negotiate the number of returnees in consideration of Israel’s capacity
of absorption, this particular offer cannot be taken seriously.”
Palestinians estimated Israel’s absorption capacity at slightly more than a
million people over a 10-year period. That’s the only concession the
Palestinians were willing to make on the issue. And even that would be only
They expected additional “returns” later on.
there have been claims in the media that the Palestinian Authority was willing
to offer great compromises on refugees, the Palestine Papers reveal that this
was not the case,” the organization wrote. “While Palestinian negotiators spoke
publicly about compromise on refugees, privately they spoke of the ‘Right of
Return’ as a matter of individual choice that would have to be extended to each
of over seven million ‘refugees.’ They anticipated the potential ‘return’ of
millions of Palestinians to the State of Israel, with Palestinians retaining the
open-ended right to try to negotiate additional ‘returns’ beyond any number
initially agreed upon in a peace treaty.”
The organization expressed hope
that just like the understanding that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
turned down a generous Israeli offer at Camp David in 2000 improved Israel’s
image internationally, the same could happen if the world realized that Abbas
repeated Arafat’s mistake in September 2008.
It said it was praying that
this could help Israel avoid a major crisis this coming September.
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