On Monday January 23rd, Al-Jazeera leaked over 1,600 confidential documents from behind the closed doors of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. These documents consist of everything from meeting records of international leaders, notes, and verbatim transcripts to renderings of land swap maps drawn up by the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit (NSU).
It is the biggest and most controversial “leak” in the history of the Middle East Conflict, revealing an astonishing gap between the private and publicized positions of Palestinian leaders. The Papers leaked everything from the shocking to the inane, including the secret annexation of East Jerusalem to Israel and Condaleezza Rice’s legitimate suggestion that Palestinian refugees be re-settled in Chile or Argentina.
If the peace process was ever alive to begin with, this was surely the last nail in its pathetic coffin. For any Palestinian or Palestinian activist, these papers are an infuriating, heartbreaking, and predictable detailed account of the surrender of every single one of Palestine’s rights under international law.
Perhaps the most grave and telling of these concessions and severely compromised rights is the right of return. In 1948, more than two-thirds of the Palestinian population was forcefully expelled from their land, scattered throughout the Arab world in what would later become known as their, “Al Nakba” or “the catastrophe.”
Sixty-three years later, there are more than five million Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East. In Palestine itself, they are crowded into refugee camps, living under military occupation as well as in squalor and economic hopelessness. In other Arab countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, they are notoriously treated as second-class citizens, unable to buy property or qualify for most jobs and virtually banned from establish themselves in society. They are discriminated against and repeatedly denied work permits, making their only viable option to stay in a refugee camp.
Despite their traumatic history and the hopelessness of their situation, many Palestinian refugees still hold onto the keys from their homes in hope that they will someday reunite with their families and return to their villages. In reality, most of their homes have since been uprooted by Caterpillar Bulldozers, and most of their villages are now whitewashed Israeli settlements. Nevertheless, these treasure-chest style keys are all they have left of their memories and symbolize their persistent hope for the right to return.
Meanwhile, at the negotiation tables, the right to return is little more than a bargaining chip.
One of the eternal, and cherished conditions of the peace process is that all Palestinian refugees who were wrongfully expelled from their homes have the right to return or due compensation. According to the Palestinian Papers, Palestinian leaders were offered, and accepted that no more than 10,000 refugees, a mere 0.2 per cent of the total, would be granted the right to return over the next ten years. Mahmoud Abbas, a refugee himself and the president of the Palestinian National Authority, even said that, “It is illogical to ask Israel to take five million or even one million. That would mean the end of Israel.”
As if Palestinian refugees rights were not compromised enough, the Palestine Papers repeatedly bring up Former Israeli Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s suggestion for a “transfer” of Israeli-Arabs into a neighboring Palestinian state. Though any downtrodden Palestine advocate salivates at the mere words, “Independent Palestinian State,” this is actually one of the most racist, insensitive, and politically problematic suggestions that has ever been brought to the negotiation tables.
Often referred to by Israeli officials as the “two states for two peoples” solution, it advocates for creating an ethnically pure Jewish state by founding a neighboring Palestinian state, or dumping ground for the Israeli-Arab population. It is soft genocide at its finest, openly asserting the ethnic undesirability of its 1.4 million Arab citizens.
Though any Jew in the world would be guaranteed immediate citizenship in Israel, these Palestinians who are living on their land and can trace their heritage back for generations would have to either renounce their Israeli citizenship or swear a loyalty oath to the Jewish state of Israel, effectively erasing all Palestinian history and even further nullifying the right of return.
Most media is referring to the “slow death” of the peace process, but the Palestine Papers make it difficult to believe that it was ever alive in the first place. For the past twenty years, various Palestinian, Israeli, and American leaders have played out a series of public relations charades, some more convincing than others. Throughout this process, they never seemed to acknowledge that the only way to hold a valid negotiation is when both sides are understood and treated as equals, accepting the other party as legitimate with a mutual end goal of a just peace for both parties. When one side is occupied, and the other is an occupier (and the “unbiased” arbitrator presides over a country that donates over $3.1 billion in foreign aid to the occupier), it is laughable to imagine that negotiating a just peace was ever on the table to begin with.
It is fairly evident that after twenty years of negotiations, some more farcical than others, the peace process is finally dead. Now the question at stake is what is the future of Palestine?