THE PALESTINE PAPERS: HIJAB – Leaks will cripple Palestinian Authority 24Jan11 January 25, 2011

by Nadia Hijab  -  The Financial Times -  24 January 2011

The 16,076-document leak bombshell that cable television station al-Jazeera dropped on Sunday on an unsuspecting Middle East will have major repercussions for weeks to come. It is likely to deal a death blow to an American-led peace process already on life support, and hasten the end of the Palestinian Authority created by the 1993 Oslo accords.

The leaders of the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is formally responsible for negotiations with Israel, quickly challenged the veracity of the document trove. But Oslo has already so damaged their credibility that their denials do not carry weight.

In any case, the revelations simply confirm what has been clear to Palestinians for decades: their leadership is negotiating with itself, and in the process giving up on almost all internationally recognised Palestinian rights. Indeed, as every concession has been met with no response from Israel, they have given up a little more.

This model of “self-negotiation” started as far back as 1974, when the PLO first gingerly hinted that it would accept a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. By so doing, it unilaterally abandoned its original programme of liberating all of Palestine.

When, some 30 years on, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat returned from the failed Camp David summit in 2000, he was excoriated by the US and Europe for rejecting Israel’s “generous offer”. By contrast, many Palestinians heaved a sigh of relief that Mr Arafat had refused to sign an agreement that would have ceded Jerusalem, and trisected the West Bank.

Now these new leaks reveal that it is the PLO/PA that has been making the generous offers, and Israel has been rejecting them. If the documents are to be believed, almost all of East Jerusalem has been on the table. Perhaps this time we should be grateful Israel hasn’t signed.

What next? The Palestinian leadership have two plausible options, but will likely take neither.

The first would to be attempt to retake the high ground. This would mean dissolving the PA, and refocusing its attention on the PLO’s primary task – the liberation of Palestine. This would also involve repairing relations with Hamas, and trying to bring all Palestinian political and civil forces into a rejuvenated organisation.

The second is to continue down the road of hoping that someone, somewhere will exert pressure on Israel to give up the occupied territories and recognise Palestinian rights.

The former path is unlikely given the leadership’s depleted reserves of creativity, energy, and credibility. The latter is equally improbable as no other state or international body seems ready to put its interests on the line to save the PA’s skin.

Given that neither path looks promising, it is the PA itself which now looks most vulnerable. It is an increasingly hollow shell, that may soon be blown away. The winds are coming from Tunisia. Palestine may be next.

Nadia Hijab is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, a syndicated columnist for Agence Global, and a frequent public speaker and media commentator. She is also co-director of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. Hijab co-authored Citizens Apart: A Portrait of Palestinians in Israel (I. B. Tauris). She was Editor-in-Chief of the London-based Middle East magazine before moving to New York to join the United Nations. In 2000 she established a consulting business on human rights, human development, and gender.  She has served as co-chair of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and she is a past president of the Association of Arab American University Graduates.

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