Palestinian document leaks may kill peace hopes

Delicate peace talks in the Middle East have been ruptured by publication of secret documents. Palestinians didn’t know how much negotiators offered on their behalf.

Leaked papers from inside the negotiating rooms tell a story the Palestinian public don’t want to hear: in the latest, failed round of Middle East peace talks, the Palestinian political leaders were bending over backwards to make a deal with Israel, offering far more generous terms than in any previous set of meetings.

The most damaging revelation was that in 2008 the Palestinian negotiators were ready to allow Israel to keep almost all the settlements that Jewish settlers had built on disputed territory in East Jerusalem.

Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator, is quoted in the leaked papers saying the offer, which the Israelis rejected, ‘gives them the biggest Jerusalem in Jewish history… What more can I give?’

The cries of betrayal from rival Palestinian politicians are already loud and angry, and threaten to destabilize the government, disrupting further the chances of positive peace talks with Israel.

Fatah, the political group that runs the Palestinian government, must constantly fend off advances by their more radical rivals Hamas, who oppose peace talks and whose use of violence against Israelis is backed by Iran.

Yesterday senior Palestinians lined up to dispute the picture created by the leaked papers as ‘a distortion of the truth.’

They accused Al Jazeera, the Arabic cable television station who obtained the leak, of bias, and of conducting ‘a propaganda game through the media in order to brainwash Palestinian citizens.’

But Hamas said Erekat’s team now had ‘no credibility to negotiate. It is clear from these documents that they have no authorisation from their own people.’

Compromises have to be made when two warring sides come to the negotiating table to thrash out a peace deal.

In other peace talks, in Northern Ireland for example, the negotiators have had to take risks with disappointing their own populations in order to forge an agreement. The stakes are high, because every breakdown in talks tends to bring another spate of violence.

Path to peace?
One commentator, Gilead Sher, says this week’s revelations, far from killing off the peace process, show an encouraging willingness to compromise. The revelations should be used to give new impetus to talks, he argues.

But most voices are being raised in anger or dismay saying that, because a deal allowing so many Jewish settlements was nearly agreed in secret, it is unlikely now that anything can be agreed in public.

You Decide

  1. After decades of violence, can two communities forgive and forget?
  2. If two neighbouring populations can’t sort out their differences, why should the rest of the world care?

Activities

  1. Divide into two groups who have to share the classroom’s territory between them, and each choose a negotiating team of four. Each group draw up a list of demands from the other and send in your teams to strike a deal - how much are you willing to compromise?
  2. Write about an example of peace breaking out after a long argument or dispute among your family or friends, or at school.

Some People Say...

“Lie to everyone if it's necessary to achieve peace.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why are the Palestinians and Israelis hostile to each other?
Creating the state of Israel at the end of the Second World War displaced many Palestinian people. Reacting to regular outbreaks of violence between the two sides, the international community has tried to broker a deal to give Palestinians a new homeland.
So the peace process is redrawing the map?
Yes, but setting the boundaries for this ‘two state solution’ has proved difficult. Israeli settlements in the mainly Palestinian West Bank are controversial. Jerusalem, with its important religious sites, is also difficult to divide fairly.
Why can’t the teams negotiate in public?
Making a deal that both sides can live with is a delicate balancing act. To make progress, negotiators often have to make deals that would be unpopular with their own people.