A massive archive of documents leaked to al-Jazeera and Britain’s Guardian newspaper offers irrefutable proof that years of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been an empty sham. The papers make clear that the time has come for Palestinians and anyone interested in the cause of justice to abandon the charade of official diplomacy and pursue other, more creative and nonviolent paths toward the realization of a genuine, just peace.
The leaked documents, assuming they are genuine ― and both al-Jazeera and the Guardian say they have authenticated them ― are behind-the-scenes notes from a decade of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. On issue after issue, they show Palestinian negotiators eager to concede ground, offering to give up much of Jerusalem, to accept Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, to collaborate with Israeli occupation forces in suppressing dissent in the occupied territories ― including killing fellow Palestinians ― and even to forgo the right of return for most Palestinians driven from their homes by Israel in 1948.
The papers give the lie to Israel’s claim that it yearns for peace but lacks a Palestinian “partner.” And they reinforce the sense that Israel has gone along with these negotiations only to buy time to expropriate more Palestinian land, demolish more Palestinian homes, expel more Palestinian families and build more colonies for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers in militarily occupied territory, thereby cementing new realities on the ground that would make a Palestinian state a geophysical impossibility.
Anyone who doubts this has only to skim through the leaked papers, which show Israel spurning one gaping Palestinian concession after another. And this was Israel not under Benjamin Netanyahu but under the supposedly more liberal Ehud Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, who claimed they were committed to the peace process. In shameless abjection, the Palestinian negotiators prostrated themselves and surrendered essentially every major objective for which their people have struggled and sacrificed for 60 years, only for the imperious Israelis to say again and again, no, no, no.
Clearly, all that the Palestinians have to offer is not enough for Israel.
The major revelation from the documents, indeed, is the illustration they furnish of just how far the Palestinian negotiators were willing to go to placate Israel.
Men like Saeb Erekat, Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei ― the lead Palestinian negotiators in all these years ― are of a type that has come forth in every colonial conflict of the modern age. Faced with the overwhelming brute power with which colonial states have always sought to break the will of indigenous peoples, they inhabit the craven weakness that the situation seems to dictate. Convinced that colonialism cannot be defeated, they seek to carve out some petty managerial role within it from which they might benefit, even if at the expense of their people.
These men, we must remember, were not elected to negotiate an agreement with Israel. They have no legitimacy, offer zero credibility and can make no real claim to represent the views of Palestinians.
And yet they were apparently willing to bargain away the right that stands at the very heart of the Palestinian struggle, a right that is not theirs to surrender ― the right of return of Palestinians to the homes from which they were forced during the creation of Israel in 1948 ― by accepting Israel’s insistence that only a token few thousand refugees should be allowed to return, and that the millions of others should simply go away (or, as we now learn that the United States suggested, accept being shipped away like so much lost chattel to South America).
The documents also show Palestinian negotiators willing to betray the Palestinians inside Israel by agreeing to Israel’s definition of itself as a Jewish state, knowing that that would doom Israel’s non-Jewish Palestinian minority ― the reviled “Israeli Arabs” who constitute 20 percent of the state’s population ― not merely to the institutionalized racism they already face but to the prospect of further ethnic cleansing (the papers reveal that then- Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni repeatedly raised the idea that land inhabited by parts of Israel’s Palestinian population should be “transferred” to a future Palestinian state).
All this was offered in pursuit of a “state” that would exist in bits and pieces, with no true sovereignty, no control over its own borders or water or airspace ― albeit a “state” that it would, naturally, be their job to run.
And all this was contemptuously turned down by the allegedly peace-seeking Israeli government, with the connivance of the United States, to whom the Palestinians kept plaintively appealing as an honest broker, even as it became clear that it is anything but.
What these documents prove is that diplomatic negotiations between abject Palestinians and recalcitrant Israelis enjoying the unlimited and unquestioning support of the United States will never yield peace. No agreement these callow men sign would be accepted by the Palestinian people.
Fortunately, most Palestinians are not as broken and hopeless as these so-called leaders. Every single day, millions of ordinary Palestinian men, women and children resist the dictates of Israeli power, if only by refusing to give up and go away ― by going to school, by farming their crops, by tending their olive groves.
Refusing the dictates of brute power and realpolitik to which their so-called leaders have surrendered, the Palestinian people have already developed a new strategy that, turning the tables on Israel, transmutes every Israeli strength into a form of weakness. Faced with tanks, they turn to symbolic forms of protest that cannot be destroyed; faced with brutality, they demand justice; faced with apartheid, they demand equality.
The Palestinians have learned the lessons of Soweto, and they have unleashed a simultaneously local and global campaign of protests and calls for boycotts and sanctions that offers the only hope of bringing Israelis ― like their Afrikaner predecessors ― to their senses.
By Saree Makdisi
Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA. ― Ed.