A lethal spin 0

While the greater part of the Arab World is in upheaval over issues of poverty, hunger, and oppression, fury flares also in the “Holy Land” over the unlikely accusation that the Palestine Authority, led by the politically impotent Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), has conceded too much to Israel in “peace-process” negotiations.

We hadn’t been aware that Palestinian leaders had ever conceded anything – not at least in practice. The whole idea since the ill-advised Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, was that there would be an exchange of “land for peace”. Israel delivered land – shifting every Israeli resident out of Gaza – but did not get peace. It got rockets, suicide bombers, and an intensified world-wide campaign to delegitimize its existence.

The accusation that the PA has betrayed the Palestinian cause has arisen out of the publication of some 1600 leaked documents from “peace-process” negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The Palestine Papers, as they are called, were given by a person or persons unnamed to al-Jazeera, which gave them to the Guardian newspaper (or so it is said).

Both al-Jazeera and the Guardian are heavily biased on the side of the Palestinians. Or to put it more accurately, they are both frantically devoted to the cause of the Palestinians, and passionately against the existence of the state of Israel. They favor the uncompromising and murderous Hamas leadership to that of the PA (which is the older terrorist organization, Fatah, dressed in a suit.)

You can read what al-Jazeera has to say about the Palestine Papers here. It believes they prove that Israel and America negotiated in bad faith, and the PA conceded too much land to Israel and dropped the sacred demand for the “return of  the Palestinian refugees”.

The Guardian pounced upon the documents in a flush of Schadenfreude. You can read the Guardian’s spin on them here. It believes they prove Israel’s intransigence in the face of Palestinian generosity.

As we are heavily biased on the side of Israel, we prefer this view of the affair by Noah Pollak at Commentary-contentions:

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

And we find this from The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs interesting:

With the “peace process” a shambles, someone wants to show the Palestinians as moderates, taking “risks for peace” against a nasty, intransigent Israel. Who? … The Guardian itself tells a story in which the British government is strongly implicated.

The leaked material came from a unit called the, “Palestinian negotiation support unit (NSU), which has been the main technical and legal backup for the Palestinian side in the negotiations. The British government has heavily funded the unit. Other documents originate from inside the PA’s extensive U.S.- and British-sponsored security apparatus. The Israelis, Americans and others kept their own records, which may differ in their accounts of the same meetings.”  …

So the British government (read British intelligence) paid for and organized support of the Palestinians in negotiations and The Guardian announces up front that American and Israeli records of the same meetings may be different. Who knew the British were so heavily involved? Why were they and why would their records be different if everyone was in the same room speaking the same language – English – according to The Guardian. Either concessions were offered or they weren’t.

We’re betting they weren’t. [The implication here being that at least some of the papers are British forgeries – JB.]

The most obvious outcome of the leaks has been to enhance the already bloody rivalry among Palestinian groups. Fatah called the documents lies, but Hamas called Abu Mazen and Fatah traitors for giving away Palestinian assets. There were riots in Ramallah yesterday.

The lives of Fatah leaders, especially Abu Mazen’s, are now in danger.


C. Gee read the relevant papers and writes:

In countering the Al Jazeera/Guardian revelations one does not need to hypothesize that the documents are a hoax. They can be genuine and still not prove that the Palestinians gave “concessions”; that these concessions were taken to Israel; that Israel refused them; that they were not abandoned by the Palestinians themselves; or would not be abandoned during negotiations when push came to shove. As far as I can see, the documents do not provide sufficient evidence of any of this, let alone all of it. Without that evidence the story of intransigent, duplicitous Israel and beleaguered, earnest Abbas fails. As does any story that Abbas has betrayed his cause.

The characterization of the positions as “concessions” forming an offer made and rejected by the Israelis is a story put upon the Papers by Al Jazeera. What motivated Al Jazeera to concoct that spin is not too hard to guess at, but one does not need to examine motives to show the spin. The documents themselves do not support the story.

In fact the documents could be given an altogether different spin: Abbas, as leader of Fatah (and that is what he is leader of, not the Palestinian people) never deviated from the bad faith demanded by his organization in his conducting of peace negotiations with Israel: negotiate, but never sign away our rights.

Were I a newspaper looking into the story put out by Al Jazeera, I would like to see:

  • the documents where the claim is made that they took the concessions to the Israelis, then verification of this in records of the negotiations with the Israelis from all sources
  • documents where the claim is made that the Israelis turned them down, and when
  • documents where the Palestinians explain on what grounds the Israelis turned them down, then verification and cross-checking of these Palestinian claims with other statements by the Palestinian negotiators and with Israeli records
  • an evaluation of how the ‘Negotiating Support Unit‘ is constituted, what its political role is and whether the minutes reflect what was actually said, or a glossed account which positions the speakers – and the unit – correctly for the historical record. (On reading minutes of this Unit, one gets the impression that one is witnessing a soviet committee at work: each comrade is afraid that every other comrade might catch him deviating from the party line and denounce him and displace him. There is none of the candor one might expect among negotiating advisors and their negotiators, and certainly no unambiguous adoption of “concessions”. When AM says “it is illogical” to demand the return of a million refugees, he is saying that it is a pointless negotiating demand, not that it is a concession, not that he has agreed to forfeit the right of return. Everybody in the room would use and understand such code. We see the typical inner workings of a totalitarian system. One can sympathize with AM’s outrage that the very thing he tried to avoid – an interpretation of his statements that he is betraying the cause – has come about.)
  • an independent translator verify that the Al Jazeera translations of the documents are correct.

One may step outside the documents to discount the Al Jazeera story. The recent history of negotiations shows time and again that an agreement, with hard compromises from both sides, is in the bag, that it merely awaits signatures, only to have it be abandoned. So far, the evidence points to Palestinian balking. The reasons given are always that the positions described as “concessions” by the Palestinians (and “demands” by the Israelis, which, given the power balance, is perverse) are too onerous and conflict with the inalienable rights of the Palestinians: to their ancestral homeland; to the right of return; to resistance. Sometimes they give procedural reasons: they never the saw the maps, the maps were given to them late, the maps shown did not give as much land as the Israelis claimed, the settlements after all take up too much space.

One explanation for the Palestinian bosses’ behavior is that any “concessions” resulting in an actual peace would be justification for their rivals in Fatah and for Hamas (a rival organization) to topple them, on behalf of that useful, angry, imaginary electorate, Arab public opinion. If they wish to stay in power, they must fulfill the statesman role expected of them by the world and negotiate for a state, but never deliver it, for fear of their rivals ousting or even offing them. The negotiating process must be justified to the rivals (as avatars of Arab public opinion) as part of the “resistance”. This is supported by recent statements by the Palestinians in the wake of the scandal, that the leaks put in jeopardy their successes in “isolating Israel diplomatically”. It is in their interest (which is not to say it might not also be in the Israeli interest, but for different reasons) to spin out the peace process, but never sign a peace treaty. Why else would the Palestinians now be working towards a unilateral declaration of a state with recognition by the UN or individual nations?