WEST BANK: Leaks from peace talks don't show Palestinians making shocking concessions
If there’s a lesson from Sunday's leak of alleged meeting minutes from 2008 Mideast peace talks involving Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. officials and from the previous WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables, perhaps it's this: Governments needn't be so afraid of having their private business aired in public.
After the initial U.S. embarrassment from the WikiLeaks disclosures, many came to believe that the cables actually showed U.S. diplomats to be rather astute and well-informed. In the same way, Palestinians so far don't really seem to have anything to be ashamed of in the leaks from the 2008 talks. Despite the spin by Al-Jazeera and critics of the Palestinian Authority, the documents released don't show Palestinian negotiators giving away the store.
To the contrary, they're depicted as taking a surprisingly hard-line stance against giving up massive West Bank settlements such as Maale Adumim, Givat Zeev, Har Homa and Ariel, which most experts have long presumed would be retained by Israel with little fuss or cost.
Yes, Palestinians appear to have agreed to concede most of the large Jewish developments that are located across the Green Line in areas that are today considered part of Jerusalem. In a quip he likely now regrets, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the offer provided Israel with the "largest Jerusalem in the history of the Jewish people."
But giving Jewish areas of Jerusalem to Israel and Palestinian areas to the Palestinian Authority is an idea that been supported widely for years, since it was proposed by President Clinton.
Also, many of those developments were never historically part of what Palestinians considered to be inside the borders of Jerusalem. Much was rural West Bank land that only became part of Jerusalem when Israel annexed it after the 1967 Six-Day War and substantially increased the borders of Jerusalem. So although those areas were clearly part of the West Bank, they shouldn't necessarily carry the same emotional attachment for Palestinians or Arabs worldwide as the Old City or the historic parts of East Jerusalem. And rather than give away the land in exchange for nothing, as has been widely reported in the Arab press, the documents suggest that Palestinians were demanding in return Maale Adumim, Gival Zeev, Ariel and most other settlements east of Highway 60.
That's such a painful concession for Israel that you have to question whether the Palestinian offer was even serious.
To most Mideast experts, exchanging Jerusalem developments such as Gilo and French Hill for settlements such as Maale Adumim and Ariel sounds like a great deal for Palestinians and a non-starter for Israelis. And that's pretty much how it played out, with Israel's then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni rejecting the offer.
On the key issue of the Old City, which is what most Palestinians and Arabs worldwide care most about, both sides appeared to be prepared to punt the issue and deal with it at a later date, though Erekat was quoted as offering to allow Israel to retain control of the Jewish and Armenian quarters.
Generally, the negotiations appeared largely to have mirrored previous ones that Israelis and Palestinians had been having since Camp David in 2000. The documents so far haven't revealed anything that someone moderately familiar with the Mideast hasn't already heard.
Neither side is shown offering anything very fresh or sweeping, though it appeared the talks were serious, detailed and respectful. And in contrast to the usual Israeli depictions of Palestinians as evasive and always saying no, the documents suggest the Palestinians came to the table prepared to make a deal.
In a blunt self-assessment in January 2010, Erekat was quoted as saying the stakes for the Palestinian Authority in reaching a peace deal had never been higher. "Our credibility has never been so low," he is quoted as saying to U.S. diplomat David Hale. "Now it's about survival."
-- Edmund Sanders