By Mazin Qumsiyeh
Ignoring the hype about the Palestine papers is hard. I spent a lot of time reading through page after page of the documents showing minutes of meetings and other exchanges regarding the Palestinian-Israeli "negotiations" (the quotes are warranted). The Guardian newspaper summed up the back and forth arguments about these papers as follows:
"PA and PLO leaders such as Saeb Erekat can be expected to point out that one of the core principles of the negotiations is that 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed'. As such they are not necessarily committed to provisional positions that in the event failed to secure a settlement – though Erekat made clear to US officials in January 2010 that the same offers remained on the table. Critics are likely to argue that concessions – such as accepting the annexation of Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem – are simply pocketed by the Israeli side, and risk being treated as a starting point in any future talks."
For me two things come out clearly from these painful documents (some of them have parallel data in the US embassy cables on Wikileaks). First it is not that the Palestinian officials are traitors but merely (and this is bad enough) mistakenly and passionately going through motions hoping against all odds that by talking and compromising more they could achieve a tiny fraction of what we are entitled to. The second observation is that Israel will not sign a peace deal regardless of how low and ridiculous the concessions on the Palestinian side: hunt down resisters (abandoning the internationally recognized rights of resistance to occupation even unarmed one), give up on most settlements built illegally on Palestinian lands, allow Israel sovereignty over nearly 1/3rd of the occupied old city of Jerusalem, give up on the refugee rights, allow Israel to keep looting natural resources in the West Bank, give Israel the right to control our airspace, and even assure a statelet devoid of sovereignty. Not even tourism income would be allowed in this emasculated state. Some critics asked: if, as the documents show, the Palestinian negotiators were willing to accept all of this then WHY did Israeli politicians hold out?
The answer is obvious to anyone who ever faced Zionism. They believe (rightly or wrongly) they can get 100% so why should they settle for 91% or even 99% especially when the ceiling of the Palestinian requests kept dropping in the past 22 years (since they accepted in 1988 to let Israel keep most of the looted parts of Palestine 1948). Today, Israel's three main sources of income are dependent on a continued conflict and occupation: the 6.5 billion military and security exports, the 6 billion US and other western direct aid, and 3 billion from the captive markets in the West Bank and Gaza. All three would be threatened with end of conflict even if Israel gets to keep most of its stolen loot. Israeli officials are keen to keep negotiations going to avoid an anti-Apartheid scenario and for PR and normalization to keep pumping more money and more settlers into the remaining small shriveling Palestine because it is economically profitable.
The recorded meetings show no real interest or even emotion or any sense of urgency on the part of the Israelis or their American benefactors. Saeb Erekat comes out basically pleading and begging sometimes and other times using the presence of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to try and convince these officials. Jim Jones, David, Hale, and (Israeli lobbyist Dennis Ross), Tzipi Livni, Mofaz etc. all just repeat utter few selective words and simply drag their feet to keep the "process going". What would be the nature of the conversations if there was no Hamas to wave as the boogeyman to US officials and claim success in containing Hamas and other "extremist movements" (In Egypt Hosni Mubarak uses the same notion of containing Islamic Jihad but for the sinister goal of justifying his dictatorship)? US officials are very confident of their strength and the Israeli strengths and the fact that they only need the Palestinians to prevent any attempts at international isolation of Israel. This they get just by innuendo or hints of threats on the Palestinians authority. They studied the situation carefully and think that Abbas and company have no other options but to simply keep negotiating and compromising even if it takes another 20 years. In some very rare instances the negotiators seem to connect with their humanity and actually feel sorry for the fate of these Palestinian negotiators. But then you could sense how they curb their own feelings (as irrelevant) and go back to the scripted positions of their governments which are simply antagonistic to anything that is not 100% in support of Zionism. Erekat's occasional threats of a one state seem vacuous and not serious. My book on Sharing the Land of Canaan showed with lots of data that "two state for two people" approach can never lead to genuine peace (if apartheid was the problem in South Africa, why is it considered a solution here?).
I have a suggestion for the Palestinian authority: try to deal with the issues and do release your own documents instead of trying to shoot the messenger. Take lemons to make lemonade. Help introduce an even stronger resolution at the UN security council (e.g. in support of the Goldstone report or to recognize a Palestinian state along the borders of 1967) or a resolution at the UN General Assembly that calls for expelling Israel from the UN since it has never honored its commitments when it was admitted in 1949. Maybe announce publicly that the Oslo Process was a mistake or at least is now dead (now every idiot knows it was and most of those who are getting salaries from the authority know in their hearts that it was contrary to basic human rights and to basic international law). This suggestion essentially is to show courage and backbone. It could also mean the difference: making mistakes is human, continuing the path as in the past only validates those who accuse the authority figures of treason. Abbas says he will surprise us in September but I believe he and those around him do not have that kind of time.
I, like Edward Said and millions of Palestinians, disagreed strongly with the choices made by this Oslo group to built the Palestinian autonomous administration (of the Palestinian people warehouses or concentration camps) that relieved Israel from the burdens of managing us and from International isolation based on not even promises of freedom or return of rights. But I also can't help but feel sorry for those who took that path. It must be very painful for a human being to go down a tunnel where there is no possibility of a light at the end and during this trip into the depths of darkness feel the leaches crawling up his back sucking his blood and voices from behind calling him back (some of them his political enemies, others ex-comrades in Fatah). Palestinian negotiators are fearful of going back because they think it might give political opponents a PR tool. They are just fearful of losing face; I am always grateful to a wise advisor who 30 years ago convinced me to drop this fear of admitting mistakes (a fear common especially among men). They may also be fearful of losing a job. The Palestinian people are very angry though many feel afraid to speak out for fear to lose their sources of income, fear that the alternative to Fatah maybe just as bad, fear of Israel, fear of the US or just simply fear of their own power. But ultimately fear is a lack of self-confidence to take another course. And their fear should be balanced by the fact that people are literally dying for justice and wanting leaders to care about them and not about themselves. [Here we must remember the thousands of martyrs who gave their lives and hundreds of thousands who were injured or lost homes and livelihood and still yearn for freedom].
The status quo is to many humans a comfort in the known/predictable. Taking another path is feared because humans fear the unknown. I believe that fear is the most destructive and paralyzing human emotion. Common people around the world are just beginning to break the barrier of fear and speak up more for themselves. From Tunisia to Egypt to Lebanon, the walls of fear are cracking. We common people and even some leaders must realize that many of these walls are far weaker than we may think. I can actually hear them cracking…
The Arab world is in revolt. The fire is spreading. Responsible people need to step forward with courage and conviction. There could be surprises along those lines even from Central Committee members of Fatah. Already Nabil Shaath took a position different than Mahmoud Abbas. This is just the beginning. Palestine will survive. The Palestinian people are not sheep. They are mature enough to take the truth and to rebuild our national liberation movement. History marches on and I am 100% sure that Zionism will fail and Palestine will be free.
- Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is a Professor at Bethlehem University and author of the book "Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of Hope and Empowerment" (Pluto Press, 2010). He was arrested three times simply for advocating non-violent resistance to colonial occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.