January 24, 2011

EDITOR: After the Wikileaks scandal, the Palestine Leaks scandal…

For most of us, reading the new material now released on Al Jazeera and the Guardian is no great shakes – we knew for years that the Palestinian Authority was a lapdog of Israel, and that there was nothing they will stop at to satisfy Israel and the US. They have even stopped mention Al Awda (Return), they gave up on the settlements, on Jerusalem, on Al Aqsa – there is not much they did not do, and all this in order to be spitted upon by the butchers of Gaza and Lebanon, Sharon, Olmert, Barak, Livni and Netanyahu.

But the documentation provides proof, where before we only had reasonable expectations. The total failure to represent any of Palestine interests is now likely to fly in their face, and one cannot see how this will not end up with a political earthquake in Palestine.

Who has provided the texts, which are undoubtedly accurate? Personally, I cannot see anyone but the Israelis benefitting from this scandal – it will divide Palestine politically even further, will undermine the ‘moderates’ who are dangerous, as they present this soft flank to Israel’s brutality, so maybe this is an effort to further divide Palestine, to make Hamas the main spokesman and political power, so that Israel can continue to build without interference, as the west is totally unlikely to pressure Israel to speak peace with Hamas. Too far fetched? Don’t you believe it!

Papers reveal how Palestinian leaders gave up fight over refugees: The Guardian

• Negotiators agreed just 10,000 to return
• PLO agreed Israel could be a ‘Jewish state’
• US suggested Palestinians live in Latin America

Palestinian negotiators privately agreed that only 10, 000 refugees and their families – out of a total refugee population exceeding 5 million – could return to Israel as part of a peace settlement, leaked confidential documents reveal. PLO leaders also accepted Israel’s demand to define itself as an explicitly Jewish state, in sharp contrast to their public position.

The latest disclosures from thousands of pages of secret Palestinian records of more than a decade of failed peace talks, obtained by al-Jazeera TV and shared exclusively with the Guardian, follow a day of shock and protests in the West Bank, where Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders angrily denounced the leaks as a “propaganda game”. The documents have already become the focus of controversy among Israelis and Palestinians, revealing the scale of official Palestinian concessions rejected by Israel, but also throwing light on the huge imbalance of power in a peace process widely seen to have run into the sand.

The latest documents to be released reveal:

• The then Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, repeatedly pressed in 2007-08 for the “transfer” of some of Israel’s own Arab citizens into a future Palestinian state as part of a land-swap deal that would exchange Palestinian villages now in Israel for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

• The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and other American officials refused to accept any Palestinian leadership other than that of Mahmoud Abbas and the prime minister, Salam Fayyad. The US “expects to see the same Palestinian faces”, one senior official explained, if it was to continue funding the PA.

• Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state under George Bush, suggested in 2008 Palestinian refugees could be resettled in South America. “Maybe we will be able to find countries that can contribute in kind,” she said. “Chile, Argentina, etc.”

• Livni told Palestinian negotiators in 2007 that she was against international law and insisted that it could not be included in terms of reference for the talks: “I was the minister of justice”, she said. “But I am against law – international law in particular.”

The scale of the compromise secretly agreed on refugees will be controversial among Palestinians who see the flight or expulsion of refugees when Israel was created in 1948 as their catastrophe (nakba) – while most Israelis regard the Palestinian right of return as incompatible with a democratic Jewish state.

The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, is recorded telling the US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in February 2009: “On refugees, the deal is there.” In June 2009, he confirmed what the deal was to his own staff: “Olmert accepted 1,000 refugees annually for the next 10 years.”

Abbas, who is himself a refugee, is also recorded arguing privately: “On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or indeed 1 million. That would mean the end of Israel.”

On the issue of accepting Israel as an explicitly Jewish state, Erekat privately told Israeli negotiators: “If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want.” He told his staff privately that it was a “non-issue”.

But publicly PA leaders reject any ethnic or religious definition of Israel, and it is fiercely opposed by many of Israel’s 1.3 million Palestinian citizens, who see it as a threat to their own civil and national rights, particularly since there have been moves in Israel to introduce a loyalty oath along the same lines.

In several areas, Livni pressed for Arab citizens of Israel to be included in a future Palestinian state as part of a land-swap deal, raising the controversial spectre of “transfer”. In other words, shifting Palestinians from one state to another without their consent, a demand backed in its wholesale form by rightwing nationalists.

Livni explained privately that there are “some Palestinian villages located on both sides of the 1967 line about which we need to have an answer, such as Beit Safafa, Barta’a, Baqa al-Sharqiya and Baqa al-Gharbiya”. Earlier, she had made clear that such swaps also meant “the swap of the inhabitants”. But Palestinian negotiators rejected the proposal.

Tonight Livni’s spokesman said she had not discussed population transfers and insisted she had not criticised international law. In Ramallah on the West Bank today, al-Jazeera’s offices were taken over by a crowd of 250 security forces and protesters in response to the disclosures. Abbas said they were an intentional “mix-up”, while Erekat claimed they had been “taken out of context and contain lies”.

But senior PLO sources accepted privately that the documents were genuine.

Palestinians agreed only 10,000 refugees could return to Israel: The Guardian

Secret papers reveal Palestininian negotiators privately accepted Israeli offer of 1,000 refugees a year over 10 years

Palestinian refugees fleeing their besieged camp in north Lebanon in May 2007. Saeb Erekat is recorded as referring to their rights as a bargaining chip. Photograph: Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images
The Palestinian Authority’s anger over the leak of confidential documents about the stricken Middle East peace process is likely to be matched by outrage among many Palestinians at the revelation that their negotiators privately agreed that a token number of refugees, just 10,000, would be allowed to return to Israel.

There will also be anger that the chief PLO negotiator, Saeb Erekat, is recorded as referring to refugee rights as a “bargaining chip”, and that he privately ruled out putting any final agreement to a referendum that would include Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Erekat responded to the publication of the leaks by stating that “any proposed agreement would have to gain popular support through a national referendum. No agreement will be signed without the approval of the Palestinian people.”

But behind closed doors in a March 2007 meeting, the documents record him telling the Belgian foreign minister: “I never said the diaspora will vote. It’s not going to happen. The referendum will be for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Can’t do it in Lebanon. Can’t do it in Jordan.”

Refugees have been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 1948 war, so any deal on numbers is politically charged for both sides. Palestinians see the flight or expulsion of refugees at the time of the creation of Israel in 1948 as their catastrophe (nakba). Israelis retort that implementation of the Palestinian right of return is not compatible with the survival of a democratic Jewish majority state.

Israel pushed for a US-led “international mechanism” to handle compensation, but opposed restitution for property. The Israelis were prepared to acknowledge the “suffering” of the Palestinians during confidential talks in 2007-08, but would not acknowledge overall responsibility for the refugee problem.

“In our point of view this is basically asking us to take on their (Palestinian) narrative,” said negotiator Tal Becker, Erekat’s opposite number.

The documents reveal that Olmert first offered a figure of 5,000 refugees over five years on “humanitarian” grounds as part of the “package deal” he presented to Abbas in August 2008. PLO lawyers responded that that was “not serious and cannot be accepted”.

Erekat said later that Olmert had accepted “1,000 refugees annually for the next 10 years” – a total of 10,000. The Palestine papers do not include any subsequent offer, but Erekat told the US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in February 2009: “On refugees, the deal is there.” He confirmed the figure later.

Last year, however, Erekat distributed a document to EU diplomats saying the PA had expressed willingness to accept an Israeli proposal to allow in 15,000 refugees.

Olmert has said only that the refugee figure he offered Abbas was less than 25,000. Former US president George Bush referred in his memoir, Decision Points, to a “limited number”.In 2007 a PLO document cited a figure of 100,000 refugees over 10 years as a core principle.

Abbas, himself a 1948 refugee, privately argued against the large-scale return of refugees in a meeting in March 2009: “On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or indeed 1 million,” he told officials. “That would mean the end of Israel.”

Critics of the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership, within the PLO as well as the Islamist movement Hamas, will be angered by the concession, while many Israeli Jews regard any return of refugees or their descendants as unacceptable.

Tzipi Livni, Israeli foreign minister and lead negotiator in the 2008 talks, made clear in an interview last month that she was implacably against any refugee return. “The Palestinians know my position on this and so does the entire Arab world,” she said. Indeed, the papers reveal Livni saying in the negotiations: “Your state will be the answer to all Palestinians, including refugees”.

Palestinian negotiators accept Jewish state, papers reveal: The Guardian

Tzipi Livni told she can call Israel what she wants, but her demands to move Arab Israelis to Palestinian state are rejected
An Israeli flag is projected on to the Old City walls of Jerusalem. Secret papers reveal Palestinian acceptance of demands for a Jewish state, and Israeli leaders pushing to move Palestinians out of such a state. Photograph: Michal Fattal/EPA
Palestinian negotiators privately accepted Israel’s demand that it define itself as a Jewish state, the leaked papers reveal, while Israeli leaders pressed for the highly controversial transfer of some of their own Arab citizens into a future Palestinian state as part of a land-swap deal.

Both issues go to the heart of the two-state solution to the conflict which 20 years of negotiations have failed to deliver.

Palestinian Authority leaders publicly reject any ethnic or religious definition of Israel, and it is fiercely opposed by many of Israel’s own Palestinian citizens.

When Israel’s Likud prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said last October he would temporarily halt settlement building in exchange for Jewish state recognition, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, described it as a “racist” demand.

But behind closed doors in November 2007, Erekat told Tzipi Livni, the then Israeli foreign minister and now opposition leader: “If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want,” comparing it to Iran and Saudi Arabia’s definition of themselves as Islamic or Arab.

Insistence by Israel and the US that Palestinians recognise Israel as an explicitly Jewish state, as part of a final settlement of the conflict and as being potentially linked to a loyalty oath for Arab citizens in Israel, is the focus of growing controversy.

Palestinians see it as effectively closing down the “right of return” of refugees to what is now Israel, and undermining the national and civil rights of the country’s 1.3 million-strong Arab minority.

The PLO and Israel formally recognised each other in 1993. But accepting Israel as an ethnically or religiously defined state is highly neuralgic, not least because it would be regarded by Palestinians as endorsing the legitimacy of Zionism.

Erekat signalled acquiescence but refused to formally discuss the matter further. “I don’t care,” he insisted in June 2009. “This is a non-issue. I dare the Israelis to write to the UN and change their name to the ‘Great Eternal Historic State of Israel’. This is their issue, not mine.”

But throughout the 2007-08 negotiations, the papers show, Livni and other Israeli negotiators emphasised that the Jewish character of Israel meant all Palestinians should look to a future Palestinian state to fulfil their national aspirations.

In several areas, Livni pressed for Israeli Arab citizens to be moved into a Palestinian state in a land-swap deal, raising the spectre of “transfer” – in other words, moving Palestinians from one state to another without consent. The issue is controversial in Israel and backed in its wholesale form by rightwing nationalists such as the Yisrael Beiteinu party of the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

During talks in April 2008 about the future borders between Israel and a Palestinian state, and land swaps to allow West Bank Jewish settlements to become part of Israel, Livni raised the issue of “some Palestinian villages that are located on both sides of the 1967 line about which we need to have an answer, such as Beit Safafa, Barta’a, Baqa al-Sharqiya and Baqa al-Gharbiya”. Earlier, she is recorded as having made clear that such swaps also meant “the swap of the inhabitants”.

Two months later Livni again argued for the transfer of Israeli Arab villages to a Palestinian state. Referring to a village she had visited in the predominantly Arab Wadi Ara area of Israel, she told Palestinian negotiators: “I said from the beginning that it can be part of the swaps.”

But Ahmad Qureia (Abu Ala) replied: “Absolutely not.” And when Livni’s fellow negotiator, Udi Dekel, mentioned another village on the Israeli transfer list, Betil, the Palestinian leader, explained at once: “This will be difficult. All Arabs in Israel will be against us.” To which another member of Livni’s team retorted: “We will need to address it somehow. Divided. All Palestinian. All Israeli.”

The message that Livni and her fellow negotiators wanted to get across was clear. In January 2008 she told Palestinian leaders: “The basis for the creation of the state of Israel is that it was created for the Jewish people. Your state will be the answer to all Palestinians, including refugees. Putting an end to claims means fulfilling national rights for all.”

Qureia had already stated flatly: “We’ll never accept any change in the reality of the life of the Arabs living in Israel or their transfer. They’re Israeli citizens.” But Livni’s implication was that the Palestinian state should be the “answer” for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as millions of refugees and their families who fled or were forced out in 1948.

Both proposals appear to contravene international law and UN resolutions on the refugees. But in an extraordinary comment in November 2007, Livni – who briefly had a British arrest warrant issued against her in 2009 over alleged war crimes in Gaza – is recorded as saying: “I was the minister of justice. I am a lawyer … But I am against law – international law in particular. Law in general.”

She made clear that what might have seemed to be a joke was meant more seriously by using the point to argue against international law as one of the terms of reference for the talks and insisting that “Palestinians don’t really need international law”. The Palestinian negotiators protested about the claim.

Livni may also come under criticism from the Israeli right over comments in talks in November 2007, when she appeared to signal intent to give up the West Bank religious settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron as part of the need to “divide the land and to live in a smaller, Jewish and democratic state”.

The settlement does not appear on the maps created to illustrate the negotiating offer made by Ehud Olmert in 2008. Livni is recorded as telling Palestinian negotiators: “We have distinctions between blocs of settlements and individual settlements. Some are not even in our interest to expand.”

Condoleezza Rice: send Palestinian refugees to South America: The Guardian

Palestine papers show US secretary of state told negotiators that Chile and Argentina could be asked to give land to displaced

Palestinian boys in Rafah refugee camp, Gaza Strip. Condoleezza Rice suggested sending refugees to Chile and Argentina. Photograph: Abid Katib/Getty Images
The United States proposed giving Palestinian refugees land in South America as a radical solution to a problem that has haunted Middle East peace talks for decades.

Condoleezza Rice, the Bush administration’s secretary of state, wanted to settle displaced Palestinians in Argentina and Chile as an alternative to letting them return to former homes in Israel and the occupied territories. Rice made the proposal in a June 2008 meeting with US, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Berlin, according to minutes of the encounter seen by the Guardian.

During a discussion about international funding to compensate refugees – an estimated 5 million Palestinians are scattered around the Middle East – the US diplomat made a startling suggestion.

“Maybe we will be able to find countries that can contribute in kind. Chile, Argentina, etc (ie, give land).”

The minutes, which are not verbatim, have the initials CR before the quote. Rice was the only participant with those initials.

The proposal seems based on the fact that Chile has a large Palestinian community dating back a century and, like Argentina, has large tracts of sparsely populated land.

It flew in the face of Palestinian insistence that the refugees have the right to return to their ancestral land – a demand Israel has resisted since its foundation in 1948. Carving out a new Palestinian homeland 8,000 miles away in the Andes could theoretically reduce pressure on Israel to return land.

The proposal, not previously disclosed, is a twist on suggestions made in the last century to settle Jews in Madagascar and what is present-day Kenya. It appears to have been influenced by the transfer of 117 Palestinian refugees to Chile between March and April 2008, a few months before the Berlin meeting.

The group had lived in Iraq for many years but was stranded in a grim camp on the Syrian border during post-Saddam Hussein chaos. Chile hosted them in response to a UN appeal, said Carolina Podesta de Footner, a spokeswoman for the South American office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“The UNHCR made an appeal to governments to take these people. Chile was one of the first countries to accept.”

As well as having Latin America’s largest Palestinian population – estimated at more than 200,000 – Chile had previously accepted refugees from Afghanistan, Colombia and the former Yugoslavia. Podesta said other Palestinians from Iraq were settled in Brazil, Iceland and Romania.

At the time Rice made her proposal the Iraqi Palestinians appeared to be settling well in La Calera, a city north of Santiago. They were greeted with smiles, songs and promises of help with housing, jobs and language training.

But unlike previous Palestinian arrivals – mostly Christians with education and money who chose to move – the refugees were blue-collar conservative Muslims and had struggled to integrate.

Palestine papers provoke anger on streets of West Bank and Gaza: The Guardian

Protesters try to storm al-Jazeera studios in Ramallah, while in Gaza City anger is focused on Palestinian negotiators

Protesters burn a mock Israeli flag bearing the al-Jazeera name outside the broadcaster’s offices in Ramallah. Photograph: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters
The chunky young man in Ramallah’s al-Manara Square knew exactly where his anger was directed today – and it wasn’t at the Palestinian negotiating team for the generous concessions it had offered to Israel.

Jutting his head towards a tall office block which houses the most popular television station in the West Bank, and giving his name as Jimi, he said: “These are false allegations. Al-Jazeera should be destroyed.”

Not long afterwards, about 50 protesters made a limited attempt to do just that by smashing windows and security cameras and attempting to gain entry to the seventh-floor TV studios. They were swiftly stopped by the Palestinian Authority’s ubiquitous security men.

Outside, others – instructed to protest by Fatah, the party that dominates the PA – were busy with marker pens and spray paint. “Al-Jazeera = Israel” in bright blue paint decorated the pavement; signs saying “Al-Jazeera are collaborators” and “Al-Jazeera sponsors Arab division” hung on railings.

Some of those in and around Manara Square said they were afraid to speak to the press. But Naser al-Alaydi, 63, dressed in a smart suit and with a neat goatee, was willing to be frank. Describing himself as a moderate independent, he said the disclosures in the Palestine papers were “very painful for us”. “We made concessions already, and we will never do more than that. What’s really important for us is Jerusalem – not just for Palestinians but for the whole Arab world.”

In Gaza, anger was focused on the Ramallah-based negotiators. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I watched it. This is cheating to Palestinian people,” said Maher Mohammad, 50, a tailor in Gaza City. “Jerusalem is a holy land, nobody can make concessions regarding it, because it’s not for Palestinians only but for all Muslims.”

Ayman Dwima, 38, wanted more transparency. “The PA is required to be more honest, first with itself, then with Palestinian people, and not to hide anything. The PA is playing alone. It has to make unity with Hamas, because it represents at least half of the population, and this will give the strength to the Palestinian negotiator.”

But whatever the views on the street, the key players were sticking to their line. Some of the reports “misrepresented our positions”; others were “patently false”, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said in a statement. “Any accurate representation of our positions will show that we have consistently stood by our people’s basic rights and international legal principles.

“Indeed, our position has been the same for the past 19 years of negotiations: we seek to establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and to reach a just solution to the refugee issue based on their international legal rights, including those set out in UNGA 194.”

The news stories were “a distortion of the truth”, “a propaganda game … to brainwash Palestinian citizens”, said Yasser Abed Rabbo, speaking on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organisation at a press conference in Ramallah.

Speaking to journalists in Cairo, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said the public had been misled by the reports. “We say very clearly, we do not have secrets.”

A senior Hamas official, Salah Bardaweel, told the Guardian that the Islamist organisation was studying the leaked documents before announcing its “final position”. But, he added, “the problem now is not between Hamas and Fatah, it’s between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian negotiators.”

On the other side of the negotiating table, the Israelis were largely keeping quiet today, perhaps so as not to distract from the Palestinians’ discomfort in the media spotlight.

But Avigdor Lieberman, the hardline foreign minister, offered a region-wide perspective on the disclosures. “The central problem of the Middle East is not settlements, but rather the extreme Muslim radicals that threaten regional stability,” he said during a visit to London. “The recent events in Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq are not connected to the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The true threat to the Palestinian Authority’s leadership is not Israel, but Hamas and jihad.”

Additional reporting by Hazem Balousha in Gaza City

What they said

Today it is … clear that the process did not fail and was not exhausted. It did not end, but was not allowed to ripen until an agreement was reached because of elections in Israel and this government’s choice not to continue the negotiations. I was discreet throughout the negotiations over the course of many months, in order to increase the chances of an agreement, even at a personal political cost … A peace agreement that will end the conflict and protect the national and security interests of Israel is possible. Tzipi Livni, former Israeli foreign minister

In the past few hours, a number of reports have surfaced regarding our positions in our negotiations with Israel, many of which have misrepresented our positions, taking statements and facts out of context. Other allegations circulated in the media have been patently false. Saeb Erekat, chief PLO negotiator

The documents revealed by al-Jazeera are much more important than the documents recently released by WikiLeaks. The former document the talks that took place in 2008 between the head of the Palestinian negotiating team and then foreign minister Tzipi Livni, as well as with American officials, which is not just a chapter in history. Akiva Eldar, Haaretz

The problem facing Abbas and Erekat as they try to discredit the documents being rolled out in the coming week is that the peace process in which they have invested all their political capital is itself so palpably moribund as to corrode their credibility. Tony Karon, Time magazine

Expelling Israel’s Arab population?: Al Jazeera TV

Israeli negotiators, including Tzipi Livni, proposed “swapping” some of Israel’s Arab villages into a Palestinian state.


Israel’s separation wall cuts through the middle of Baqa, dividing it into two villages. [Gregg Carlstrom/Al Jazeera]
Baqa al-Gharbiyya, Israel – This sleepy agricultural village, an hour’s drive northeast from Tel Aviv, feels worlds apart from Israel’s commercial capital. Garbage lines many of the narrow, rutted streets, symptoms of the lower level of government funding bestowed upon the town; unemployed men mill about, complaining that Israel’s policies have hurt the local economy.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hard-right foreign minister, has proposed annexing this and other Arab villages to a future Palestinian state. Their inhabitants would be stripped of their Israeli citizenship unless they were willing to leave their land and swear a “loyalty oath” to the state.

His plan is deeply unpopular here and in nearby villages. Despite the discrimination most Arabs experience in Israel, they say few will renounce their Israeli citizenship to become Palestinians.

“I’m here in this state now,” said Jamil, the owner of a small bakery near one of the town’s green-domed mosques. “My family has been here since before 1948. I don’t want to go out to Palestine. I don’t like the wars, I have problems with the [Israeli] government, but a Palestinian state? No.”

Liberal Israeli commentators have denounced Lieberman’s plan as racist, but centrist and left-wing Israeli politicians have been more muted in their criticism, leading many Israeli Arabs to believe that their country’s political leadership tacitly supports Lieberman’s plan.

“He’s shouting what they are not saying,” said Ihad Abu Mokh, a lifelong Baqa al-Gharbiyya resident, over coffee in a busy café earlier this month. “They dream it. But they know this is the 21st century. We are not in the Dark Ages now.”

“Divided. All Palestinian. All Israeli.”

But The Palestine Papers reveal that Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister, did say it: During several 2008 meetings with Palestinian negotiators, Livni proposed annexing Arab villages to the future Palestinian state, forcing tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs to choose between their citizenship and their land.

“The US position on borders perhaps unwittingly opens the door to dangerous Israeli ambitions to transfer — or ethnically cleanse — non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel in order to create an ethnically pure ‘Jewish state.'”

Her clearest language came on June 21, 2008, when she told senior Palestinian negotiators Ahmed Qurei and Saeb Erekat that their land swaps should include Israeli Arab villages. Udi Dekel, a top adviser to the then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, rattled off a list of villages that would be annexed to Palestine.

Livni: We have this problem with Raja [Ghajar] in Lebanon. Terje Larsen put the blue line to cut the village in two. [This needs to be addressed.] We decided not to cut the village. It was a mistake. The problem now, those living on Lebanese soil are Israeli citizens.

Dekel: Barka, Barta il Sharqiya, Barta il [Garbiya], Betil, Beit Safafa…

Qurei: This will be difficult. All Arabs in Israel will be against us.

Becker: We will need to address it somehow. Divided. All Palestinian. All Israeli.

Two months earlier, in another meeting with Qurei and Erekat, Livni herself mentioned the same villages, describing them – their status in the state of Israel – as a problem in need of resolution.

Livni: Let us be fair. You referred to 1967 line. We have not talked about Jerusalem yet. There are some Palestinian villages that are located on both sides of the 1967 line about which we need to have an answer, such as Beit Safafa, Barta’a, Baqa al-Sharqiyeh and Baqa al-Gharbiyyeh.

Livni’s choice of words is striking. Beit Safafa, Barta’a and Baqa al-Gharbiyya all sit at least partly on the Israeli side of the Green Line; their inhabitants carry Israeli passports, pay taxes to the Israeli government, and overwhelmingly self-identify as Israelis.

But Livni describes them as Palestinians – and suggests that they do not belong in the state of Israel.

“I was born in Israel. I’m not leaving.”

Baqa al-Gharbiyya used to be just Baqa, a name still used by many residents. The creation of the state of Israel split the village in half, with Baqa al-Gharbiyya on the west side of the 1948 armistice line and Baqa al-Sharqiyya on the east.

“No question of carrying out a transfer”

Livni has described the Palestinian state as a solution to the “national aspirations” of the Palestinian people, and she uses that term to include Israeli Arabs.

This was her language from a November 2007 meeting with the French foreign minister:

“The idea of creating a Palestinian state is to give a national answer to the Palestinians, wherever they are. Those who live in the territories, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, those who live outside of the territories, whether they live in different refugee camps or in Israel – it’s the national answer to them.”

She was criticized for her comments; Israel’s popular Nana10 Web portal ran an opinion piece comparing her to Avigdor Lieberman. But she used similar language a year later, when she described a Palestinian state as “a national solution” for Israeli Arabs.

Livni quickly tried to clarify her comments, telling Israeli radio in December 2008 that “there is no question of carrying out a transfer of forcing them to leave.”

Residents regularly travelled back and forth between the two until six years ago, when the Israeli separation barrier was built. Several streets in the villages now dead-end at an eight-metre-high concrete wall topped with barbed wire.

Those who live in Baqa al-Gharbiyya face what they, and many Israeli and international human rights groups, describe as systemic prejudice. Israeli Arabs routinely face discrimination when applying for jobs, and their towns and villages often receive a lower level of government funding than Jewish communities.

In its 2009 report, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel described the discrimination faced by Arabs as “open and explicit”, and warned that the government is threatening “their most basic rights – to equality, education and employment – as well as their very citizenship”.

“Look around this village, you see the streets, the cars, the buildings, how it looks,” said Mustafa Fayoum, a resident of the Arab village of Jaljulia. “Compare it to Tel Aviv. You will see the difference.”

Yet Qurei was right when he said that Arabs in Israel would oppose a transfer to Palestine: In dozens of interviews on a visit earlier this month, only one Baqa al-Gharbiyya resident said he would prefer to live in a Palestinian state.

Asked why, many cited economic reasons; even the jobless thought their future prospects were better in Israel.

“Our circumstances here are better than there, even though here we don’t feel that we are in the community, or in the society of the Jewish people,” said Bashar al-Alimi, an unemployed 38-year-old.

“It’s a difficult question,” said Mounir Abu Hussain, a 34-year-old mechanic. “But my job is here, the work is good here, and maybe it would be hard to go into a Palestinian state.”

“[Israel] is a Western country, it’s more developed, there are more options, less corruption,” said Ismail Athmani, 34. “And I was born in Israel. I’m not leaving.”

But the economy wasn’t the only reason why Baqa al-Gharbiyya residents said they prefer Israel to Palestine. Several described the West Bank as a police state, and said that – despite the discrimination they face – they prefer the level of political freedom in Israel.

“It’s bad in the West Bank. We have family there, we hear things. The police in Palestine, you can’t talk about politics unless you’re in the most closed-off place. Otherwise you die,” Athmani said.

His friend Abu Mokh leaned across the table to interrupt him. “Not die,” he said with a rueful grin. “You just disappear.”

A widespread view

Polls of Israeli Arabs over the last decade have consistently reached a similar finding: most would rather remain in Israel than live under Palestinian jurisdiction.

A December 2010 survey by the Brookings Institution found that 58 per cent of Israeli Arabs oppose the sorts of swaps proposed by Lieberman and Livni. The Jewish-Arab Relations Index, an annual publication from the University of Haifa, consistently finds majority support for that view (57 per cent in the most recent survey, in 2008). Similarly, a 2000 poll of Umm al-Fahm residents found that 83 per cent want their city to remain Israeli.

Many families in these villages have lived in Israel since before 1948 – before there was a state of Israel, in other words. One man described himself as “more Israeli than Lieberman,” referring to the Soviet Union-born foreign minister who immigrated to Israel at the age of 20.

“Netanyahu cannot take me and tell me, ‘you are living here,’” Fayoum said. “I am Israeli, only Israeli.”

Leading article: Israel betrays its ideals by whitewashing the military: The Independent

Friends of Israel have long lamented the apparent numbing of its moral sensibility, seeing it as an insidious long-term consequence of the country’s interminable-seeming conflict with the Palestinians. They will feel renewed concern following the publication yesterday of an Israeli report into last May’s raid on the aid flotilla bound for Gaza. Public opinion throughout the world largely deplored the violence with which Israel enforced its blockade of the Hamas-ruled enclave and stopped the convoy, leaving nine Turkish civilians dead.

Israel’s response is a report that exonerates the military with only a few caveats and pats Israel on the back, not only over the conduct of the raid but over the blockade of Gaza in general. According to the Turkel Commission, this breaks no international law. Not surprisingly, Israel’s political establishment is delighted. The Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has congratulated the commission, declaring that the report “proved Israel is a law-abiding country”.

Many will feel that the report proves nothing of the sort, but only highlights a growing unwillingness on the part of Israel to subject the actions of its military in Gaza and the West Bank to scrutiny. As we report today, 52 separate military police investigations over the last two years into Israel’s December 2008 offensive in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in the deaths of 759 Palestinian non-combatants, have yielded precious little. The level of casualties in the offensive was shocking.

A single lethal air strike on a house where about a hundred civilians were sheltering killed 21 of them. There were well-documented cases of Israeli troops using children as human shields. These were corroborated in some instances by Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli human rights activists and former army veterans, some of whose members witnessed these events.

A country that resorts to such inhumane tactics while presenting itself as a standard bearer for democracy should be asking itself hard questions about whether it was striking the right balance between security demands and respect for the basic human rights of civilians caught up in a war zone.

That does not seem to be happening. With most investigations into Operation Cast Lead already closed, and only one soldier jailed in connection with the events – for a trivial offence – Israel has clearly decided that in the run-up publication of a UN report into the Gaza bloodshed of two years ago, attack is the best form of defence. The UN report is likely to be critical but Israel will be able to dismiss it as biased, citing its own investigations.

The most immediate losers in all this are the relatives of victims of the raids on Gaza who have been denied justice. Unfortunately for them, Israel is unlikely to come under much pressure to explain its actions more convincingly. In America, even light-touch criticism of Israel is politically fraught, while in Europe and most Arab capitals, fear of giving succour to the Islamist regime that rules Gaza is an overriding preoccupation. When it comes to Gaza, Europe tends to turn a blind eye to actions by Israel that it would condemn elsewhere.

If, as seems likely, no one takes much notice of the conclusions of the UN report into the offensive into Gaza, Mr Barak will no doubt feel even more relieved than he does today. So will the Hamas authorities who thrive on the culture of martyrdom and who justify their rigid hostility to Israel by pointing to the flagrant injustice with which Israel – and most of the world – treats Palestinians.

By failing to come clean over Operation Cast Lead, or over the Gaza flotilla, Israel neither advances its own cause nor that of peace in the region.

Documents Open a Door on Mideast Peace Talks: NYT

JERUSALEM — Israeli-Palestinian peace talks over the past 17 years have operated at two levels, one public, the other behind closed doors. To the world and their own people, each side spoke of sacred, non-negotiable demands while in the Jerusalem hotel suites where the officials met those very demands were under negotiation.

Word of Palestinian Concession in 2008 Roils Mideast Debate (January 24, 2011)
Internal Palestinian documents leaked to Al Jazeera and published this week illustrate that dichotomy. The public Palestinian posture is that every inch of East Jerusalem that was taken must be yielded. In reality, Palestinian officials have acknowledged that much would stay part of Israel in exchange for land swaps elsewhere.

The documents, a mix of friendly banter and sharp exchanges, illustrating the complex interpersonal relations between top Israeli and Palestinians, also suggest that the thorniest problems were not only those widely assumed to be — how to divide Jerusalem and what to do about the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel — but also which side would get certain large settlements.

One of those was Maale Adumim, a major Israeli settlement near Jerusalem. At one key meeting on June 15th, 2008, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said to the Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qurei. “I don’t think that any Israeli leader is going to cede Maale Adumim.” Mr. Qurei replied, “Or any Palestinian leader.”

The reaction among Palestinians to the 1,600 documents, consisting of meeting minutes and e-mails, has been mixed. Most people seem to have been shocked that their leaders were seen to be offering to let go of large parts of Jerusalem. Others accused Al Jazeera of being an enemy. Its offices in Ramallah came under brief attack on Monday night and a top Palestinian official told a news conference that this was part of an anti-Palestinian campaign by the Emir of Qatar, the Persian Gulf state where Al Jazeera is based.

“Those who have followed things are not shocked but we wonder why this leak occurred now,” Majdi Malki, a sociologist at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank said. “Is it an effort to hurt the Palestinian Authority when it is weak?”

Largely because of the gap in public perception and reality and because each side has a large minority opposed to any concessions at all, one of the central tenets of the peace talks has been to keep all details confidential until a full package could be presented.

As Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, said in that June meeting, “We agreed that there will be no agreement before agreeing on everything.”

Otherwise, each concession is picked apart by those being asked to give something up, which is precisely what is happening as a result of these leaks. Palestinian concessions are given far more publicity than what Israel would give them in return. That makes Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, look weak, which may have been the motive of the leaker.

Saeb Erekat, the current chief Palestinian negotiator, said in response to the leaks on Monday that the Palestinians would submit any agreement to a national referendum anyway so no one was giving anything away without the permission of the population.

Talks have been on and off for years but those that seemed closest to yielding results were held in mid-2008 between the government of then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and Mr. Abbas. They talked about dividing Jerusalem’s residential areas between them and coming to an arrangement for the holy sites that included oversight by an international committee, including several Arab states.

The sides also traded numbers of Palestinian refugees permitted to move to Israel. Along with their descendants, they number in the millions today. The Palestinians suggested 10,000 a year over 10 years and the Israelis offered 1,000 a year over five years.

While neither Jerusalem nor the refugee issue was agreed on, the two sides seemed to be coming to terms on the approach. Mr. Olmert, who was forced to leave office due to indictments on corruption charges, has written a memoir that includes his recollections of how close the two sides got. Publication of excerpts is due to begin in Israel this Friday.

A spokesman for Mr. Olmert, Yaacov Galanti, said the gaps between the two sides were not great, which proves that Israeli claims that there is no peace partner on the other side are false.

After Mr. Olmert stepped down, the talks stopped and a more hawkish government led by Benjamin Netanyahu took office. Mr. Netanyahu has said that he wanted to start the negotiations over, not pick them up where they had left off because they offered too many concessions to the Palestinians.

In that sense, the leaked documents are a kind of Rorschach test in which each side sees its own weakness and the other’s hardheadedness.

Moshe Yaalon, a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and minister for strategic affairs in his government, said on Monday in an interview that the documents showed that the Palestinians were not serious about peace because they did not acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state.

“The core issue in this dispute is not borders but our very existence,” he said. “No Palestinian leader has been willing to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Another top Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the big question for him was whether these revelations would make the Palestinians more timid in future negotiations because of public indignation. He said they seemed to be walking away from their concessions since they were revealed.

Alternatively, he said, the opposite could be true — the Palestinian public could get used to the kinds of concessions needed for a deal now that they were in the open, and that would ease future talks.

Those on the Israeli left said the leaks proved that Mr. Abbas led a flexible government and that Israel should seize the moment to negotiate with it.

In a jeans store in central Ramallah, two men argued about the meaning of the revelations. A man who gave only his first name, Ali, said the point of the leaks was clearly to weaken Mr. Abbas, and that Al Jazeera should be criticized. But another customer, Zaher, said the people should know what is being offered by their leaders, and that the network had performed a public service. He also said the leaks brought no major surprises.

In Gaza, Hamas slammed the Palestinian Authority, saying it had betrayed its people.

Bernard Avishai, an Israeli writer who last week interviewed Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas for an upcoming article in the The New York Times Magazine, said the only thing that surprised him in the leaks was what was left out: “They focus on Palestinian concessions without presenting the other side of the negotiations. The Palestinians were going to get a great deal for their concessions.”

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