The Palestine Papers, & the speech to Palestinians that Mahmoud Abbas will never give

This is cross posted by Yitzchak Besser at the American Jewish Committee

My friend at The Jerusalem Post takes credit for PaliLeaks. Not the story, mind you, just the catchy title that’s been floating around lately for the “Palestine Papers” leaks that have been broadcast by Al-Jazeera and published by The Guardian.

After a week of breaking stories revealing intimate details from the peace process’s cast of characters that we’ve all come to know and love (to complain about over coffee), we’ve seen our share of PaliLeaks. As it was noted by another writer at the Post, one of the first things that come to mind about the Palestine Papers is that it is no WikiLeaks. These are not the writings of relatively obscure diplomats; rather they are heavy hitters like Livni, Abbas and Qurei.  Nor are they correspondence from the field back to Washington about the latest updates from places normally relegated to the back of the paper. This is Israel, the Middle East, page 1 around the globe, regardless of just how tired the public is of the never-ending Mediterranean story.

These leaks are a revelation. At least, that’s the way the pundits are spinning it. Like some fantastical mirror, they are providing people from across the spectrum with political fodder to say, “Ah! You see, I was right! Look there. That’s exactly what I said was happening.” So what’s the real take on the revelations from the closed-room negotiations?

Israelis, it should come as no surprise, are a cynical people.

By and large, the details coming out of the Palestine Papers aren’t fazing the Israeli populace. “We’ve been talking for ages, let’s see some action. In the meantime, back to the salt mines and watering holes.” Even talking of Ma’aleh Adumim as part of a future Palestinian state or the PA’s begrudging (and now of course, utterly denied by them) acceptance that the “right of return” is national suicide are only blips on our radar. Sure, it’s good to hear them out in the open, but those who know the score have already seen the highlight reel. Here, the ground will shake when rumors become reality and the political machine starts moving at full speed instead of creaking along.

The real dynamism of the story comes not from Israeli society, but from the Palestinian one. The PA leaders have been misleading their people, Al-Jazeera has been crying from the rooftops. Behold, they spoke of never coordinating with the hated Zionist enemy, yet here they are making security arrangements. Jerusalem and the right of return are sacred and beyond discussion so why are they shown here making deals in Israeli dens?

Even the bare minimum – statements that increasingly sound more like demands rather than bargaining chips, terms which Israel is simply unable to accept – are beyond the PA’s capacity to deliver. To put it simply, the mere talk of negotiations has the Palestinian public up in arms. Abbas and company can feel the earth falling from beneath their feet. They recognize that the PaliLeaks are an attack on themselves, on their credibility and their perceived loyalty to a cause – a Palestinian state that refuses to yield even a millimeter to Western and Zionist forces.

Sadly, Abbas has played into Al-Jazeera’s trap. In a condolence call to Israeli President Shimon Peres after the passing of his wife Sonia, the Palestinian premier told the grieving leader that Israel and the PA must stand together “like a wall” against the delegitimization facing his tentative regime. In essence, he’s turned to Israel, and that’s what his people will see. Of course the closeness between us is a blessing, but this sends entirely the wrong message. Moreover, his denials of the Palestine Papers and claims of slander only further fan the flames of outrage, as Hamas sits back and laughs while upholding itself as the only champion of a betrayed and downtrodden Palestine.

Abbas’s Palestinian people are categorically opposed to the idea of give-and-take. It is that intransigence which is at the heart of both the stalled peace process and the Palestinian man on the street. Al-Jazeera and the Guardian are well aware of this fact, and have brought it to the fore with their leaked coverage of the negotiations scattering this past decade’s history like smashed bugs on a windshield. By capitalizing on the public’s unwillingness to even contemplate a settlement with Israel, Al-Jazeera and the Guardian have set the peace process even further back and threatened to topple certainly the support for Abbas’s Western-backed PA, if not the entire organization.

Abbas needs to run toward his people, not away from them, and embrace these claims rather than deny them. He must own up to his actions, and stand for what the PaliLeaks attempts to represent: honesty. If he believes that peace will come through negotiation (and if he does not, then this is all moot), then he must convince his people of that fact, instead of hiding behind double-talk.

The PA leadership lacks the moral courage and integrity to stand before its constituents and say,

“We are fighting – and will continue to fight – for a Palestinian state. A state free of violence and corruption. A state that prides itself on its strength rather than the nascent immaturity of a people only beginning to quest after their independence. We have fought for far too long, my brothers, and we have grown and developed as we near ever closer to our goals. We have struggled with the Zionist enterprise and it will not end with their obliteration, nor will it end with ours. Statehood, success, power – these things come with sacrifice and we have sacrificed much for the sake of our goals. To obtain them, to achieve our long-sought-after independence, I have looked into the eyes of the Zionists and stated our claims, as they, without blinking, have told me theirs.

“There are those – here in Palestine, in the Middle East and the world at large – that do not wish for a free and independent Palestinian state. They are the reason that we face this crisis today. But I would see us free from the camps, not to conquer Tel Aviv and Haifa but to build Ramallah and Jenin and Nablus into a place that far surpasses the hopes our imaginations can conceive of from our squalor.

“Acceptance is a bitter pill to swallow. My anger at the miseries and catastrophes and unfairness that History’s cruel hand has thrown down upon, my anger has washed over me and I have let it go. Allah has sent us these things to make us stronger, and stronger we have become. We have become wiser, and in our wisdom, we have recognized His hand. He has brought our enemies to us with a promise of a free land, and I will not spurn his gift. The Zionists are our neighbors. This is His will. And I will work with them and stand guard against them in the effort of seeing our dream, our homeland, our Palestine live.”

There are those, I’m sure who will call me naïve or ignorant (or worse, I’m sure) for such an approach. I do not claim it will be easy or that it will happen overnight. But the PA leadership must, in fact, lead their people, rather than be lead by them and their societal stigmas against any kind of dialogue with Israel that doesn’t inherently and immediate given them exactly what they want. Leadership is a dangerous endeavor, and one not for the likes of weak-hearted men.  If Abbas wants to contribute to a lasting national history for the Palestinians, he must accept the mantle of responsibility in light the claims made against him through the Palestine Papers.

Al-Jazeera and the Guardian have used the leaks for ratings and a targeted attack against the very notion of a negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians through the manipulation of a single fact: Until the Palestinian people accept that a give-and-take must be about giving as well as taking, then there can be no hope for this peace process.

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