PaliLeaks and changing perceptions

What the leaks seem to be revealing most acutely is the extent to which the Palestinian people have yet to be prepared for a change in their perception.

The manna which fell from the heavens and nurtured the Jewish people during their desert trek to the promised land is described in one part of the Bible as having had the taste of honey. In another part, it is said to have had the taste of bread baked with oil. Our rabbis resolve the discrepancies by stating that the manna took on the taste preferred by the person eating it.
Documents apparently leaked by the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit (NSU) to Al-Jazeera, which then shared them with the Guardian, have the same mannalike quality.
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For those on the Israeli Right, the first of the emerging 1,600 or so “PaliLeaks” documents that purport to show the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives on the last decade of peace negotiations are proof that a final-status agreement is out of reach.
“Palestinian positions are even more extreme than we thought,” said Dani Dayan, head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, referring to Palestinian negotiators’ rejection in 2008 of keeping Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Efrat and Har Homa part of Israel. “And those ‘hard-line’ positions are being portrayed as treason [by Palestinians],” he added.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman cited the documents as additional proof for his position that it is pointless to pursue a final-status agreement right now and that a long-term interim agreement is the only feasible option.
On the Left, meanwhile, the documents are being touted as proof that the distance between the sides is not so extreme. “It’s important that the world knows how narrow the gaps were between the two sides and how relatively easy it is to reach an agreement,” said former Meretz leader and architect of the Geneva initiative Yossi Beilin.
Palestinians’ pragmatism and willingness to reach an agreement was evident, for instance, in a statement purportedly made by President Mahmoud Abbas during an internal meeting with the NSU which was reported as this paper’s headline story on Tuesday: “On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or even 1 million – that would mean the end of Israel.”
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THERE IS some truth on both the Left and the Right.
While the indication of a certain Palestinian flexibility on the refugee problem is encouraging, intransigence on Ma’aleh Adumim or Efrat, which most Israelis thought was a given as part of any future agreement, and the evident wide gulf between the two sides on the overall issues of territory and Jerusalem should be a cause for worry.
But there is also a tragic aspect to the PaliLeaks controversy.
Instead of at least being appreciated by their own people as savvy negotiators constructively working toward the achievement of Palestinian political sovereignty and self-determination, Abbas, Saeb Erekat, Ahmed Qurei and others involved in 2008 talks with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and former prime minister Ehud Olmert have been castigated by the Palestinian street as traitors. Scrambling to defend themselves, PA officials have alternately denied the veracity of the leaked documents and claimed that they are being publicized as part of a “conspiracy” designed to discredit the PA.
This aspect of the PaliLeaks fallout is, in part, the price Abbas is paying for his own and his leadership’s insistence on saying one thing in public and something else altogether behind closed doors. For Palestinian public consumption, the Abbas-led PA has consistently marginalized or outright denied the Jewish people’s historic, religious and cultural ties to the Land of Israel. It has glorified terrorists who have massacred Israelis. “Palestine,” as often depicted by PA media, is 27,000 square kilometers – true only if Israel were to cease to exist and its land were annexed to a Palestinian state.
If these are the messages being sent out to the public, it should come as no surprise that Palestinian society is now incensed. It is not easy to come to terms with the dissonance between a PA leadership that publicly delegitimizes Israel while secretly recognizing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Nor can Palestinians readily understand, given the narrative they are fed, the imperative to compromise with our ostensibly illegitimate Zionist entity on the refugee issue. Why should they give up their “right of return” to ensure a Jewish majority in a Jewish state which is constantly presented as evil and rapacious? Abbas and other Palestinian leaders could and should have adjusted their public messages to reflect the types of sane and realistic statements that, these documents show, they sometimes made privately. They should have “sold” peace to their people as the vital interest that it is, requiring the compromises with a legitimate Jewish state that it does.
The capacity to make peace depends on perceptions and preferences. What the revelatory PaliLeaks actually seem to be revealing most acutely, and dismally, is the extent to which the Palestinian people have yet to be prepared for such a change.