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The Palestine Papers have driven a stake through the heart of the Undead Peace Process.
But where do we go from there?
“The release into the public domain of these documents is such a landmark because it destroys the final traces of credibility of the peace process.” Karma Nabulsi
The Palestine Papers will shake a lot of things loose. How they re-assemble is now the crucial question. One Democracy looks at some of the immediate effects of the Palestine Papers and proposes a 5-Step Plan to reconstitute a Palestinian leadership and decide on its direction.
“The world must not abandon the refugees of Palestine, nor attempt to coerce their representatives to do so.” (Saeb Erakat, in public, 2010)
“I never said the diaspora will vote. It’s not going to happen. Palestinians need to know that five or six million will not go back.” (Saeb Erekat, in private, 2007)
Abbas, instead of abandoning armed struggle in favour of unarmed struggle, civil disobedience, boycotts etc, abandoned armed struggle in favour of total reliance on the Americans for their help, and doing everything he could to prove how respectable and obedient he could be.
He had just one idea. He set out to disprove Israel’s claim that they had “no partner for peace”. Finally it came to it that they treated him with such contempt that they didn’t even open his latest abject offer. He was just about to go public with it when Al Jazeera’s Palestine Papers blew him out of the water.
His other idea, to declare a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and have it recognised, is looking pretty sick too. The Russians and South Americans, who have offered to stand with them on this, aren’t going to be overjoyed to find that Erekat, Qurei and Abbas were only “standing on this principle” because they had already failed to sell it out to Israel. Little wonder that they are back-pedalling furiously on the offers they made, and insisting that it would never cross their minds to sell a single inch of the sacred land in exchange for a state.
The sight of Palestinian leaders bowing, scraping and grovelling and being royally pissed on by Israel (including war criminal Tsipi Livni and indicted common criminal Ehud Olmert) is demeaning and shameful. This comes as no surprise to Palestinians and activists, but the devil is in the graphic detail and the actual words. The PLO has been well exposed in the eyes of those it supposedly represents.
But also, Israel’s credibility has taken another tumble as its line of “having no partner for peace” is shown to be a monumental lie. This will open a lot of doors. There’s speculation that UNSC may actually pass the PLO’s resolution affirming the illegality of Israel’s West Bank settlements. That in turn means BDS is going to go places it couldn’t dream of this time last year: we may even be looking at official government-level sanctions.
Livni’s clear racism (“I would like to emphasise”) of disowning Israel’s 20% non-Jewish minority as “not its people” will also shock, and accelerate the growing repugnance of many of its trusted allies and its Jewish outriders abroad. There is no difference in principle between her demographically re-drawn borders and those of Avigdor Lieberman, so we needn’t bother hoping that a different coalition will change anything in the Knesset.
“Some of us Palestinians” said a Comment in the Guardian “have longed for a breaking point moment when things would finally tip over the edge, let’s hope this is it and the dam that has held back our popular will and freedom so long breaks forth.” The sense of such a breakthrough in and of itself could be a powerful tonic for all those under Israel’s cosh.
Never again should secret talks and deals by unelected non-representatives happen, let alone receive the fanfare of approval. From this point on, negotiators will be looking over their shoulders. That is a tremendous change. It’s hard to imagine a new set of secret talks starting up, unless the very fact that they are happening at all is kept secret.
Not only was the talking morally and politically wrong, but it did a lot to advance Israel’s facts on the ground. The PLO protests that none of the documents represents an agreement, so no damage was done. Of course nothing was signed. But they went in, time and time again, and revealed their bottom line. As The Guardian put it, “Tsipi Livni refuses the offer; Israel banks the concessions anyway.” Settlements didn’t hold up talks: the talks enabled and fuelled the settlements. Abbas shows the land he is ready to give, and Israel then builds on it.
When Livni said “we never accepted the 1967 borders” no-one, least of all the American referee, jumped up and said “hey, you signed a Treaty for those borders in 1949. Is this what your signature is worth?”. And why didn’t the PLO respond: “we don’t like the 1967 borders either, so how about going back to the country as it was in 1947?”
“The unconstrained power of America, the global superpower that has (now on record and in sickening detail) taken one party’s side in this conflict, can be seen on every page. … This uneven balance of power can only be successfully addressed in the same way every national liberation movement has addressed it in the past: through the unassailable strength of a popular mandate.” Karma Nabulsi, Guardian
Regardless of the personalities, intentions, personal qualities and abilities of the Palestinian negotiators, this could never have worked, and given the circumstances it’s hard to imagine even a simple village dispute or Town Hall decision on litter bins being conducted with such standards.
♦ The negotiators were detached from those they were trying to represent; they did not report back to them but to Arab heads of state under conditions of secrecy (until now).
♦ They were even further detached from the diaspora Palestinians whose fate they had taken into their hands, and the 1.4 million Israeli Palestinians whose present citizenship status they were gambling with.
♦ They had a conflict of interest as not only their own salaries but those of the entire public workforce of the West Bank was paid for by the USA/Quartet, the very people who were holding the ring.
♦ They had been deprived of the best weapons they had, i.e. international law. Without referencing international law, the disparities of power between the two sides were completely unbridgeable.
♦ The ringmasters on whom the negotiators relied for some fairness were themselves openly bound to the Israeli side by policy, cultural inclination, history, and vice-like electoral pressures that are only ever slightly alleviated during the last two years of a president’s second term.
♦ Negotiations on Jerusalem were impossible as Israel claimed it to be non-negotiable; negotiations on borders were impossible as Israel denied the very existence of a border pre-1967 and demanded a new border be determined by “facts on the ground”: facts put there by them as negotiating positions.
♦ The PLO were wrong to continue not only the negotiations but all their commercial and security relationships with Israel as long as it continued to colonise, kill, maim, steal and vandalise, control and bully and imprison their land and people.
♦ They had mistakenly fallen into the trap laid by Israel, of thinking they had to demonstrate how flexible and amenable they were, instead of sticking to the clear public policy of the PLO.
♦ They were wrong to enter these negotiations at all — given the grossly unequal forces and the clear hostility to peace or justice on the Israeli side, and that the negotiations were intended to set the seal of legality on what Israel had taken by armed force.
♦ Even if it was a level playing field and the referee wasn’t batting for the other side, the entire game was wrong: even the best available Two State result would not bring unity, justice or security to the vast majority of the Palestinian people in Israel, in East Jerusalem, in Gaza and in the camps, and very little chance of a better daily life in the fragments of the West Bank. The Palestinians’ sense of shock and betrayal reveals that whereas their own state may have been an enticing prospect, the price-tag was always far too high for them to agree. It shows that the Two State deal as envisaged by the “international consensus” for the past 20 years was never going to get the people’s vote.
PLO leader Nabil Sha’ath went on Al Jazeera to cover the retreat from negotiations with talk of switching to popular struggle, and promised that the Diaspora would have a vote on the outcome: an easy promise, now that there won’t be an outcome.
But how can the PLO, as it now is, have any part to play in the resistance? The old poachers are now well-paid gamekeepers, who head up a repressive regime framed by “the classic components of counter-insurgency”.
Arbitrary arrest of political opponents is rife (10,000 Hamas supporters arrested since 2007), public sector jobs go to the regime’s yes-men, informants and spies are everywhere, every Imam, teacher and policeman is vetted for loyalty to Fatah, and financial and political dealings are all unaccountable. Under cover of “postponed elections” they are designing new structures to concentrate power: Abbas himself as PLO president already has the power to replace the current members of leadership bodies. The Palestine Papers contain dark and shocking details of this too, as also of complicity over the Gaza Cast Lead massacre.
Before the rot sets in any further, the PA — an offspring of Oslo set up not to further the struggle but to control it pending a two state deal — has to be taken apart. The following steps need to be taken now to put the Palestinian house in order:
1. Create a registered electorate of all Palestinians. The Palestine Lands Society has started on this, and it can be authenticated with UN help.
2. This should elect an international Palestinian Assembly, with recognised caucuses to ensure that each regional component has its own voice.
3. Recreate the PA’s police force as a people’s militia, based in the towns and villages and accountable to the people there, to defend the communities and their struggle against marauding settlers and attacks by the IDF. Free the political prisoners.
4. Finance this with unconditional contributions from the 100+ countries that have recognised Palestine, and the $1 billion+ slush fund retrieved from the Arafat period. No single patron should call the shots.
5. Have a referendum as to whether to press on with the Two State plan or to demand equality and civil rights within the whole land of Palestine, and then formulate the appropriate demands to achieve the chosen goal, and build a mass movement that can win it.
If the PLO wants to redeem its legacy to the Palestinian people, it can help to get these things done. If it doesn’t, it should not stand in the way. In the words of Beirut activist Tarek Kishami speaking to Al Jazeera, “The PLO should pack up and go, and let the Palestinians liberate their land”.
Read the Palestine Papers:
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