The Palestine Papers: Al-Jazeera Has an Agenda

, January 27, 2011

Vol. 10, No. 25    January 27, 2011

  •  Al-Jazeera, the powerful Qatari satellite television station, has been publishing documents leaked to it from the PLO Negotiations Support Unit.
  • The release of the documents has caused great damage to the reputation of the PA and the PLO negotiating team. Sa’eb Erekat noted that while the PA was en route to triumph as it gathered international support for the recognition of a Palestinian state and for isolating Israel, al-Jazeera cut short this triumph and “instead of delegitimizing the occupation, they delegitimized us.”
  • The PA’s success in gathering support for statehood recognition was turning Hamas rule in Gaza into a liability. Once Ramallah is recognized as representing a state, the international community might turn against the separate entity in Gaza and seek to end the problem.
  • For years al-Jazeera has sought to advance the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood against the Arab regimes. The problem it faces is that the sources of the current wave of Arab unrest are actually local and have nothing to do with pan-Arab ideals or with the Palestinian problem.
  • Now, after al-Jazeera has brainwashed Arab minds with charges of PLO treason, no declaration of statehood can be expected. Neither will there be a resumption of negotiations with Israel since the Palestinian team will stick to the most hard-line positions possible.

Al-Jazeera, the powerful Qatari satellite television station, has been publishing documents leaked to it from the office of the main PLO negotiator, Sa’eb Erekat, and his Negotiations Support Unit (NSU) on its main news program, and has opened a special WikiLeaks-like website dedicated to the publication of the original documents.1

In addition, the British Guardian, which also publishes WikiLeaks documents, is publishing the Palestinian documents in the same format. In addition, both al-Jazeera and the Guardian are putting much effort into commentaries and explanations of what the documents mean.

It is obvious that al-Jazeera has a political agenda and wants to make a point. The PA sees the publication of the documents as an act of state espionage. An open crisis broke out, with the PA accusing Qatar of treason for hosting the largest U.S. bases in the Middle East.

Charges Meant to Damage the PA’s Reputation

Indeed, the release of the documents has caused great damage to the reputation of the PA and the PLO negotiating team. Sa’eb Erekat noted that while the PA was en route to triumph as it gathered international support for the recognition of a Palestinian state and for isolating Israel, al-Jazeera cut short this triumph and “instead of delegitimizing the occupation, they delegitimized us.”

The main damage caused to the PA and the PLO negotiating team related to their exposure as “traitors” who betrayed Arafat’s red lines on Jerusalem and the right of return, and who collaborated with Israel to the point of helping Israel in assassinating top Hamas terrorists.

On Jerusalem, the main accusation is about betraying Arafat’s legacy of insisting on full Palestinian sovereignty over the al-Aqsa Mosque compound (the Temple Mount), including the cavity beneath the compound, and accepting instead President Clinton’s old parameters of: “what is Jewish to Israel and what is Arab to Palestine.” According to the documents, the Palestinian negotiating team relinquished all Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem except for Har Homa – including Ramot Shlomo, the Jewish neighborhood that sparked the crisis between Israel and the U.S., and Sheikh Jarrah, now a location for demonstrations by international supporters of the Palestinian cause.

On the Palestinian refugees, according to the leaked documents, the PLO negotiating team gave up the right of return. They quote PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’ internal briefing to PA officials that “we cannot demand the return of millions, as this will end Israel.” He has made similar statements to the open media. Abbas is also quoted as offering that 100,000 refugees be allowed to return to Israel proper over ten years, while Israeli Prime Minister Olmert was ready to let in only 1,000 per year, totaling 10,000 after ten years.

Another damaging blow to the PA is the revelation of collaboration in the killing of top Hamas leaders in Gaza. This could lead to a series of revenge attacks on an extended family (hamula) basis that could drag on for generations.

After reading many of the documents, it appears that most of them are genuine and reflected the course of negotiations with Israel’s previous Kadima government. The problem is that because al-Jazeera has a point to prove – that the PLO negotiators betrayed Arafat’s legacy and hurried to cross red lines, with their gestures unreciprocated – Israel is portrayed as a hard-line interlocutor that did not respond to PLO “moderation.” This results in damage to both sides – to the “traitorous” PLO and to “unresponsive” Israel.

Yet there appears to be a clear gap between the substance of these documents and the way they were presented. Besides a readiness to accept the principle of land swaps – from the Clinton parameters – there were no further Palestinian concessions. Nor was there agreement on the size and location of these land swaps. The PLO team was adamant in refusing to agree to Israeli demands to keep the settlement blocs. For example, the Palestinians demanded the dismantling of the city of Ariel (pop. 17,559), and they were ready to consider leaving Israelis living in Ma’ale Adumim (pop. 34,324) only if the Jewish city adjacent to Jerusalem was under Palestinian sovereignty.

While Erekat mentioned “creative ideas” to solve the issue of the al-Aqsa/Temple Mount compound, they have nothing to do with sharing the site with Israel, but rather to establishing an Arab and Muslim consortium to supervise the holy site.

Questions on the Refugee Offer

While the figure of 100,000 refugees to be allowed into Israel is mentioned for the first time in Palestinian sources, it is unclear which side offered this figure. According to previous reports, it was Olmert’s offer that was rejected by Abbas. Abbas himself referred to these documents as a “mixture” of Israeli and PLO positions.2

There are strong reasons to be suspicious of the reports on refugees because of the source of the leak. According to the Ma’an news agency there are two suspects. One is an American bodyguard of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who later worked for an American security firm in the West Bank and is now working with al-Jazeera International in Doha. The other suspect is a negotiator, Ziad Kalut, a French citizen who until half a year ago was working in the NSU and is now employed by the Bureau of the Emir of Qatar. He is mentioned in the documents as dealing with the refugee problem and is the one who prepared the document where Abbas says absorbing millions of refugees inside Israel is not possible.

Kalut had been sent to Amman to iron out problems with Jordan about the PLO claim to also represent the refugees in Jordan. If he really leaked the documents, which is not certain, perhaps he was in a position to forge some of them as well in order to slander the PLO on this sensitive matter and cause collateral damage to Israel. If it is proved that the refugees documents are forged, serious doubts would be cast on the rest of them.

Linking to the General Unrest in the Arab World

A key to evaluating al-Jazeera’s motivation in launching this campaign may be found in an article published on its website by Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian nationalist who stars in al-Jazeera talk shows and spreads the old Nasserite ideology of uniting the Arabs. The Palestinian problem is seen as the main tool to trigger the “Arab masses” to revolt throughout the region. After the Tunisian unrest broke out, Bishara published an article titled: “Tunisization of the Arabs.” The purpose was to link the Palestine Papers with the general unrest in Arab countries in order to return the Palestinian problem as the leading issue for Arab unrest.

Al-Jazeera is now under the management of Wadah Khanfar, a radical Palestinian from Nablus. For years the Arab satellite channel has sought to advance the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood against the Arab regimes. The problem it faces is that the sources of the current wave of Arab unrest are actually local and have nothing to do with pan-Arab ideals or with the Palestinian problem. Nevertheless, al-Jazeera is trying to link the local grievances in every Arab country to a pan-Arab revolution triggered by the Palestinian problem.

Another motivation is to preserve Hamas’ interests. Erekat was right when he said the leaks cut short the PLO’s diplomatic campaign to isolate Israel and gain international recognition of a Palestinian state. The PA success in gathering support for statehood recognition was turning Hamas rule in Gaza into a liability. Once Ramallah is recognized as representing a state, the international community might turn against the separate entity in Gaza and seek to end the problem.

Some encouragement for the PA leadership may be found in the popular reactions among the Palestinians in the West Bank. They did not “revolt” as a result of the leaks, which may indicate that the West Bank Palestinians are ready to compromise as a result of fatigue after the generation-long struggle with Israel. If there is popular rage, it is against al-Jazeera, as seen in attacks on its property in Ramallah and in Tripoli, Lebanon.

Now, after al-Jazeera has brainwashed Arab minds with charges of PLO treason, no declaration of statehood can be expected. Neither will there be a resumption of negotiations with Israel since the Palestinian team will stick to the most hard-line positions possible.

To sum up, al-Jazeera is serving Qatari policy to deepen unrest in the Arab world and link the current local upheavals to the Palestinian problem. In its presentation of the Palestine Papers, al-Jazeera distorted the contents in order to delegitimize the PLO and present Israel as a hard-line non-partner. There is also reason to suspect forgery in the documents referring to refugees since the person suspected of the leaks is the same person who wrote them.

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 Notes

 1. http://transparency.aljazeera.net/ar/search_arabic

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12263671

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 Pinhas Inbari is a senior policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is also a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians: Between Terrorism and Statehood.

About Pinhas Inbari

Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.