Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). You can read more of Barry Rubin's posts at Rubin Reports.
Several people have asked me what I think about the new “Palestine Papers” which have been "obtained" (that means the PA gave it to them) by al-Jazira, the Guardian, and perhaps others, in imitation of Wikileaks. It purports to show that the PA made Israel a big offer of peace and Israel rejected it. Naturally, this is being accepted by these and other newspapers as true without verification or considering how these claims stack up against other information.
Let's begin with a statement by Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat in March 2009 about what happened at the meetings where the PA allegedly offered such huge concessions over Jerusalem:
"In November 2008 Olmert, who talked today about his proposal to Abu Mazen, offered the 1967 borders, but said: `We will take 6.5% of the West Bank, and give in return 5.8% from the 1948 lands, and the 0.7% will constitute the safe passage, and East Jerusalem will be the capital, but there is a problem with the Haram and with what they called the Holy Basin.' Abu Mazen too answered with defiance, saying: `I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine – the June 4, 1967 borders – without detracting a single inch, and without detracting a single stone from Jerusalem, or from the holy Christian and Muslim places. This is why the Palestinian negotiators did not sign."
So here is Erakat--at the time of the negotiations--saying that the Palestinians angrily rejected any concession on getting all of east Jerusalem for themselves! But the media coverage forgets all this and is now willing to credit the claim that they offered to give up much of it!
Incidentally, in the same interview, Erakat explained the wider Palestinian Authority view on the Jerusalem issue which remains unchanged:
"On July 23, 200, in his meeting with President Arafat in Camp David, President Clinton said: `You will be the first president of a Palestinian state, within the 1967 borders–give or take, considering the land swap– and East Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, but we want you, as a religious man, to acknowledge that the Temple of Solomon is located underneath the Haram Al-Sharif.'
"Yasser Arafat said to Clinton defiantly: `I will not be a traitor. Someone will come to liberate it after 10, 50, or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian state, and there is nothing underneath or above the Haram al-Sharif except for Allah.' That is why Yasser Arafat was besieged, and that is why he was killed unjustly."
Note that even for a Palestinian state, Arafat would not yield one inch of Jerusalem. In 2009, Erakat--the man who allegedly offered to give up most of east Jerusalem--praises that stance (and, incidentally, the most moderate PA leader of all--I'm not being sarcastic here--can't help but throw in a claim that the Israelis assassinated Arafat!
But suddenly we are supposed to believe--and it is being accepted by some uncritically--that the Palestinian position was always the opposite of everything we knew about it!
So note the following points:
1. At best these are alleged Palestinian notes, not documents. The only material on Israeli positions is what the PA says they are. In other words, these are PA memos, not a balanced account.
2. We don't know if these are accurate or fabricated. There is ample reason to believe they are fabricated.
3. They contradict every statement and negotiating position the PA has ever taken before, pubicly or privately.
5. All Palestinian leaders know that these concessions could never be sold to their public, the Fatah leaders, or even most of the PA itself.
6. Saeb Erakat, the chief negotiator, has already denied they are accurate, even though the story is benefitting the Palestinians
7. Do you believe that the PA was ready to turn most of east Jerusalem over to Israel?
8. Note that the coverage fails to compare these materials to known major Israeli concessions that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced long ago in public and the PA never contradicted. In other words, since Olmert is on the record as having offered the PA big concessions so how can the media say now that Israel offered nothing.
9. Moreover, If this documentation were true the United States would have known about it and would have factored it into U.S. policy and statements. For example, U.S. policymakers, eager for progress, would have stepped up their efforts even further and put forward bridging proposals over Jerusalem. Yet none of these points have been taken up by American policymakers, nor ever leaked into the media, not even the slightest hint of them.
10. What's going to happen is that the PA will generally let the world believe that it really wanted peace but Israel said "no." At the same time, the PA will tell Palestinians and the Arab world that it never made any such offer. This is a clue that they would never have dared to make such an offer.
11. If the PA is so eager for peace and ready for compromise, why hasn't it been demanding negotiations during the last two years instead of doing everything to avoid them.
Apparently, the blogosphere is all atwitter about how this "proves" that the Palestinians are eager for peace while Israel rejects it. Funny, they've never had any proof before and this is not much to base your case on. Presumably, little of the above will ever be covered in the media to poke holes in this story, much less draw any lessons from it.
Sort of reminds me of the fabricated Hitler Diaries which fooled a major newsmagazine. After they were shown to be false the magazine published a response something like: Whether true or not, this has forever changed our view of the events involved. A writing expert who examined them said they weren't even a particularly good forgery.
Speaking of how people suspend their beliefs when a forgery matches their political views, here's a good example that shows how this process works when it comes to slandering Jews or Israel.
Technorati Tag: Palestine Papers.