Tag Archives: Palestine Papers

U.S. already affirmed ’67 borders–only to have Obama backtrack

President Barack Obama is set to deliver a hotly anticipated speech tomorrow to “argue that the political upheaval [in the Arab world] raises the prospect for progress on all fronts, and will offer ‘some specific new ideas about U.S. policy toward the region,'” the New York Times reports. And according to a report in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth, Obama will “call upon Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, with border alterations that will be agreed upon with the Palestinian Authority”–a move that would “disturb” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But perhaps Netanyahu has little to worry about. The Obama administration has already backtracked on the 1967 borders in private meetings with Palestinian officials, according to documents released by Al Jazeera as part of the “Palestine Papers.” The backtracking on the 1967 lines came despite an an affirmation in the Bush administration-backed “Road Map” on Middle East peace that the ’67 borders would be the border for Israel and a Palestinian state.

Analysis by Ali Abunimah for Al Jazeera indicates how little a commitment to the 1967 borders by Obama in his speech Thursday could mean:

In apparently contentious meetings between Mitchell and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and their respective teams in September and October 2009 — whose detailed contents have been revealed for the first time — Mitchell claimed the Bush administration position was nonbinding. He pressed the Palestinians to accept terms of reference that acquiesced to Israel’s refusal to recognize the 1967 line which separates Israel as it was established in 1948 from the West Bank and Gaza Strip where Palestinians hoped to have their state…

At a critical 21 October 2009 meeting, [George] Mitchell read out proposed language for terms of reference:

“The US believes that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that achieves both the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state encompassing all the territory occupied in 1967 or its equivalent in value, and the Israeli goal of secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meets Israeli security requirements.”

Erekat’s response was blunt: “So no Road Map?” The implication of the words “or equivalent in value” is that the US would only commit to Palestinians receiving a specific amount of territory — 6258 square kilometers, or the equivalent area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — but not to any specific borders.

The Palestine Cables: Egyptian VP Suleiman, Israel’s favorite, wants ‘Gaza to go ‘hungry’ but not ‘starve”

This is the latest installment of my column on WikiLeaks and Israel/Palestine at Mondoweiss.  You can read all the installments here.

The Israeli establishment is pleased to see that Omar Suleiman, the former head of Egypt’s intelligence services who was recently appointed to be Egypt’s first vice president, is angling to continue the Mubarak regime.  As reports circulate that Hosni Mubarak may step down tonight, examining Suleiman, Mubarak’s presumed successor, seems all the more important.  State Department cables released by WikiLeaks show that Suleiman directs Egypt’s policies on Israel/Palestine, policies that are in line with Israeli goals:   weakening Hamas, continuing the blockade of Gaza and halting Iranian influence.

In fact, Israel has explicitly voiced that Suleiman–spelled “Soliman” in the diplomatic cables–is their favored choice to assume the helm of the Egyptian presidency once Mubarak is gone.  An August 2008 cable from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv reads:

[Arab Affairs Adviser David] Hacham was full of praise for Soliman, however, and noted that a “hot line” set up between the MOD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use…Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated. (Note: We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman.)

Egypt has been Israel’s chief partner in the devastating blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has caused Gaza’s economy to be on the “brink of collapse,” as a UN spokesman put it yesterday.  Suleiman is quoted in a December 2007 cable as wanting the blockade to cause “Gaza to go ‘hungry’ but not ‘starve.'”  80 percent of the people of Gaza rely on UN aid to survive.

The leaked “Palestine Papers” published by Al Jazeera provide more details on  Suleiman and Egypt’s complicity in the siege.  As Abdullah Al-Arian, writing in Al Jazeera, notes:

Throughout the documents, Suleiman in particular is singled out as the point person whom Israeli and American officials could count on to execute their agenda of dividing the Palestinian factions or pressing the PA for greater concessions…

In early 2007, as the siege on Gaza had crippling consequences on the lives of Palestinians, negotiators complained that Egyptian leaders were duplicitous, speaking publicly in support of allowing goods into Gaza, but in reality, “it remains blocked on the ground …. This is a general problem with the Egyptians”.

An internal report from April 2007 confirms these suspicions. The Agreement on Movement and Access states: “Although there has been political agreement by Omar Suleiman and President Mubarak on allowing exports through, this agreement has never been translated into operational reality.”

Suleiman, and the Mubarak regime, have also been intent on weakening Hamas in the wake of the party being democratically elected in the 2006 Palestinian elections.  The Dec. 2007 cable reports:

In their moments of greatest frustration, Tantawi and Soliman each have claimed that the IDF would be “welcome” to re-invade Philadelphi…Mubarak and his security chiefs viscerally want Hamas “to fail.”

A separate April 2009 cable reports:

On reconciliation, Soliman explained, the ultimate goal was to return the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, as “Gaza in the hands of radicals will never be calm.”

Suleiman’s viewpoint on Iran also lines up with Israeli goals.  An October 2007 cable reports that “Omar Soliman takes an especially hard line on Tehran and frequently refers to the Iranians as ‘devils.’”

The Bush-Obama line on Palestine: forget ’67

The election of President Barack Obama brought great hope that his administration could be the one to bring about a settlement to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  But Obama has largely followed the Bush administration’s pro-Israel slant.  New documents released by WikiLeaks and Al Jazeera shed further light on the continuation of the Bush administration’s disastrous policy on Israel/Palestine.

As part of its ongoing release of secret State Department cables, WikiLeaks yesterday released documents concerning Brazil.  One 2005 document, written from the U.S. embassy in Brazil, centers on a first-time gathering in Brazil between Arab and South American leaders.  The U.S. was worried about language concerning Israel/Palestine in the final document that came out of the summit:

Despite repeated Brazilian promises over many months that the Summit Declaration would not contain language inimical to Middle East peace efforts, the final text contains problematic paragraphs that existed in earlier declaration drafts. In addition to the demand that Israel withdraw to its June 4, 1967 frontiers, the declaration also calls on Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice July 2004 decision on dismantling the security wall.

The reference to the 1967 borders and the International Court of Justice decision as “problematic” is unsurprising, given that the Bush administration showed the utmost contempt for international law.  This cable further confirms the Bush administration’s double-dealings when it came to the borders of a future Palestinian state:  while the Bush administration backed the 2003 Road Map that called for a halt to Israeli settlement building, a secret letter to the Israeli government contradicts that plan:

In a key sentence in Bush’s 2004 letter, the president stated, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

Contempt for international law, and support for Israel’s insistence that negotiations not be based on the 1967 borders, has continued into the Obama administration.  Despite President Obama’s pledge in 2009 to push for a “viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967,” documents published by Al Jazeera as part of the “Palestine Papers” tell a different story.  Ali Abunimah, writing in Al Jazeera, analyzes:

The next day [after Obama's 2009 UN speech] during a meeting at the US Mission to the United Nations in New York, Erekat refused an American request to adopt Obama’s speech as the terms of reference for negotiations. Erekat asked Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale why the Obama administration would not explicitly state that the intended outcome of negotiations would be a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with a third party security role and a staged Israeli withdrawal. Hale responded, “You ask why? How would it help you if we state something so specific and then not be able to deliver?” according to Palestinian minutes of the meeting.

At the same meeting, which Mitchell himself later joined, Erekat challenged the US envoy on how Obama could publicly endorse Israel as a “Jewish state” but not commit to the 1967 borders. Mitchell, according to the minutes, told Erekat “You can’t negotiate detailed ToRs [terms of reference for the negotiations]” so the Palestinians might as well be “positive” and proceed directly to negotiations. Erekat viewed Mitchell’s position as a US abandonment of the Road Map.

On 2 October 2009 Mitchell met with Erekat at the State Department and again attempted to persuade the Palestinian team to return to negotiations. Despite Erekat’s entreaties that the US should stand by its earlier positions, Mitchell responded, “If you think Obama will force the option you’ve described, you are seriously misreading him. I am begging you to take this opportunity.”

Erekat replied, according to the minutes, “All I ask is to say two states on 67 border with agreed modifications. This protects me against Israeli greed and land grab – it allows Israel to keep some realities on the ground” (a reference to Palestinian willingness to allow Israel to annex some West Bank settlements as part of minor land swaps). Erekat argued that this position had been explicitly endorsed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice under the Bush administration.

“Again I tell you that President Obama does not accept prior decisions by Bush. Don’t use this because it can hurt you. Countries are bound by agreements – not discussions or statements,” Mitchell reportedly said.

The US envoy was firm that if the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not agree to language in the terms of reference the US would not try to force it. Yet Mitchell continued to pressure the Palestinian side to adopt formulas the Palestinians feared would give Israel leeway to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank without providing any compensation.

At a critical 21 October 2009 meeting, Mitchell read out proposed language for terms of reference:

“The US believes that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that achieves both the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state encompassing all the territory occupied in 1967 or its equivalent in value, and the Israeli goal of secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meets Israeli security requirements.”

Erekat’s response was blunt: “So no Road Map?” The implication of the words “or equivalent in value” is that the US would only commit to Palestinians receiving a specific amount of territory — 6258 square kilometers, or the equivalent area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — but not to any specific borders.

Only serious dissent on the Palestinian street will change the game: Former PLO negotiator Diana Buttu on the ‘Palestine Papers’ and the Egyptian uprising

This interview was originally published in Mondoweiss.

The publication of nearly 1,700 leaked files by Al Jazeera on negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority has been largely overshadowed by the uprising in Egypt. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter for the future of Israel/Palestine.

I recently caught up with Diana Buttu, a former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Support Unit, a team that is mentioned throughout the “Palestine Papers” and where it is suspected the leak came from. Buttu discussed the meaning of the “Palestine Papers,” what they say about the “peace process,” and the current Egyptian uprising and what it may mean on the Palestinian street.

Alex Kane: Could you talk about your overall take on the leaked documents that have been published by Al Jazeera?

Diana Buttu: Having now gone through a lot of the documents—of course, not all of the documents, but many of them—the overall impression that I’m left with is that of a very powerful party, which is Israel, trying to continue their control and authority over a very weak party being the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But the story doesn’t just stop there.

I think that it’s become, at least clear to me and perhaps to others, that this mantra we’ve been hearing for many, many years—that we all know what a solution is going to look like, we all know what a settlement is going to look like—is actually not the case, particularly when you read the transcripts of the Israeli officials. That’s one major thing that I come away with.

The second major conclusion that I walk away with is that of a PLO leadership stubbornly sticking to one strategy, and only one strategy: negotiations, and only negotiations, despite the fact that there are so many other options out there. It’s as though they’ve cornered themselves by demanding negotiations, and then when they actually happen, they didn’t have any other strategy to get out of negotiations in the event that Israel was going to be stubborn.

AK: What would you say these revelations mean for the entire “peace process”?

DB: I don’t think there really is a “peace process.” There’s been a lot of process, but not a whole lot of peace, and I just don’t think that things are going to change. It hasn’t changed over the course of the past 17 years. I don’t think this is going to make the United States wake up, and it’s certainly not going to make the Israelis wake up, and in fact I don’t think the PLO will wake up, unless there’s some very serious dissent, and I just don’t see that happening right now, even though diaspora Palestinians are quite upset about what’s going on. But we haven’t seen that translate into anything on the streets of Palestine. I don’t think this is going to change anything in the “peace process.” They’re going to continue doing this over and over again because this is the way they’ve done it for the past 17 years, and unless there is a sea change of opinion that makes the PLO stand up and take notice or makes any of the other parties stand up and take notice, I’m afraid that it’s just going to be the same old, same old.

AK: Given that there’s been a muted reaction on the Palestinian street at the same time that there’s an uprising going on in Egypt, do you see any possible connection between these events in the future?

DB: Right now I don’t see that there’s going to be a connection. It’s important to step back: part of the reason why we’re seeing a muted reaction in Palestine is because of the way the documents were presented. Whether you believe the documents or you don’t believe the documents—and I have no reason to question the documents, particularly after members of the PLO have come out and verified the authenticity of the documents—the main problem is that they were presented in somewhat of a sensationalist way.

One example that I can give is that Al Jazeera tied the assassination of al-Madhoun, who is a member of Fatah, of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and they tried to claim that because the Israelis made a request for this man to be assassinated, that somehow the PA acquiesced or condoned his killing. That’s a bit of a stretch. There is a lot of security cooperation that takes place between the PA and Israel—and it’s outrageous, it includes torture and mass arrest—but there was really no proof to bring it to the level that the PA was actually collaborating with Israel over this man’s killing.

And so, in the way that the documents were presented, the debate in Palestine now has not turned into a debate over the main issues, which are accountability, transparency, red lines, whether we should believe in this negotiations process, and whether the PLO has adopted alternative strategies. None of that is going to take place because instead the debate is currently over whether Al Jazeera crossed the line. And until we see something different, where it’s not a question of shooting the messenger, but we have the message that’s presented in a coherent way without the sensationalism, then I don’t think we’re going to have any real debate any time soon, unfortunately.

AK: Would you say that there’s been a marked shift in the negotiating posture of Palestinians since you last were part of a team involved in negotiations, is that shift represented in the “Palestine Papers,” and lastly, if so, what does that shift represent?

DB: Yes, there’s definitely a shift, and the reason why there was a shift is twofold. One is that the second intifada took place, and the PLO was suddenly stuck. Rather than capitalizing on the intifada, and the people power that it brought them, they ended up somehow being apologetic for the intifada and therefore backtracked on some positions. What were the positions they backtracked from? At the time that I was there, there was still a claim for the right of return.

It’s interesting, if you look at the documents from roughly 2000-2004, the positions that are taken are actually quite principled in some instances. For example, there is a demand for the right of return. There is the notion that all of the settlements are illegal. There is then a little bit of a backtrack by saying “land swaps,” but on a one-to-one basis. And so you see this kind of principled position, but then there’s a backtracking, and one of the reasons was the intifada and the complete failure on the part of the PA to use the intifada to their advantage, to actually harness popular support and alter their negotiating position.

The second reason, and I think this is the much more dangerous reason, is that during the period that I was there and a little bit after, you saw initiative after initiative come forward, and all of these initiatives, while never accepted by the PLO directly, were tacitly accepted by the PLO. For example, the Geneva Initiative was something that was never adopted by the PLO, and yet, you see a couple of things that are interesting. The first is those commercials you saw with Erekat and others in which they come forward and say “I need a partner”—those were all sponsored by the Geneva Initiative. And if you see, for example, the statements that American officials have come forward and said, they’ve all been saying the same thing, which is that “this reflects what happened during the negotiations.” But it didn’t. It reflects what happened after the negotiations fell apart. It was their own initiatives that they were putting forward—the Nusseibeh-Ayalon initiative, the Geneva Initiative—and this is where it becomes dangerous, because the Americans and others seem to assume that silence equals acquiescence. And unfortunately, the PLO falls into the trap of de facto acquiescing to these initiatives, when they align themselves with these things, such as they did with the various commercials, and when they don’t come out and completely reject them. I think this is why we’re now seeing a shift. While there were principled positions, if you believe in a two-state solution, the PLO has consistently undermined its own position because they didn’t really know how to deal with the intifada and because they never really objected to these major initiatives that were put on the table.

AK: And lastly: I know that you don’t think the papers will have a huge impact on the ground, but with the combination of what the “Palestine Papers” revealed and the unrest and uprising in Egypt, do you think that any of this popular anger in Egypt might be translated onto the street in Palestine and directed at either the PA or Israel?

DB: Optimism is one thing, but if I’m to speculate, I think the answer is going to be no. And I think it’s important to keep in mind that what’s going on in Egypt is a little bit different than what’s happening in Palestine, and there’s a lot of issues mitigating against another uprising.

The first is that the government of Salam Fayyad has tried to do a good job, using donor funds, to create a middle-class, and to give credit, and all of these sorts of things, and they’ve largely managed to silence a lot of dissent.

The second major factor is that there is a very repressive police regime that is now in place. It hasn’t been in place for as long as the Mubarak regime was in place, but nonetheless this is something new for Palestinians.

A third factor is that people aren’t really examining the merits of the papers, but rather in the way they were presented.

And the fourth thing is that the Palestinian street is already very divided, and if there’s one message that people are calling for, it’s that of national unity. And I think that people fear that going against the authority will somehow serve to undermine any attempts at national unity, even though there really are none right now. There also may be a fear factor of not wanting Hamas to take over.

It’s not ripe in the same way that Egypt was ripe. Again, not to say that it won’t happen. I just don’t think it’s going to happen in the short term.

Palestine Papers: Admiral Mullen says Palestinian state is a U.S. ‘cardinal interest’ after raising troop deaths

General David Petraeus backed away from uttering similar words, but it’s clearly a view that holds wide currency in the U.S. military establishment:  ending the Israel/Palestine conflict is a core U.S. interest that affects the safety of U.S. soldiers.  Haaretz picks up (though they bury it) that U.S. Admiral Michael Mullen echoes the “linkage” argument in a document published by Al Jazeera as part of the “Palestine Papers.”

Notes from a June 16, 2009 meeting quotes chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as saying that Admiral Mullen told Mahmoud Abbas:

You’re the most important person in the Middle East. Arabs and Muslims have only one thing on their mind: Palestine. So, we want to help you establish a Palestinian state… I have 230,000 troops in Iraq & Afghanistan and I am bringing back 10 each week draped in American flags or in wheelchairs. This is painful for America. Because I want to bring them back home, a Palestinian state is a cardinal interest of the USA. Washington today is different from Washington yesterday

This is the realist argument the Israel lobby goes beserk over.

The truth that the ‘Palestine Papers’ has broken into the mainstream: Israel is the obstacle to peace

The release of the “Palestine Papers,” Al Jazeera’s leak of thousands of documents relating to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, is creating space in the American mainstream for this central truth:  it is Israel’s fault that there has not been a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Nazareth, writes that “hundreds of leaked confidential Palestinian documents confirmed the suspicions of a growing number of observers that the rejectionists in the peace process are to be found on the Israeli, not Palestinian, side.”  This fact, which has been obscured by Israeli propaganda since the collapse of the Camp David talks, is pushing its way into U.S. media coverage as well as into the reactions of liberal American Jewish groups to the papers.

The Washington Post reports:

For Israel, the documents could prove problematic because they show the earnestness with which the Palestinians pushed for a deal, despite Israeli protestations that they have no partner for peace

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, told the Jerusalem Post that the documents highlight “the ongoing intransigence of the Israeli government.”

In a statement, Americans for Peace Now said:

These documents — if authentic — highlight a reality that peace process cynics have long sought to deny: Israel has a far more real “partner” than it has ever been willing to admit. The documents underscore the fact that, sadly, Israel has not capitalized on the opportunity for peace this partner represents.

The Los Angeles Times‘ Edmund Sanders similarly writes:

For one thing, the documents show that Palestinian leaders appeared to be far more willing to cut a peace deal than most Israelis — and even many Palestinians — believed.

In contrast to Israelis’ portrayal of Palestinian leaders as rejectionists, the Palestinians come across in the papers as the side best-prepared, with maps, charts and compromises, even broaching controversial tradeoffs that went beyond what their own people were likely ready to accept.

Even the Wall Street Journal has something similar to say:  Charles Levinson writes that “Israel, meanwhile, is portrayed in the documents as slowing the Mideast peace process by turning down unprecedented Palestinian concessions.”

The only major American newspaper that didn’t report this central theme that has emerged from the “Palestine Papers” is the New York Times, which published Ethan Bronner’s “analysis” claiming that the documents “open a door” on peace talks.

While this initial coverage is just a start, the release of the “Palestine Papers” should, and has to potential to, upend U.S. media’s understanding of the conflict

Palestine Papers: Why there will never be a State of Palestine

This piece originally appeared in Mondoweiss:

One core lesson from the “Palestine Papers,” Al Jazeera‘s leak of secret documents on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from 1999 to 2010, is that there will never be a State of Palestine, living side by side with Israel.  This was known before, but the papers confirm it.  The mainstream narrative–that Israel and the Palestinians have been talking for nearly 20 years and are very close to reaching an agreement but just have to sit at the table for a little more time–is not credible anymore.  Why has Israel refused the Palestinian Authority’s offers, which offered up most of East Jerusalem, major illegal settlement blocs and a complete denial of the rights of Palestinian refugees?

Writing in Al Jazeera, Alastair Crooke offers this explanation:

Zionists are also likely to conclude that a Palestinian state, established alongside Israel, would be active in efforts to generate international support for the principle of minority rights in Israel – and thus threaten the Zionist basis of the state by delegitimizing their state as racist.

Ultimately the issue of differential rights for Jews and non-Jews is not in principle eased by establishing a Palestinian state. Its magnitude may be reduced from 40-50% to 20%, but the inherent contradiction remains unresolved – in either outcome. Against this ambivalent calculus, it is not surprising that the Zionist argument for keeping borders undefined, leaving Palestinians in deliberate uncertainty and hostage to their good conduct, whilst holding on to water and land resources, has trumped other Israelis arguing for downsizing the differential rights problem, and improving the minority’s treatment – albeit short of granting full rights to non-Jews in all matters. This is the calculus that has predominated. This is why we do not have a Palestinian state.