Monday, January 24, 2011

First thoughts about the Palestinian Papers

Of course, it can’t go without saying something about the leak of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera and the Guardian yesterday. I must find time to work my way through some of the documents. But what are the implications likely to be in both Palestine and Israel? Like Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian, I’m inclined to think that the fallout will be more significant for the Palestinians at first. The fallout will hit the individuals’ negotiators’ credibility – although it has to be said that the general public’s mood has been largely sceptical of the leadership’s efforts in recent years. I can’t comment on Robert Grenier’s analysis that the negotiators were no quislings and were working for their people – my instinct is to give them the benefit of the doubt, since all politics is about compromise – but I doubt that the man on the Ramallah omnibus will see them in as favourably a light.

That said, it does reiterate the point that we’re all largely aware of here: that the US has never been a neutral arbiter and that Israel has been as intransigent in private as it has been in public. Moreover, it makes the point that I’ve come to over the past year: that whatever the Palestinians do it will never be enough for the Israelis. And why should it? They have everything they want: the ability to continue building and expanding settlements and contracting out control over the local Palestinian population to the PA while maintaining overall security control. There is neither incentives or pressure on Tel Aviv to force Israel to act another way.

My earlier point about Salam Fayyad’s critique of economic unity as a means of leverage for independence hit the nail on the head. But at the same time, he had no answers about how to operationalise it. The first glance of the Palestinian Papers suggests that the same limitations have been present across the board.

Where I’m less sure about Freedland’s analysis that this will necessarily translate into direct support for Hamas. there are plenty of reasons for Palestinians to disregard Hamas, not least their social conservatism especially among those sections of Palestinian society which are liberal. Moreover, those who have voted for Hamas in the past have not necessarily done so because they want an Islamist state; rather because they are the only opposition. Other, secular alternatives, may be just as discredited as Fatah, as they are fellow passengers in the PLO and PA that have pursued the negotiations track.

Also, while I’m sure that it will also discredit Israel for its unwillingness to engage the only Palestinian partner it has, I doubt that it will make much difference on the world stage. To illustrate this point, I only look at the current Plan B of pursuing diplomatic recognition: it’s all words and not backed up with anything meaningful. And how exactly is US policy ever going to shift when domestic politics ensures a strong Israel lobby there? I sometimes feel that this Plan B is rather quixotic and a global expansion of the hypocritical pan-Arab approach in the decades after 1948. The Arabs have tended to provide rhetorical support and to exploit the Palestinian question for their own ends (e.g. Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait). However, the reality that they were weak in relation to Israel has meant that their outrage at the plight of the Palestinians is not to be trusted. Ditto the wider international community as well.

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