The leaked Palestine papers, round two

Abbas' efforts on Israeli TV is a case of 'damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.'

Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Many a true word is spoken in jest. 
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”  “the more things change, the more they remain the same” - is a witty epigram from the pen of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, one-time editor of Le Figaro.  It sums up the feeling of déja vu generated by the flurry of excitement over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent interview on Israel’s TV Channel 2. 
Born in Safed in the northern Galilee, Abbas and his family were forced to flee to Syria during Israel's 1948 War of Independence.  During the TV interview, Abbas said that he had since visited Safed once saying, “I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.”
Abbas’s comments during the interview have been generally regarded as a more flexible stance on the Palestinian issue of the "right of return." The Palestinians have long demanded that Israel grant them the ability to return to the homes that they or their families lived in prior to 1948. This has been a stalwart issue for Palestinians and a major obstacle for Israel in moving forward with peace negotiations.
In response to Abbas's present malleability on the issue, President Shimon Peres commented that his “courageous words prove that Israel has a real partner for peace.” Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said that his words “should prove to the Israeli public that we do have someone to talk to and we can negotiate.” Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni said, “These are the statements we heard in the negotiating room.”
What Tzipi Livni was referring to, and what all three had in mind, were the years of painstaking step-by-step negotiations which culminated with the oh-so-near agreement in 2008 between then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas. In January 2011, this was revealed to the world with the “Palestine Papers,” a huge collection of secret documents detailing the negotiations for peace.
Between January 23 and 26, 2011, Al-Jazeera published thousands of secret documents that were generated during peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians over ten years between 1999 and 2010. In order to protect its source, Al-Jazeera redacted sensitive portions, but it was strongly suspected that the whole cache of nearly 1,700 files − which included minutes of meetings, emails, 153 reports, 54 maps and no less than 64 draft agreements − had been leaked by a disgruntled former member of the Negotiations Support Unit, headed by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat
Before publication, the documents obtained by Al-Jazeera were shared with the UK daily, The Guardian − notorious for its anti-Israel stance − in an effort to ensure a wider circulation. Taken as a whole, the leaked papers reveal just how far the negotiations had gotten to in reaching an agreement on the major issues at stake for both parties. In particular, they demonstrated that the two-state solution under consideration had largely settled the border issue and superseded the call for “a right of return” of some 5 million Palestinians.  The Guardian chose to portray the slow, painstaking process of negotiating a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a major betrayal of the Palestinian cause.  It went to town castigating the Palestinian leadership as “weak and craven” for offering concession after concession to the Israelis, surrendering “land which the Palestinians have lived on for centuries.”
Back to today and The Guardian reported that Mahmoud Abbas’s recent TV interview was once again a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. The headline read, “Mahmoud Abbas outrages Palestinian refugees by waiving his right of return,” and the story was accompanied by a giant image of Abbas being burned by so-called “Palestinian refugees,” (even though the five indistinct figures portrayed do not appear particularly outraged.)
The newspaper pontificated that, “Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is facing widespread condemnation and anger in the Palestinian territories and abroad after he publicly waived his right to return to live in the town from which his family was forced to flee in 1948.”
In the interview, Abbas said, “I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts are Israel.” In an effort to discredit Abbas, The Guardian quoted Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ prime minister in Gaza, as saying, "No one has the right, whoever he is … to give up an inch of Palestinian land." Additionally, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was quoted as saying that the president's statement does "not represent in any way the views of the Palestinian people".
Condemned for procrastinating and condemned for acting, castigated as hard-line and castigated for softening his line, harried by activists in the West Bank and harried by Hamas in Gaza, it seems as though Abbas simply cannot do the right thing.  There is always some vested interest that will never be satisfied.  Perhaps that’s part of what makes the Palestine-Israel dispute one of the most intractable in modern history.
The writer is the author of “One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine” (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (