News / Middle East

Impact of 'Palestine Papers' on Palestinian Leadership

Houses under construction are seen in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, 08 Dec 2010
Houses under construction are seen in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, 08 Dec 2010

Multimedia

Audio
Cecily Hilleary

The release of the so-called 'Palestine Papers' by the Doha-based Al Jazeera network has the major players in the Middle East conflict scrambling to assess their impact on future peace efforts.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says the documents show that in spite of concessions, Israeli negotiators could not reach an agreement with the Palestinians, and says only one solution remains - a long-term interim agreement.

The United States says that while the leaks complicate matters, the U.S. will redouble efforts to forge a peace deal.  The Palestinians, while challenging the papers’ legitimacy, are looking for the silver lining in a cloud of embarrassment.

Saed Arikat is Washington bureau chief of the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds.  He tells VOA’s Cecily Hilleary that the leaks say a great deal about the process of negotiating for peace in the Middle East.

Arikat: On the one hand, there was a great deal of flexibility on the Palestinian side, to the point where they can really stir a great deal of anger among the Palestinian public. They have been willing to compromise on issues that were thought out before and uncompromisable. Yet the Israelis were obviously quite intransigent, totally inflexible.

And on the one hand, it shows that the element of peace partnership that was alleged by both Israel and the U.S. in the past, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, was not the case. Quite the contrary. Israel was not a partner for peace. That’s on the one hand.

On the other hand, it shows how weak the Palestinians are and how really alone they are in terms of dealing with the State of Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, gestures during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 25 Jan 2011
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, gestures during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 25 Jan 2011

Hilleary: Let’s talk about some of the most damning revelations, at least to the Palestinian Authority. We hear that the Palestinian president [Mahmoud Abbas] was going to ask for the right of return of only about 100,000 refugees, refugees who actually number about five million. What’s the significance of this revelation?

Arikat: It’s quite significant. There are two issues for the Palestinians that are almost sacrilegious to tamper with Jerusalem and the refugees. You have to understand that the refugee issue had already been decided by the United Nations way back when the State of Israel was established.

The flip side of the establishment of the State of Israel is really to allow the Palestinians to return to their homeland. That has always been the case. That is concrete-clad. It’s not something that should be negotiated in principle. Whether the Palestinian refugees come back or do not come back, that’s a different thing altogether.

But to discard the principle of the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes, from which they’ve been uprooted, is to Palestinians sacrilegious. To say that we will accept a token number and to do away with the principle of the ‘right of return’ is unacceptable to the millions of Palestinians.

Hilleary: How realistic is it to imagine that five million people could be absorbed into either Israel or a new Palestine?

Arikat: I’m not a refugee expert, but I can tell you this: The issue of how do we absorb or how do we not absorb and all these things, that, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, is a non-issue. There is an incredible moral responsibility. There has been a tremendous tragedy levied upon the Palestinians. They have suffered a great deal as a result of the uprooting. They have languished in refugee camps for more than sixty years. So the issue of the refugees is far-reaching for the Palestinians.

As I said, whether they can be allowed back in or maybe compensated is not the issue. The principle should remain that these people have the right to return to their homes, in accordance with international law.

Hilleary: Let’s turn to the other big issue - Jerusalem. By the looks of the papers, the Palestinian president [Mahmoud Abbas] was offering to give up almost all of Arab East Jerusalem.  What was Israel going to give up in return?

Arikat: Nothing. As a matter of fact, as it seems, the Palestinians negotiated, being as weak as they are, and that is really the most heart-wrenching, that they were negotiating all alone without any kind of support or international support or indeed, Arab or Muslim support.

Houses under construction are seen in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, 08 Dec 2010
Houses under construction are seen in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim, 08 Dec 2010

The Israeli negotiator, Tzipi Livni [then Israeli Foreign Minister], as it seems, declared that the Palestinian concessions were not enough. The Palestinians had balked at conceding one major settlement, which is Har Homa [Jabal Abu Ghneim], that blocked their access to their portion of Jerusalem and Haram al Sharif [Temple Mount] and so on.

In other words, the whole premise of a Palestinian State - viable, contiguous, with Jerusalem as its capital, as agreed to in one U.N. resolution after another - was completely chucked out by the Israeli negotiators.

So now we can see that there has been, in many ways that [one], Israel is intransigent and will not allow the Palestinians a two-state solution, which they’ve touted for a long time; the Americans have been in many ways not an honest broker.

Their commitments and their words on the issues, be it the road map or going back to the Clinton points and so on, do not bring the actual weight in terms of being able to transform these words into deeds, and basically, they were satisfied with, in many ways, bullying the weaker among the negotiators, which is the Palestinians in thise case, while giving a hand up to the oppressor, that is how this issue is received. Not only among the Palestinians, but among the Palestinians and the Arab world.

Hilleary: So what next for Mahmoud Abbas? Can he recover from this blow, and who is waiting in the wings to step in if he does not?

Arikat: Well, for sure, this has been very damaging for Mahmoud Abbas, very damaging for the Palestinian negotiators. It shows how precipitous and panicky they were, unable to grasp what is happening. They were sort of crude in the world of negotiating. Negotiation has taken on a life of its own.

Whether he’s going to recover or not, I don’t know. I assume that Abbas will continue to be there, at least for the short term. [Saeb] Erikat will continue to be there, at least for the short term, as a negotiator. But indeed, this will strengthen the hand of Hamas and strengthen the hand of those who have been saying that there is no workable peace with Israeli  because Israel is unwilling to reach a resolution where the Palestinians are recognized. Period.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid