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Dr Musa A Keilani: Truth can hold the trust
February 01, 2011
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The Palestinians’ struggle for freedom has been dealt a devastating blow by revelations that their leaders were telling them something but doing something else behind their back. The “Palestine Papers” unveiled by Al Jazeera Television show that Palestinian negotiators offered Israel sweeping concessions on the issue of Arab East Jerusalem and the rights of refugees from the 1948 war.

They are also shown as having colluded with the Israeli occupation authorities against Hamas and were also party to an effort at suppressing a UN-backed report about Israeli war crimes against the residents of the Gaza Strip.

For the average Palestinian, whether in the occupied territories or outside, these are enough to disown their leadership. Granted that some of the actions of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) were prompted by intense American pressure, and others were the result of PNA fears that Hamas was gaining political strength. But then the Hamas strength was already evident in the 2007 elections where the group gained 76 per cent of the votes. And now Hamas stands to gain a lot from the unfolding details of how the PNA representatives were dealing with the Israeli negotiators.

It was always taken for granted that the Palestinians would have to make concessions and accept compromises if they were to realise their dream of independent statehood. They were always the underdog, given Israel’s military control of the territories where they want to set up their independent state.

They could issue lofty statements but in reality they always had to accept that there was little they could do to pressure Israel into accepting anything that it did not want to accept.

Israel always followed a policy of offering the minimum and then depressing it further when the Palestinians showed signs of accepting the minimum. And now it appears that the Palestinian negotiators were willing to accept and make proposals that compromise the very core of the Palestinian struggle.

Even at that, the Palestine Papers show, Israel was cool to such offers and simply turned them down. It reminds of an ancient tale where a set of moderate brothers negotiating with another set of hard-line brothers for their rights had to scale down their demands from five counties to five villages and then to five houses and finally to be told that they would not get as much space to drive down a needle. That is what has been happening to the Palestinians.

It means, for the average Palestinian, a loss of trust and confidence in the Palestinian leadership and hopes that the struggle for independence would produce positive results for a fair and just peace agreement with Israel.

There are many theories as to who was behind the leak of some 1,600 internal documents from a decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Al Jazeera says it would keep its sources confidential and has satisfied itself of the authenticity of the documents in its possession.

Some believe that Israelis were behind the leak. The intention was to inform the Palestinian leadership that they had committed themselves to the offers they made and to tell the Palestinian public that these were not even the minimum they could expect from negotiations with Israel.

In the meantime, the leak also served Israel’s purpose of easing pressure on itself to engage in good-faith negotiations amid intensified Palestinian efforts to secure international recognition of their notional statehood.

It is also possible that someone high up in the Palestinian leadership was so upset by the sweeping nature of the concessions and compromises being offered to Israel that he or she opted to expose the negotiations to the Palestinians at large and indeed the Arab and international community.

Yet, there could be other Palestinians who would want to bring down the leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas. What better way to do that other than portraying them as undermining the Palestinian cause. Clearly, it should not be too difficult for the Palestinian leadership to trace the leak since there could not have many who had access to the 1,684 documents that found their way to Al Jazeera. Heads would definitely roll when the leak is traced. On the other hand, it is also possible that we would never know who was behind the leak and what was his or her motivation.

Indeed, it is not that a crucial issue. What is important now is where the Palestinian struggle would go from this point. The US administration says that the exposure of the Palestine Papers has complicated the effort an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Well, that is not necessarily true because the effort was for a resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, with no assurance whatsoever that the process would produce an agreement. As far as the Obama administration is concerned, an Israeli-Palestinian engagement in negotiations is enough at this point in time.

We know of the realities at play and how it is all but impossible — short of a miracle — for any negotiation to produce a fair and just peace agreement. That is how the process is diced. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is quoted in the Palestine Papers as saying: “Whoever will be able to reach an agreement to solve this conflict will be the most important figure in the region after Jesus Christ!”

Does that mean that the Palestinians should give up trying to strike a deal through negotiations under the given geopolitical considerations?

The answer should be yes because there is no way they could secure the minimum they seek in a peace agreement with Israel. They would be forced to accept compromises that do away with their quest for independent statehood. The best they could hope for is expanded autonomy in their towns and villages that are cut off from each other.

That is definitely not supposed to be the end of the Palestinian struggle that saw tens of thousands sacrificing their life.

The PNA needs a self-examination. Abbas and his aides need to figure out for themselves how far they remain credible in the eyes of the Palestinian nation in waiting before they proceed any further. If they opt to disregard the impact of the Palestine Papers and resume business as usual, they should remind themselves of people like Marwan Bargouthi and others who have been and continue to pay the price of a lifetime to serve their cause. And indeed the millions who have pinned their hopes on their leadership to deliver on the promise of independent statehood and life in dignity.

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