While The Palestine Papers showed signs of considerable flexibility on the Haram al-Sharif from the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator, they also confirmed for the first time the PA's disposition to concede sovereignty over large parts of East Jerusalem, including all the illegal settlements except Jabal Abu Ghuneim (Har Homa).
At a trilateral US-Israeli-Palestinian meeting on June 15, 2008, Ahmed Qurei summarised to his American interlocutors the results of a previous meeting (held on May 4), saying “we proposed Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa)." He conceded that “this is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so in Camp David.”
Given that these illegal settlements were built on stolen land privately owned by Palestinians in the occupied territories, it is astonishing and breathtaking that such an offer was made by the very negotiators who were supposed to protect Palestinian interests.
Characteristically, Livni commented on Qurei's proposal: "When we decided on the annexation, we made it clear to the Palestinians that we will not compensate them with land that is part of Israel now," she said, implying that they are not prepared to contemplate an exchange of land for East Jerusalem - because, as far as they were concerned, it was an Israeli city.
In effect, therefore, while the Palestinians appeared exceedingly generous, the Israelis were prepared to extract as much as they could for nothing.
An inflexible position
The Israeli position on Jerusalem did not move an inch during negotiation. According to the minutes of a meeting held on 13 November 2007, she said:
Livni: Israel the state of the Jewish people -- and I would like to emphasize the meaning of “its people” is the Jewish people -- with Jerusalem the united and undivided capital of Israel and of the Jewish people for 3007 years...
The details of the Palestinian concessions are best read in the minutes of May 4, 2008 meeting. They show that Palestinian negotiators conceded all of East Jerusalem's illegal settlements, including Ramot Shlomo, Pisgat Ze'ev, French Hill, Nave Yakov and Gilo. The detailed maps presented by the Palestinian team show that while they did not allow Israel the major “greater Jerusalem” settlement blocs – Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion – they nonetheless offered to give permanence to the sizable illegal Israeli settlements with proximity to the Old City.
This would be part of a pattern of staggering concessions. The maps proffered by the Palestinian negotiators show that in the northern part of the city, Israel would annex 15.1 square kilometres, occupied by 136,000 settlers. The Palestinians received nothing in return for this concession.
In the southern part of Jerusalem, the trend was the same. The PLO conceded 6.68 square kilometres and received a mere 0.37 square kilometres. The area they conceded is currently occupied by some 41,500 settlers. Altogether, the PLO surrendered 22 square kilometres of Jerusalem and in the process effectually legalised the occupation of some 177,500 Jewish settlers.
The land swap proposal (already rejected by Livni) worked out to be at an incredible ratio of 50:1 in Israel’s favour. Erekat himself pointed out, “This is the first time in Palestinian-Israeli history in which such a suggestion is officially made. What we are doing no one will do for us, not the Americans or the Europeans.”
Although Israel has never been in need of an excuse to expand its colonial settlements in Jerusalem, the reckless performance of the Palestinian negotiators certainly whetted the Israeli appetite. The current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, claimed last year that “everyone – including the Palestinians – understood that neighbourhoods like Gilo and Ramat Shlomo would remain part of Israel in any final agreement, and that this has been the case in all the various plans drawn up over the years.”
Willing to go further
The Palestine Papers reveal that the PA's negotiators seemed unrestrained throughout the process, as if what was given on May 4, 2008 was not enough. Qurei showed a willingness to go even further, to swap land in Arab neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem such as Sheikh Jarrah. Following a meeting on June 30, 2008 he said regarding the swaps: "So for an area in Sheikh Jarrah, I have to see [an] equivalent area”.
Sheikh Jarrah, it must be emphasised, is a Palestinian residential neighbourhood located to the north of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem. It is home to some 2,800 Palestinians and includes many well-known landmarks, such as the Orient House, the American Colony Hotel, the Palestinian National Theatre and the Shepherd Hotel. (The Israelis demolished this historic hotel on 9 January 2011 to build a settlement.)
Owing to its strategic location, Israeli settler groups have in recent years made persistent efforts to appropriate land and property in Sheikh Jarrah in order to establish new settlements. As a result, over 60 Palestinians have already lost their homes and another 500 remain at risk of forced eviction, dispossession and displacement in the near future.
Our reading of the Palestine Papers reveal a startling pattern of concessions that woefully failed to protect Palestinian, Arab and Muslim interest in Jerusalem. In an overall sense, these compromises would result in the de facto recognition of the comprehensive demographic and territorial changes brought about by the Israeli annexation.
From a Palestinian point of view, it would provide for the wholesale transfer of Palestinian land in Jerusalem to Israel and its settler colonies, with practically nothing in return. The readiness of the Palestinian negotiators to concede territories in Jerusalem contrasts markedly with the positions of the Israelis, despite the fact that they have no legal right to the territories. Their attitude was to refuse to discuss the issue.
The Palestine Papers, however, reveal startling contradictions between the private and public disclosures of the Palestinian negotiators. Our analysis of these documents indicates a simplistic and rather naïve approach on their part. At best it can be described as cavalier, insofar as it affects the holy sites.
The late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat had no such illusions or inhibitions on these matters. When pressured to cross the red line on Jerusalem in 2000 he told President Clinton, "If anyone imagines that I might sign away Jerusalem, he is mistaken. I am not only the leader of the Palestinian people; I am also the vice president of the Islamic Conference. I also defend the rights of Christians. I will not sell Jerusalem."
Dr Daud Abdullah is the director of the Middle East Monitor - an independent media research institution founded in the United Kingdom to foster a fair and accurate coverage in the Western media of Middle Eastern issues and in particular the Palestine Question.