Sun, April 1, 2012 | By Rob Harris
First published in the New English Review. Republished here with permission of the author. © Rob Harris.
A media orchestrated political storm blew through the volatile Middle East last year with the release of over 1,600 confidential documents relating to Palestinian negotiations with Israel, in an effort to obtain a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The event was notable, not only for being the largest leak relating to the conflict itself but for the way in which it was spun by the media institutions involved, thus offering a rather unique insight into the way these agenda-driven outlets form the news.
The leaks, dubbed “The Palestine Papers” or “Palileaks”, were released with much hype from the 23rd to the 26th of January 2011 by Qatar based broadcaster Al Jazeera, and The Guardian newspaper. The leaks were also given pre-eminence by the international media. They cover a decade of discussions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, ending in 2010 with dialogue mainly involving the Obama administration. The content, initially leaked to Al Jazeera alone, was taken from the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit (NSU), the primary technical and legal backup team for their negotiations.
Al Jazeera and The Guardian made some striking assertions in their co-ordinated presentation of the Palestine Papers, even to those familiar with the peace process. Most of their coverage focused on the last sustained effort at peace through 2007-08 when Ehud Olmert was Israel’s prime minister.
The Palestinians were apparently willing to largely forfeit the right of return for the so-called Palestinian refugees (according to the uniquely liberal UNRWA definition of the term) with the exception of a symbolic 100,000. International control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which sits on the remains of the holiest of Jewish sites, was purposed until a permanent arrangement was reached.
The PA was apparently willing to give up significant land claims, and accept the continuation of almost all Jewish communities in contested areas of East Jerusalem. The Old City section would be under Palestinian sovereignty, except the Jewish Quarter and some of the Armenian Quarter. In return the Palestinians sought a trade of Israeli land, including an area of the State near the West Bank where many of Israel’s Arab citizens live.
Responsible journalism or propaganda?
Al Jazeera introduced the material on the 23rd to fanfare whilst asserting the very noblest of reasons for releasing the papers:
Because of the sensitive nature of these documents, Al Jazeera will not reveal the source(s) or detail how they came into our possession. We have taken great care over an extended period of time to assure ourselves of their authenticity. We believe this material will prove to be of inestimable value to journalists, scholars, historians, policymakers and the general public. We know that some of what is presented here will prove controversial, but it is our intention to inform, not harm, to spark debate and reflection — not dampen it.
In view of such noble sentiments one would have thought this a Copernican event where understanding of the Middle East would be turned upside down in perpetuity! And yet despite the comforting words, some that support Israel were incredulous, an understandable reaction when confronted by a supposed reality opposing that to which one is accustomed. Surprise or shock seemed to be a common response amongst supporters of Israel but scepticism was perhaps most appropriate given the sources of this tale.
Rather than take a responsible approach to the material, Al Jazeera and The Guardian spinned the leaks from the outset. For example, The Guardian forwarded an extremely negative interpretation of the leaks. Apparently the documents demonstrated that Palestinian leaders were going to desperate lengths to make a deal with an “intransigent” Israel, in stark contrast with their tough public stance! The clearly outraged editorial introducing the papers stated:
It is hard to tell who appears worst: the Palestinian leaders, who are weak, craven and eager to shower their counterparts with compliments; the Israelis, who are polite in word but contemptuous in deed; or the Americans, whose neutrality consists of bullying the weak and holding the hand of the strong.
A novel feature of the coverage was the extent of the melodramatic language used to describe the Palestinian leaders, as if betraying feelings of anger or pre-reflecting an expected degree of anger in the Guardian readership, over a moderate stance found in the Palestinian Authority, which seemed willing to make some concessions in order to achieve peace! Rather than congratulate them, they are “craven”. Rather than the papers showing some civility amongst negotiators, they “shower… with compliments”.
Seamus Milne, Guardian associate editor, headed the Palestine Papers project, which he described as
… a study in the decay of what in Yasser Arafat’s heyday was an authentic national liberation movement…
Milne contrasts the rotten PA with real liberators like the North-Vietnamese/Vietcong and Algerian National Liberation Front. Of course both were very destructive movements under which many people suffered, illustrating yet again the worrying left-wing tendency of placing ideology above human life.
The Leaks released over a four day period seemed selective, which even Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland reluctantly acknowledged “Of course it should be said that this cache of papers is not exhaustive and may have been leaked selectively; other documents might provide a rather different impression” but this rare admission by a slightly more nuanced critic of Israel was an exception rather than the norm at the Guardian.
The Jerusalem Issue
Supposedly the Palestinian Authority was prepared to concede all Jewish neighbourhoods in and around East Jerusalem with the exception of Har Homa, as well as the Armenian Quarter, during the 2007-08 talks between Olmert and the PA. This point was one of the principle revelations dwelt upon.
Al Jazeera didn’t hold back in their criticism of the Palestinian Authority:
Arafat rejected the offer and defended the Palestine Liberation Organization’s unwillingness to compromise on the sovereignty of the Haram [AKA the Temple Mount]. His was a principled position that quickly earned him the scorn of Israelis and Americans alike — though universal support at home, and throughout the Islamic world.
In contrast to Arafat’s “principled position”, their attitude toward senior negotiator Saeb Erekat, who was willing to be “creative” (presumably a negative quality at Al Jazeera), couldn’t be more different:
Whether he [Erekat] made the following overtures to win the admiration of his American counterparts, or merely to break the deadlock created by the extremist Netanyahu government, it is not clear; what is absolutely clear, though, is that the proposed tinkering with the legal status of the Haram al-Sharif is dangerous and unprecedented. Despite the obvious the risks entailed, Erekat nonetheless, made this “creative” suggestion…
The Clinton Parameters formula was put forward as the solution to the issue by Olmert, and Erekat seemed to accept it as the starting point. At Camp David in 2000, the proposed Palestinian state would gain religious autonomy over the Haram or Temple Mount, though Israel requested that space be set aside for Jewish prayer on the site. This very issue was the point on which the Camp David Talks broke down so it was necessary for there to be some flexibility and indeed “creativity” to resolve the impasse — surely an admirable quality for a negotiator to resolve a difficult situation? But no — Al Jazeera pushed it as a betrayal of the Palestinian people. They singled out for criticism Erekat’s proposal of an independent body to resolve the issue:
… the chief Palestinian negotiator appeared totally disconnected from his own people, as well as his wider Arab and Muslim constituency, when he made this “creative” overture about Old City and the Haram. He apparently, was so consumed by the negotiations that he became oblivious of the import of his remarks among Arabs, Muslims and — most of all — his own people.
…even Condoleezza Rice realised the extreme sensitivity of the Haram… She called on both sides to “leave it unresolved.”
Even by Al Jazeera’s standards, it was absurd to claim that Erekat’s proposal of an independent body to resolve the Temple Mount issue was acquiescing to Israel, whilst simultaneously citing Condoleezza Rice’s suggestion that the site should be left unresolved as proof of Erekat’s insensitivity because it would surely remain under Israeli sovereignty which would ferment more hostility in the Islamic world since it is frequently used by Islamists as a method of inciting violence. An independent body would be intended to come to a fair resolution, something Al Jazeera and The Guardian were seemingly against.
An independent analysis of the leaks by the moderate religious group Christians for Fair Witness found that Al Jazeera generally portrayed the idea of international control over the Haram as a PA proposal. The idea wasn’t mentioned during negotiations with Israel, and was not official PA policy. Thus the issue was hyped out of all proportion.
Apropos, Al Jazeera’s prejudice can be seen in lines like “It must be recalled that when the Jewish Quarter was confiscated by the Israelis on 18 April 1968, only 105 of the 595 houses were owned by Jews.” In fact, the remainder of the besieged Jewish populace of the Old City was indiscriminately killed and expelled in 1948, and their property handed over to Muslim-Arabs when Jordan annexed the territory in 1950, with holy sites desecrated.
Substance versus spin
The “Palileaks” presentation illustrates a stark counter-factual to the evident reality. For example, it is odd that a weak PA refuses to negotiate with Netanyahu, supposedly because he rejected an extension of a freeze on building in Jewish areas of East Jerusalem, most of which they had accepted Israel keep.
Al Jazeera and The Guardian’s stance on the leaks do not withstand scrutiny. An accurate account of the documents wouldn’t have been beyond their means since they possessed them for an extended period.
For example, one of the leaked memos during the talks attests that 198 prisoners were released by Israel upon request of the PA, while the PA offered nothing in return for the gesture, suggesting strength instead of weakness. Al Jazeera also baselessly blamed the PA for preventing the release of thousands of Hamas prisoners.
If the leaks are to be believed, Abbas agreed to 100,000 refugees as a compromise over Olmert’s suggestion of 10,000. According to one document, Abbas reportedly stated that it would be irrational to expect Israel to absorb five million or even one million. However, the opposite was the case in other documents, for example Section 6.2 of “NSU Recommendations on Refugees Issues” presents a robust if not combative stance:
Can PLO accept a solution to refugees without recognition of responsibility from Israel?
No. This question is an individual right of the refugees (no compromise possible). Such recognition is necessary for “real” peace.
Would the PLO eventually agree to the insertion of the proposed Israeli preamble on the “recognition of the suffering & loss endured by both people etc.”?
No. Such a phrasing is potentially detrimental as it overlooks the singularity of the Palestinian refugee issue.
Another document titled “Notes on Refugee Calculation,” states that part of the Palestinians’ approach to advancing the so-called “Right of Return” involves calculating the number of refugees that would return to Israel in a practical fashion since the amount Israel could absorb is limited but without ultimately reneging on the right for all Palestinians:
- This approach is obviously the best political strategic option for the Palestinians, as it does not require relinquishing the option of return for millions of Palestinians… […]
- Such an approach may be based on Israel’s actual absorption capacity. Israel’s maximum absorption capacity based on past immigrant absorption is at least 60,927 per year (average number of immigrants over 20 year period).
- Viewed another way, Israel’s past absorption practice indicates that they have the capacity to settle 1,016,511 million persons over a 10 year period (from 1990-2000).
Many pro-Palestinians have echoed The Guardian’s assertion that the documents prove Israel sought to colonise the West Bank by quoting Tzipi Livni, Olmert’s foreign minister: “The Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.” However as Just Journalism noted, Livni was clearly describing the Palestinian viewpoint, in contrast to Israeli policy. An unlikely misunderstanding at The Guardian!
Similarly, a Livni quote, splashed all over the media, stating that she is “against international law” was taken out of context. She made the comment with respect to mentioning international law in a joint statement being drawn up, where the Palestinians did not want mention of Quartet principles either.
Livni mentioned during negotiations with Ahmed Qurei that Israel was “giving up the Golan” in talks with Syria. Returning the Golan Heights to a bitter enemy would have made Israel considerably more vulnerable. Such a highly controversial move doesn’t add weight to the idea Israel wasn’t keen on making peace with its enemies.
Al Jazeera and The Guardian made much of the fact that Abbas wasn’t allowed to take a map of Olmert’s final settlement offer. Again this was portrayed as a contemptuous act by the Israeli’s. However, according to Olmert, the reality was very different:
On September 16, 2008, [Olmert] presented Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] a map that had been prepared based upon dozens of conversations that the two held in the course of the intensive negotiations after the Annapolis summit… Giving Abu Mazen the map was conditioned upon signing a comprehensive and final agreement with the Palestinians so it would not be used as an ‘opening position’ in future negotiations the Palestinians sought to conduct.
Please note, other sources, such as CIF Watch, Elder of Ziyon, and Christians for Fair Witness, provide detailed analysis of the numerous other obfuscations constructed by Al Jazeera and The Guardian from the leaks.
Contemporaneous accounts of the Olmert-Abbas process
The “Palileaks” presentation also clashed dramatically with coverage in 2008 relating to the talks. Olmert was said to have made generous concessions to Abbas, more than Barak made at Camp David.
Abbas adopted a tough stance, rather than meekly holding out a begging bowl, whilst Olmert conceded around 93%/95% of the West Bank territory demanded by Abbas/Fatah with territorial trades of between 5%/6.5% to make up the difference, and a corridor to link the West Bank and Gaza as one entity. The division of Jerusalem was to be dealt with at a later time in one such arrangement.
The reports at the time illustrated that Abbas was hardly a pushover. According to some sources he threatened to quit his presidential post if not given a sufficiently good deal, to quote INN:
The PA also demands — and Israel has apparently agreed to give — a corridor through the heart of Israel connecting Judea and Gaza. This, even though the two districts were never politically linked before the Oslo Accords of 1999 placed both of them under Palestinian Authority control.
In August Abbas rejected an offer that included withdrawal of 93% of the West Bank. The Palestinians would receive land in the Negev, and free passage between Gaza and the West Bank. Olmert’s plans indicated a preference for giving the Palestinians agricultural land rather than desert.
Reports focused on the generous terms of the peace deal, for example Olmert appeared to be discussing the transfer of 98.1 percent of the West Bank. Judging by some of the statements he made at the time, there also appeared to be urgency in his mission, due to a worry over changing circumstances:
We can argue about every small detail and find that when we are ready for an agreement there is no partner and no international support.
Some speculated Olmert was trying to take a lead over Livni, who was challenging his leadership of the Kadima party.
Subsequently Abbas said the offer would have given the Palestinians territory equalling 100% of the West Bank but asserted that the onset of Israel’s war in Gaza ended negotiations. Many reports on the issue state the same.
However, talks ended three months earlier, and there were strong dismissals of the offer from the Palestinian side, long before the Gaza war started. According to an interview Olmert gave in 2009:
He (Abbas) promised me the next day his adviser would come. But the next day Saeb Erekat rang my adviser and said we forgot we are going to Amman today, let’s make it next week. I never saw him again.
Olmert’s version of events was reinforced by the leaks according to Christians for Fair Witness because documents indicate the Palestinians had decided ahead of the September 16th meeting with Olmert not to make alternative suggestions, and a decision was made to end discussions until a new US president was in office the following year.
Interestingly there have been attempts to resurrect Olmert’s plan as the basis for further negotiations. Olmert has been in contact with current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to whom he has also not presented the September 16th map. Netanyahu has been involved in peace talks with Abbas’ representatives in Jordan, which the international media seem to be studiously ignoring.
Robert Wexler, a former US congressman influential in Obama’s circle, adopted elements of the plan when he spoke in Israel recently. However, he advocates a unilateral disengagement of 4.5% of Israel’s territory as a gesture of appeasement! A rather stupid suggestion in the aftermath of the disengagement of Gaza, and Abbas’ reluctance over the offer. The notion may be indicative of a hard-line approach should Obama be re-elected in November.
The response of the Palestinian Authority
Leaders in the Palestinian Authority immediately denied the veracity of the Palestine Papers, some saying parts of the documents were fabricated. They believed Al Jazeera intended to discredit the PA, which would be in the interest of rival factions Hamas and Hizbullah. Protests soon followed.
Ahmed Qureia, a senior negotiator in the talks, stated:
Many parts of the documents were fabricated, as part of the incitement against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian leadership.
Chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, called Al Jazeera’s reports “lies and half truths.” He claimed the documents concerning Jerusalem related to an Israeli proposal, rather than a Palestinian one. He also denied there was an offer to limit the return of refugees.
One PA statement asserted that many ideas have been discussed as part of the negotiations process, including ideas they would never have agreed to. Such discussions stripped of context would be highly damaging.
Some documents apparently aren’t dated which leaves open the possibility that they were modified. Abbas called for independent authentication, which hasn’t been forthcoming. Nonetheless it is more likely that the documents are authentic but selectively released and the content spun for an agenda.
According to Al Jazeera, one document indicated that the Israeli authorities informed Abbas in advance of the 2008 plan to invade Gaza due to Hamas’ rocket assault. Abbas and the relevant Israeli official deny the charge.
Interestingly, President Mahmoud Abbas said that he kept Arab countries fully briefed on the negotiations with Israel. He publicly sought permission from the Arab League to hold talks during some of the periods in question.
All the Arab countries know our position. We have been providing the Arab countries with details about the negotiations and all that we were offered.
These documents are designed to create confusion. I saw them [Al-Jazeera] broadcast things that they attributed to Palestinians. In fact, these were Israeli [proposals].
Abed Rabbo and other officials contributed the paranoid conspiracy charge that Israel was involved in the efforts to stain the reputation of the PA, and astonishingly enough, some see Al Jazeera as a Zionist channel because it doesn’t always feature stories of their liking. However, this is to be expected coming from a region where almost all evils are blamed on Zionism/Jews, and a significant portion of this criticism is politically motivated against the Qatari regime.
Al-Jazeera featured some extraordinary commentary on the leaks. The language used makes it difficult to deny the charge of incitement:
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has shown operational willingness to co-operate with Israel to kill its own people, The Palestine Papers indicate.
During the furore demonstrators in Gaza burned effigies of Abbas and assistants, with Israeli flags hanging around the necks. A coffin featuring pictures of Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and Saeb Erekat, was also torched.
Erekat spoke frankly:
What Al Jazeera people are doing is asking Palestinians to shoot me, physically. That’s what they are doing. They are saying: ‘You are guilty and thus you should be executed’. Speaking for me and my family, they are inciting against our lives.
Two weeks after the release of the Papers, Erekat resigned as chief negotiator, citing responsibility for the leaks, and concern over matters of safety.
Similarly, when asked in an interview “How do you understand the intent of the Jazeera and Guardian leaks of the Palestine Papers,” Bassma Kodmani, executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative, replied:
It was malevolent, seeking to paint the PLO leadership and negotiators in a bad light by revealing embarrassing details. Most of the details revealed were in any case known to many. But the presentation was malevolent. […] This was some sort of incitement.
Al Jazeera’s approach to the PA/Fatah was nothing new. In 2009, they briefly closed the broadcaster’s offices in Ramallah because it was asserted on-air that that Abbas was involved in the death of Yasser Arafat, the foremost Palestinian hero. The PA accused the station of incitement, and a longstanding bias against their organisation.
An ideologically pro-Palestinian attack
Although the criticism of the PA was more damaging at least initially, perhaps the harshest spin was aimed at Israel. Apparently the leaks illustrated the extent of Israeli “intransigence” in the face of all the “craven” Palestinian concessions. Headlines such as “Palestine Leaders Weak and Increasingly Desperate” left readers in no doubt as to who was to blame: Israel and to a lesser extent the US.
This stance reflects one of the principle claims of the pro-Palestinian movement: an aggressive Israel, determined to Judaise Jerusalem and colonise the West Bank, refuses to make peace with the peace-loving Palestinians. Although unjustified by the leaks, this is the meme Al Jazeera/Guardian adopted.
Of course this posturing was not unique to The Guardian and Al Jazeera at the time. The mainstream media adopted the line those two news outlets took. Shock was expressed about a weak PA but media commentators firmly grasped the familiar sight of a belligerent Israel, an image that they helped create.
One such black comedy, in the early hours of the 25th on the international news channel ‘France 24‘, consisted of an English female reporter, and another rosbif reporter in Washington, repeatedly pushing more extremist positions than a representative of Palestinian broadcasters being interviewed. The Palestinian man kept advocating discussion with Israel, whilst their insistent stance was that time over negotiations actually benefit Israel’s position, inferring that the West Bank was going to be annexed any day! It seems what passes for the journalism today is in fact a liability to the safety and security of many in the region.
The Papers gave rise to hate-fests, such as an event at the University of London, where a member of the British Liberal Democrat party, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said that Jews are “deeply prejudiced” but “not lacking in intelligence”.
Promoting a terrorist agenda at The Guardian
The unusually harsh criticism directed at the Palestinian Authority led to a distinct suspicion amongst some commentators that Al Jazeera and The Guardian were not only trying to taint Israel but destroy the PA in the eyes of Palestinians. Both outlets strongly advocated the involvement of Hamas over the PA:
The Palestinian Authority may continue as an employer but, as of today, its legitimacy as negotiators will have all but ended on the Palestinian street.
Thus, The Guardian clearly knew their coverage would cause a lot of damage. On the final day of the release of the papers, an article in The Guardian by Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official no less, states:
The Palestinian negotiators named and quoted in these documents have betrayed their people and the Palestinian cause. We are in no doubt that, as a result of these revelations, they have lost their credibility for good. It is unthinkable that the Palestinian people will ever approve any deal concluded with the Israelis by this team of negotiators, for they will always be suspected of selling out and of betraying the cause. The Palestinian people can never believe that what these individuals pledge in public reflects how they bargain or deal in private.
As an immediate response to these revelations, we in Hamas have begun a series of communications and meetings with Palestinian factions and prominent personalities to discuss practical measures. It is our responsibility to regain the initiative in order to protect our cause and isolate those who have betrayed it.
Evidently Hamas’ take on the issue is very much in harmony with that of The Guardian and Al Jazeera, In other words, any possibility of a peace deal is at an end! Also notable is the war-like intent, with talk of “isolating” traitors. Furthermore, accusations of treachery by some elements within the Palestinian cause quite frequently carries a death sentence.
In a similar vein, Alistair “Hamas” Crooke was upset because Tony Blair was working to limit the strength of terrorist groups:
… degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists: Hamas, PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], and the al-Aqsa Brigades…
… that resulted in a situation where the EU wouldn’t negotiate with these er… “rejectionists”! Are they rejecting the peace process or Israel’s existence? Is fighting terrorism morally wrong at the Guardian?
Most recently The Guardian has been promoting the Global March to Jerusalem campaign, which is strongly aligned with Iran, Hamas, and a number of other proscribed terrorist organisations.
With The Guardian possessing some of the same key positions as Hamas, defending Hamas to the hilt in certain articles, advancing a stance that empowers Hamas, and providing them with a platform to echo said views, should it not be evident that this media institution supports a recognised terrorist group?
The Guardian’s inventive and unending Israeli bashing, e.g. Deborah Orr turning the exchange of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit into an attack, has long been a subject of debate, since the paper often skirts borderline antisemitism. There are foundations for racism being a motivating factor at The Guardian, which has promoted and sold Gilad Atzmon’s virulently antisemitic book The wandering who?.
Al Jazeera’s unambiguous connection with terrorism
Many defend Al Jazeera, the most widely watched news channel in the Arab world, by asserting that it is attacked on all sides of the political spectrum. However, other international news organisations, such as the BBC and Reuters, often provide unflattering content about the US but with little criticism.
Their former managing director was recorded saying Al Jazeera was at Saddam Hussein’s service. Indeed, many deemed the broadcaster an enemy operation inciting against America so overt was their support of terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, whilst giving voice to Al Qaeda’s ideology. To quote an article by Sherry Ricchiardi, published in the American Journalism Review:
Erik Nisbet, an Ohio State University professor… likened the situation on the Arab-language channel of Al Jazeera to an American channel giving airtime to the Ku Klux Klan. “They would report on them, but they are not going to do in-depth interviews or invite them to be on mainstream talk shows and let them say anything they want, but Al Jazeera does”.
Al Jazeera is thought to have colluded with Hizbullah during the 2006 Lebanon war by repeatedly televising prohibited location information where rockets landed. In 2008, they held an on-air birthday party for a Lebanese terrorist convicted of killing four Israeli’s. Seven months after the release of the Palestine Papers, senior journalist Samer Allawi, admitted to having ties with Hamas.
Coming in the aftermath of the murder of three Jewish children, a rabbi and three solders on French soil recently, French president, Nicolas Sarkozy has joined Britain in preventing the entry of Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, the famous Qatari-based cleric who regularly appears on the Al Jazeera. Al-Qaradawi has defended terrorist insurgency in Iraq which caused the death of over 100,000 civilians, claimed the Holocaust was divine punishment for the Jewish people whilst simultaneously denying it as exaggerated, and has celebrated Palestinian terrorism.
Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.
With their support of militant Islam, Iraqi and Afghani insurgents, and with the head tax now being collected by Iraqi Islamists, one might well wonder if Al Jazeera should in fact be Al Jizya?
Ziyad Clot, Clayton Swisher, and the agenda of the “whistleblowers”
The Guardian stated the documents were leaked over several months from several sources. They noted three names: Rami Dajani, who assists Tony Blair as the Middle East Quartet’s envoy, and lawyers Zeinah Salahi and Ziyad Clot. Supposedly the NSU negotiations team grew increasingly unhappy. Apparently negotiations were perceived to be a failure, and it was felt the Palestinian side was making excessive concessions, causing some to leave.
The Palestinian Authority has its own suspicions. Erekat said the papers were leaked by Clayton Swisher, and Alastair Crooke, an ex-MI6 British agent and adviser to the European Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy! Crooke has significant involvement with Hamas for which he is an apologist, and also writes for The Guardian (cf. “Promoting terrorist agendas”).
A few months later Ziyad Clot admitted in The Guardian that he was one source of the leaks:
My own experience with the “peace process” started in Ramallah, in January 2008… Only 11 months into my job, in November of that year, I resigned.
Clot became an advisor to the Emir of Qatar after his stint at the NSU, and reputedly worked for Al Jazeera.
Clot’s justification for releasing the Palestine Papers was nonsensical bluster, to say the very least:
The Palestine papers illustrated the tragic consequences of an inequitable and destructive political process which had been based on the assumption that the Palestinians could in effect negotiate their rights and achieve self-determination while enduring the hardship of the Israeli occupation.
Bizarrely, it would seem that Clot wants a solution before negotiations have even begun, or none at all.
The “peace negotiations” were a deceptive farce whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU. Far from enabling a negotiated and fair end to the conflict, the pursuit of the Oslo process deepened Israeli segregationist policies and justified the tightening of the security control imposed on the Palestinian population, as well as its geographical fragmentation. Far from preserving the land on which to build a state, it has tolerated the intensification of the colonisation of the Palestinian territory.
In actual fact, the Oslo accords were signed up to by both parties. Settlement activity continued in the Israeli sector but that was due in no small way to the fact that Arafat repeatedly walked away from a settlement that would have given him the lion’s share (upwards of 90%) of the West Bank. Moreover, the West Bank and Gaza were intended to be geographically united. Thus Clot’s justification is a crock.
Far from maintaining a national cohesion, the process I participated in, albeit briefly, was instrumental in creating and aggravating divisions among Palestinians… My experience over those 11 months in Ramallah confirmed that the PLO, given its structure, was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests.
The above statement is indicative of Clot’s innate sympathy for the extremist position of other groups like Hamas. He would sooner resign, and attempt to destroy the elected representatives of the Palestinian people, rather than contribute to achieving peace. After his time in the NSU, Clot published an extremely negative book about the negotiations, interestingly titled “There will be no Palestinian state”, that asserted Israel didn’t intend to make any concessions.
Clot is firmly in the “one-state” or “bi-national” solution camp, more accurately known as “the destruction of the State of Israel” or “the Rwanda Solution”:
I think the “Geneva Initiative”, and with it the solution of “two states”, are no longer topical. I think it is well beyond the point where the two-state solution was still possible. I wonder if it was ever possible. […]
Because we know very well that, if there is no creation of a Palestinian state, the only option left on the table – beyond the status quo or less than an expulsion of Palestinians as ‘can not be excluded – it is the unique solution of the state, a binational state that would mean the end of the State of Israel as a Zionist project.
Clot has been personally involved with attempts to incite violent border confrontations with the IDF, when he helped organise Nakba Day demonstrations in May 2011, leading to twelve deaths, which aided Assad’s regime with a useful diversion.
Clayton E. Swisher, a US citizen who previously served as a bodyguard in the US State Department, is another suspected source of the leaks. He used to also work in Erekat’s office. Like Clot, he left after a period of months, and soon began working at Al-Jazeera — the paralleled career paths of these two individuals is surprising.
Some have wrongly assumed that since Clot admitted being a whistleblower, it left Swisher out of the frame, when in fact Clot’s apologia mentions leaks from other sources. The Swisher connection is doubly significant since he was presented as Al Jazeera’s Palestine Papers Specialist, and continues to head their rather orwellian “Transparency Unit”, in Ramallah.
Swisher’s book “The Palestinian Papers — the end of the road?” issued just four months after the leaks, replicated the line taken at Al Jazeera and The Guardian on the Olmert-Abbas negotiations. The posit advanced here is that the papers prove that the efforts to achieve a two-state solution are at an end due to the weakness of the PA and Israel’s arrogance. He argues that acceptance of the Jewish State cannot feature in any peace process. Swisher admires those “committed to liberating all of historic Palestine”, thus echoing the Hamas line to a tee.
As with Clot, Swisher’s ideological motivation for issuing the leaks is plain enough. He seeks the annihilation of the Jewish State, and a Palestinianism recommitted to a terrorist strategy:
My friends, when people in Cairo and Tunis and now Libya, maybe, can overtake regimes entrenched, as well-funded and well-armed as those regimes, that is the pure proof that non-violent resistance and other forms of resistance can achieve a different outcome. That is what it (the PA) has abandoned to its own detriment and that is what you see in these Papers.
The Qatari Connection
Ironically, in one of the leaked documents Ahmed Qurei, a negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, told Tzipi Livni:
Iran is against us, Qatar is against us.
In the aftermath of the Palileaks furore, Qatar has been increasingly associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In February Abbas, Erekat, and Hamas leader Kalid Mashaal, visited the Emir of Qatar, and held a conference in the capital of Doha, to implement an important reconciliation agreement between the rival Palestinian groups.
Abbas returned to Doha, later that month, to make a particularly aggressive speech, where he claimed there was no Jewish connection with the Temple Mount, and Israel was attempting to Judaise the city. These are the common refrains utilised by Palestinian movement to incite violence, thus suggesting a hardening of Abbas’ stance.
It is reputed that Qatar has begun bankrolling Hamas to the tune of $200 million US. There are persistent rumours that Khaled Meshaal seeks to move Hamas’ base from conflict-torn Damascus to Qatar or Jordan. The Crown Prince of Qatar arranged a meeting between Hamas and the Jordanian ruling class, with the aim of re-establishing co-operation. The Crown Prince accompanied Meshaal to Amman.
Al Jazeera was established and bankrolled substantially by the Emir. The suspicion that it serves Qatar is not unfounded since the broadcaster (particularly its Arabic channel) closely tracks Qatari foreign policy.
Qatar’s enthusiasm for the rebellion in Libya was evident. They influenced the Arab League, donated money to the rebels, and provided training. Al Jazeera’s coverage of the revolt was intensive. A similar situation occurred in Tunisia and Egypt. Some cite the negative reaction of numerous repressive Arab states to Al Jazeera’s coverage as an example of the broadcaster’s merit in challenging the status quo. Yet coverage is very selective. Al Jazeera largely ignored uprisings in neighbouring Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, betraying its use in the interests of Qatar which seems intent on gaining influence in the region.
With the Palestinian conflict occupying the foremost importance in the Middle East, and Al Jazeera having tamed the PA, Qatar is now ideally placed to benefit from a prestigious role in the conflict.
It has been noted that Al Jazeera does not criticise Qatar, even though it is a monarchy with no independent legislature. Although not the most repressive nation in the region, it has a poor human rights record. The fact that The Guardian not only fails to criticise Qatar but has been known to feature glowing accounts of the nation may indicate an uncomfortably friendly relationship with the ruling elite.
Striping away the hype, the most dramatic thing the Palestinian leadership did, if the leaks are to be believed, was agree to 100,000 refugees. If the Palestinian negotiators accepted such a proposal, they should be applauded for it represented a triumph of pragmatism over bare-knuckle ideology. However, not only are there reasons to doubt the PA’s willingness to make such a compromise, Israel’s supposed partners for peace, have continued to incite against them.
The PA has pushed one message at the international community, and something very different to the people to which they ought to be selling a fair peace settlement. It did not bode well for any peace deal. The anti-Israeli/Jewish hate mongering that was the norm in Palestinian culture came back to haunt a ruling elite that fostered it, who were in turn seen as not being extreme enough in their stance on Israel.
At the time of the leaks, Tony Blair, the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, stated:
I think it’s hard to tell right now, but its [the leaks] intention was to be extremely damaging. I think we’ve just got to be big enough to say, OK, whatever al-Jazeera are putting out, we’re going to get on with making peace.
At a time when Hamas’ support was slipping, in part due to the impact of the embargo, the leaks strengthened their credibility in a region reared on intensive incitement against the Jewish State.
The optimistically titled “Arab Spring”, which soon followed the “Palileaks controversy, threw off the relatively moderate secular chains that impeded Hamas’ spiritual forefathers, the Muslim Brotherhood, from gaining power in the region. In January Hamas’ Ismail Haniya received a heroes welcome in Tunisia from the Islamist regime. He toured the Middle East, his reception indicative of their newfound support. This popularity will also alter the PA elections in May.
It is difficult to evaluate what influence the Palestine Papers furore had on the Arab Spring but it is plausible to suggest they were a further ingredient in an increasingly explosive mix. The PA is seen as a secular relatively moderate movement, which its enemies accuse of being in the pockets of the West. Mubarak, a friend to Abbas, was toppled in part for similar reasons. The Muslim Brotherhood may also play a role in a fragile Jordan, where there were mass demonstrations supporting Hamas.
The politics of a post-Mubarak Egypt was a long term fear in the Middle East. Indeed the worsening relationship between Israel and Egypt is likely to usher in a new era of conflict, perhaps through the back door of Gaza, as with the Fedayeen in the 1950’s and 60’s. In March a committee of the newly elected Islamist Egyptian parliament voted unanimously to support a report declaring Israel their “number one enemy”. The Egyptian leadership declared a commitment “to assist the Palestinian struggle/resistance in all its forms and manifestations,” which translates as providing direct assistance to Palestinian terrorism.
The Fatah-Hamas alliance is moving closer, without any reaction from the Obama administration. There has also been word Fatah/PLO may return to “popular resistance” after the Second Intifada under this alliance.
It should be very clear that Al Jazeera and The Guardian crossed a very overt line with their spin of the leaks. The agenda of these two media institutions goes beyond the heavily biased coverage of other media outlets. This action is in some ways an equivalent of the activities of certain passengers aboard the Mavi Mariner, who transformed from being supposed humanitarian activists to combatants, when they planned a violent response to the boarding of the IDF.
Both institutions knew the leaks in selective form represented a huge obstacle for the PA to recover from. Yet they further distorted and misrepresented the content to forward a political agenda that would devastate any possible peace process. A weak discredited PA would find it near impossible to offer a deal to its people. This in turn greatly aided the agenda of terrorist groups hostile to a peaceful solution. It is also evident that they knowingly incited against the elected representatives of the Palestinian people.
The calculated release and spin of the Palestine Papers involved the promotion of a continued state of terrorism, and has had a corrosive impact on a conflict already virtually impossible to resolve, whereby certain parties with extremist agendas eliminated the potential of a future process. The seriousness of such an act should not be underestimated, and as such both companies deserve to be subject to censure.
Rob Harris contributes articles to several websites on contentious political issues (not to be confused with the popular English novelist (1957-) of the same name). He blogs at eirael.blogspot.com. He lives in Ireland. Read exclusive blog entries by Rob Harris for CrethiPlethi.com here.