Most of us who admire and respect Hanan Ashrawi are keen to hear her thoughts on the current Palestinian situation, especially on the recent, so-called Palestine Papers. In an Al Jazeera interview with David Frost, “Frost Over the World” on 29 January 2011 found on You Tube, her position struck me as curious. I’ll summarize using many of her words without inserting quotation marks. She said that leaks are acceptable but not if they’re used as a political weapon, for ill-will, and in order to steer leaked documents in a certain direction, that is, not if they form a certain type of incitement or provocation, if they’re taken out of context, and if they’re doctored here and there. This, she said, makes the Palestine Papers, unlike WikLeaks whose leaks are neutral, a PR campaign with serious political objectives seeking to destabilize the PA and put a certain spin on those leaks. Al Jazeera, she says, is suspect. Some of the documents are doctored, some are true, some selected out of context. They are a deliberate attempt to show everything that is negative and that would negatively resonate among the Palestinian public and undermine the Palestinian negotiators and the leadership. Sometimes, they serve to break certain taboos and expose hidden attitudes. However, the Papers will enhance the rift and polarization between Hamas and the nationalists, making it much more difficult to reach conciliation. The documents show absolute American bias for Israel, the helplessness and pressure on the Palestinians, and Americans trying to manage the conflict rather than solve it, presenting no position beyond legal, political, and public discourse cover for Israel. They show Israel will not accept anything nor reciprocate in contrast to Palestinian flexibility and creativity. The talks, she said, have long been non-existent anyway, and the documents are merely “chats,” nothing agreed or conclusive or signed, just exploratory, not official positions.
It’s true that the hurried, journalistic and expert deluge of commentary on the Papers are isolated snapshots of one or more documents, not a comprehensive analysis and interpretation by professional historians, in context, of the entire bunch, and predicated on sound research of other sources. And that the Palestinian and other Arab analysts have a clear agenda, including advocacy of a one state strategy, and are not always fair, sometimes brutal, in their assessments and judgments.
Dr. Ashrawi is right: the Papers reveal nothing that we didn’t know—except perhaps that the Palestinians actually offered as much as they did. In 2008, the Palestinian negotiators were apparently willing to concede annexation of large areas of Palestinian East Jerusalem. These include the huge Jewish colonies and Palestinian “neighborhoods” where Jewish colonists set up shop, quarters of the Old City, and abdication of exclusive sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif. Offered too, were land swaps to include 70-80 percent of the Jewish settlers, estimated to be 500,000 plus, in the Jewish state. They also capitulated on the non-return of refugees, accepted demilitarization, partial sovereignty over resources, transfer of some Palestino-Israelis into the Palestinian state, and, not (at that point) agreed to by Palestinian negotiators, recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state,” essentially an exclusive national state for Jews only. Israeli negotiators refused a 1:1 land swap ratio, and insisted on larger annexation of West Bank land than the Palestinians were willing to give up, which was quite a bit. Pretty much what the Israelis tried to get out of Arafat at Camp David in 2000. Yet, the Israelis would have none of it, including their rejection of dismantling two mega-colonies further north that cut the West Bank in half and held precious land and water aquifers. In any case, in recent years, one should add the Jordan Valley to Israel’s eternal possessions.
The Papers also show, despite their craven, undignified, sycophantic slips—(where is the principled dignity and humility of a negotiator such as the late Gazan, Dr. Haidar abd al-Shafi, or Hanan Ashrawi, herself?)—the Palestinians standing their principled ground on 1967 baseline, international law, UN resolutions, etc., and threatening to pursue a strategy of one state to prod their intransigent interlocutors. The Israelis were not negotiating seriously, just buying time as usual, while the Americans, especially George Mitchell, behaving like children pathetically fearful of their Israeli masters, refusing to contextualize the negotiations in international law and UN resolutions, and dismissive of their previous commitments to the Palestinians, such as the 1967 baseline. Whatever the Israelis won’t concede, which is pretty much everything, we’ll wring it out of the Palestinians. This is the wretched story as always. The weak, perhaps, should not “negotiate” with the strong.
As I write, my mind goes off into an aside, which is this. Washington is an extension of Israel’s diplomacy, its vanguard, as it is of Israel’s military and economy. The two are virtually indistinguishable, their strategy formed around a bi-national oneness, as if Israel—its needs and misdeeds, its worldview and psychology so deeply woven in American politics, foreign policy, and media—is, indeed, the fifty-first state, the coddled stepchild, as I believe Ron Paul referred to it. Washington will pressure and threaten any party—the Palestine Authority, an individual Arab state, the Arab League, at the UN, NGOs—use any “tool” at its disposal, go to any length to protect Israel from the consequences of its reckless, even suicidal path—right or wrong, legal or illegal, moral or immoral, decent or indecent. It will spend billions of Americans’ hard-earned dollars to maintain dictators, such as Hosni Mubarak, and their repressive police apparatus, to secure Israel’s southern borders, not to mention more billions to keep Israel happy and American politicians free of domestic hassle. Human rights and freedom be damned. Real, sane American national interest and security be damned. Talking to Washington on Israel-Palestine is the same as talking to Tel-Aviv. The US effectively negotiates, sanctions, bribes, menaces, and wars on Israel’s behalf. The “peace process” in actuality constitutes an endless act of torment inflicted on the Palestinians in which the US pressures them for ever-growing concessions to meet endless Israeli demands. Without this reality, Israel cannot sustain its policies of occupation, expansion, wars, and violations of international law. Dependence or more accurately extraordinary access to the halls of power of a great state to realize colonization is an intrinsic part of Zionism. First Britain, then, since the 1940s, the US. Israel truly cannot exist without this bizarre phenomenon dubbed the special relationship. Not in the sense that the Arab hordes are out to throw it into the sea, but in the sense that it absolutely could not have carried on its decades-long brutality and aggressions with impunity, and therefore, left to its own devices, would have made peace with the Arabs long, long ago. Its power as well as the other side of the coin, its mirage of power, is a reflection of Washington’s might applied on its behalf, at the cost of America’s exhaustion and decline. Peace remains elusive precisely because there is no countervailing power to force an unaccountable Israel, virtually the only state in the world to enjoy this exceptional status, to reach a settlement with the Palestinians and its neighbors, inverting reality with the mantra that the Arabs understand only force.
Returning to where I was. I am puzzled by Hanan’s statements . How does she know some of the Papers are doctored, and which ones? Who is trying to destabilize the PA and why? Exploratory or otherwise, did not the Palestinian negotiators effectively make an offer that the Israelis could very well have accepted? Why and how is Al Jazeera “suspect”? More importantly, how can one say that the Papers will enhance the Hamas-PA rift when, in fact, the PA with the US, Israel, and Egypt worked mightily to undermine an agreement with a willing Hamas, effectively refusing national unity? When the PA looked the other way as Gaza was pummeled? Or is dead set on sealing the Egyptian-Gaza border and suffocating the Gazans to dislodge Hamas? Has not the Palestinian leadership already undermined itself because of its willingness to continue with this outrage?
Aaron David Miller who was interviewed with Hanan, argued that, while the Palestinians were prepared with flexible and creative fixes, they and the Israelis did not depart from their narratives. Israelis were silent because they had more questions than answers and were reluctant to express their positions. They are a strong power but also vulnerable and extremely cautious, hence careful and deliberate in negotiations. The peace process is in trouble because of leaders’ weakness on both sides and their inability to close the gaps. No one is prepared to consider making difficult decisions on the core issues and sell them to their respective constituencies. There is a lack of ownership.
Indeed. The Palestinians must shoot down the awful logic that has made the careers of countless academics, especially those Jewish-Americans motivated on behalf of Israel: the conflict is not a dispute between two states but one in which one state occupies and brutalizes another people. Peace is elusive not because of conventional wisdom, viz., that the politically survivable Israeli maximum offered to the Palestinians is far below the politically survivable minimum the Palestinians can accept. This is nonsense, because the Palestinians have been ready to accept a state in 1967 borders for decades, and this should not be hostage to domestic Israeli colonial politics. They are reasonably asking for viability to exist in what is theirs; Israel will not give them anything close to it. Thus, it is not a matter of reducing a fantasy gap; instead, it is a matter of one side wanting all the land without the other in it; of making one side abide by international law and decency.
It’s not that, per incredulous Israel supporters, the Palestinians don’t comprehend the nature of negotiations, whose fundamental purpose is compromise, not getting all one wants. The Palestinians understood these principles since the late 1980s, knowing they’d have to make concessions, but starting from the 1967 baseline. The Israelis, on the other hand, want a settlement exclusively on their own terms, their rights God-given. Israeli governments, certainly the current one, are more extreme in their position towards peace than Hamas, which has accepted a settlement based on 1967 lines. They rejected the Palestinians’ generous offer. We must therefore remember that the sensationalism about the Papers are unwarranted. At least we can say the Palestinians tried, negotiated in good faith, even capitulated. Now we can say, as if we didn’t conclude this by at least the late 1990s, that the Palestinians must move on.
Must the Palestinians, as it is argued by Israel’s supporters infuriated at Al Jazeera, accept whatever Israel offers, essentially surrender, to save it from itself and at least end Palestinian torment? That, given Israel’s internal contradictions and domestic calculus, this is the best that could now be realized for the Palestinians? That it will reassure Jewish Holocaust fear and paranoia? I don’t know. I do know that America forcing (no, not “pressuring”) Israel to do what is in its best interest is also good for it and its long-term safety and survival, and everyone else’s.
The central question is, knowing all this, now what, and why not recommend the PA quit the whole scene, nationally unify all elements, including civil society, and pursue a strategy of nonviolent resistance? Is there anything else left to do? Clearly, Dr. Ashrawi cannot get herself to say the two state fiasco is (long) over. On the one hand, because of the asymmetry in power between the two parties, she knows there can be no negotiated solution. On the other, the peace process is only in “serious trouble.” So she implores the “Quartet” (really the US using the others to continue the sham) to do something, unilaterally, about a two state solution before it is too late. Here’s what she says in Foreign Policy on February 4, 2011 (“The Quartet needs a qualitative shift on Palestine”):
The Middle East “peace process” is in serious trouble. After years of fruitless negotiations, Israel’s occupation is still firmly entrenched, eroding what hope remains for establishing a sovereign Palestinian state and concluding a just and lasting peace based on the two-state solution. …
In the absence of a neutral and principled third party, the vast inequalities separating Palestinians and Israelis have doomed bilateral negotiations to failure. The overall power disparities between occupier and occupied have been transposed to the negotiating table. …
It is not enough just to repeat the mantra in support of a return to bilateral negotiations. Two decades of such negotiations have eroded the very viability of the two-state solution, and the credibility of the Quartet members. It is already too late for statements without actual enactment and intervention. Israel’s immunity from accountability and from compliance with the global rule of law must end. The rights and needs of the Palestinian people must be respected and safeguarded.
While the Palestinian Authority continues to build the institutions of state in spite of the occupation, Israel persists in destroying the territorial, economic and demographic viability of a sovereign Palestinian state. These mutually exclusive policies cannot be reconciled.
To render the Palestinian nation-building process successful, Israel’s occupation must end before it does irreparable damage to the two-state solution. The September 2011 deadline is drawing closer. It is imperative that the Quartet take concrete steps before it is too late.
A good start on February 5th is for the Quartet to take a clear and bold decision to recognize the Palestinian state on the 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital. It can also convene an international conference to map out Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders within a binding timeline. It is also essential that the Quartet afford the nascent Palestinian state the appropriate protection it needs. The whole region is currently undergoing critical transitions. The challenge before the Quartet now is to prove that it can inject a positive momentum for peace and stability in the midst of this sea of change.
The hope for a two state solution is “eroded,” not dead, the damage to it, not yet “irreparable,” hence canvassing the Quartet to recognize a Palestinian state, protect it, and arrange (force?) Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders. What she is not saying is why, what arguments and rationales, compels her to hold on to the two state option, why she defends the PA without apparent criticism, and, considering that these requests, these pleas, will not be fulfilled or heeded, what she feels about other alternatives. What other options do the Palestinians have?
Given what’s happening in Egypt, and in light of the Palestine Papers, one would think the Palestinian people in the territories would also be galvanized. Yes and no. The Palestinians are weary and cautious, disenchanted, so many failed strategies, peaceful revolts, mass protests, mobilizations, so much sacrifice, including at the hands of the repressive apparatus of their leaders’ little security state. The Papers reveal little they did not know or suspect; their grasp of the complexity and politics of the Palestinian dilemma is deep and sophisticated. Where to focus the energy of anger: Israeli occupation or corrupt leaders? Weary too, especially the middle classes, that a peaceful revolt against the PA may cause great economic damage and hardship and elicit violence against them from all sides. And the leadership cannot countenance the thought of losing its comfort and privileges, the sacrifices required by a peaceful mass struggle. Fatah, who’s gotten fat on US aid and has a vested structural and institutional interest, is not an enthusiastic supporter of this sort of democracy, and still sings the praises of Hosni Mubarak. Did he not support a peace process and strangle Gaza, wherein rule Fatah’s enemies, with the Israelis? However, it may be soon a reality that Tunisia and Egypt’s empowering and electrifying examples will galvanize the younger generation of Palestinians.
6 February 2011