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Monday, January 31, 2011

The other "Palestine Papers" from AFP: Did Obama harden the Palestinian Arab position?

From AFP:
Palestinian delegates to 2010 peace talks rejected out of hand Israel's demand to hold on to swathes of West Bank settlements, documents given to AFP on Saturday show.
A discussion paper prepared by the Palestinian side and made available to AFP on condition of anonymity challenges the Israeli assumption that the large blocs of adjacent enclaves where most settlers live would be annexed to Israel in a deal to set up an independent Palestinian state.
The document, dated May 2010, also shoots down a reported Israeli proposal that the Palestinian state take over some Arab villages currently within Israel in exchange.
"We will not entertain swapping Palestinians on either side of the 1967 border," it said.
"Nor will we engage in land swap discussions that use so-called settlement blocs as the point of reference, let alone accept such areas' wholesale annexation."
The document was one of several given to AFP in the wake of publication of documents by television channel Al-Jazeera, which purported to show Palestinian officials prepared to make sweeping concessions to Israel at talks in September 2010.
They restate long-standing Palestinian positions on the sensitive issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees who fled after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
The files released by Al-Jazeera contain minutes of discussions between Israel, the United States and Palestinians, in which Palestinian negotiators offered to cede large parts of east Jerusalem to the Jewish state and conceded that only limited numbers of Palestinian refugees would be able to return home.
The documents obtained by AFP on Saturday say that "The Palestinian state must include adequate land within east Jerusalem for the city's own growth and development. East Jerusalem must also have meaningful territorial, economic and other links with the rest of Palestine."
The papers all carry the disclaimer: "This paper is for discussion purposes only, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."
AFP is not making a copy of this paper available, as far as I can tell, so we have no idea whether the AFP papers aretalking points for before a meeting or minutes of the meeting afterwards, who the meeting was with (in May 2010 there were no peace talks going on, they only happened in September) and, of course, who leaked them.

But if we are to assume that the specific content of both Al Jazeera's and AFP's papers are true (forgetting the context and spin that Al Jazeera and the Guardian have given in misinterpreting the papers) then we can come to some interesting conclusions.

It shows that the Palestinian Arab negotiators were not nearly as serious about reaching an agreement in 2010 as they were in 2008.

Now, what changed between those two dates?

There was a new Israeli government  - and there was a new American administration.

Abbas became far more intransigent since Obama entered the White House because he could hardly act more flexible than the most powerful man on Earth was.

And almost certainly this AFP paper was for talks with America, not Israel. While it is difficult to know what Israeli peace proposals were at the time, we can safely assume that they still involved significant concessions if only because Netanyahu has repeated the mantra of "painful compromises for peace" - if he wasn't prepared to offer concessions, it makes no political sense to tell his supporters that they are coming.

Which indicates that it was the White House's actions that hardened the PLO's positions. Certainly it is what caused them to adopt a new strategy adding preconditions before peace talks could resume.

If these papers are true, (which is a big "if,") then the inescapable conclusion is that Obama's initial policy of leaning towards the Palestinian Arab position and publicly pressuring only Israel made peace a far more remote possibility than in was under the Bush administration.