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The leaders got it all wrong: Palestinian view on Palestine Papers

There are no real surprises in the Palestine Papers. The PA’s stumbling, incoherent responses to the allegedly scandalous revelations are not surprising either. The real lesson to be gleaned from the documents is that the Palestinian negotiators failed to understand the goal of ‘peace’ negotiations

By Maath Musleh

The revelations in the Palestine Papers, which are currently being published in sections by Al Jazeera and the Guardian, are not shocking. It is common knowledge that the Palestinian Authority was willing to make enormous concessions in order to protect its interests. Actually, if the concessions documented in the Palestine Papers released so far are the extent of the revelations, then that would be shocking. The betrayals of the Palestinian negotiating team and the Palestinian Authority have long been old news.

So who leaked the documents? I’m not sure the question is really that interesting. I can point out that ever since President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) declared war on former Gaza strongman and Fatah rival Mohamed Dahlan, it has been obvious that Dahlan would never fall alone. Revenge is sweet.

But what really caught my attention was the PA’s dismal media strategy, its most prominent characteristic being the complete lack of any unified position. These guys really need to get their stories straight.

Abbas did not question the documents’ authenticity. Instead, he said that the Arab states were completely aware of all aspects of negotiations with the Israelis. In other words, he tried to drag all the Arab states into the fight – which is a strategy he has been using for a long time. He has always relied on the support of the Arab governments.

PLO negotiating team leader Saeb Erekat, on the other hand, said that the Palestine Papers were “a bunch of lies.” Then he added, “The revelations do not deviate from what was discussed at Camp David.” Erakat always pulls the “Arafat Card,” as if to imply that by questioning Arafat, one is questioning the Palestinian revolution.

As for Yasser Abed Rabbo (Abu Bashar), he played the Sunni-Shi’ite card – but in the most ridiculous way: he accused the Sunni Hamas leaders of being the tools of the Shi’ite Iranians. That’s Abu Bashar’s strategy: he always blames the Iranians and the Shi’ites for ruining the Palestinian Authority’s reputation – as if the PA had any reputation left to preserve.

Yasser Arafat's tomb at the muqata in Ramallah (photo: Lisa Goldman)

Another great defender of the PA is Maan News editor in chief, Nasser Laham. I find it amusing that he likes to give lessons in media ethics to others. Every time the media exposes a scandal in the PA he writes two or three opinion pieces in response. But instead of discussing the scandal itself, he discusses the hairstyle of the television news announcer, or the amount of weight he gained. Mr. Laham, you almost convinced us that you’re a media expert. Perhaps Maan followers are unaware that Mr. Laham does not have any journalistic qualifications. And no, the $1.5 million of USAID-funded equipment in Maan’s studios are not the fruits of his professionalism.

Following the publication of the Palestine Papers, Mr. Laham questioned Al Jazeera’s motives for publishing the documents. His argument was not that the information was inaccurate, but rather that Al Jazeera was “helping the enemy by exposing our scandals.” Perhaps he has forgotten that Maan is supposed to be an independent news outlet – not the official news outlet of the Palestinian Authority.

And, of course, we will hear different responses to the Palestine Papers from Fatah’s Central Committee, the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. Abbas will respond as head of the PA, then as head of Fatah and finally as head of the PLO. Erakat will respond on behalf of the PA, as the PLO’s chief negotiator and then as a member of Fatah’s Central Committee. And so it will continue, down the Palestinian leadership.

So for those of you under the impression that there are many Palestinian leaders defending the PA, don’t be fooled. The cacophony of voices comes from a few people who belong to many different clubs, and they are active members of them all.

Then we have the opportunism of Hamas, which is predictably disgusting. Yes, we all understand that Hamas wants to rule over the West Bank as well as Gaza. Thank heavens they are too stupid to succeed.

It is probably true that the Israeli government wants to get rid of Mahmoud Abbas. This is not because Abbas is particularly good for the Palestinians, but rather because the Israeli government’s greed knows no limits. The PA in general, and Abbas in particular, are being bullied. Abbas is like the kid in school whose lunch is stolen every morning by the class bully. He placates them by saying it’s okay, he doesn’t really want it, just let him have a bite or two if he’s hungry. Instead of giving him a bite as requested, the bully says, “Tell your mother to add more salt next time.”

What Abbas and his peers don’t understand is that peace is not the target. If peace was the target, then the Palestinians could have just left and handed over their land to the Israelis. There you go – no more war.

But this is not about peace. It is about rights and dignity. Of course everyone wants peace. But peace is not just an absence of war. Peace is a state of being, in which people have their rights and dignity. It’s a state of being whereby no one infringes on anyone’s rights. For the Palestinians, the state of peace is what will be when the occupation ends and the refugees have their rights and dignity. Abbas is like a shallow beauty pageant contestant who, when asked, “What is your greatest wish?” answers, “World peace.”

I don’t know if what we’re witnessing is funny or tragic. But I know one thing: The day these people fall, they will fall hard.

Maath Musleh is a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who was employed for two years as a social media specialist for the United States Consulate General in Jerusalem. Currently he is a freelance social media consultant and producer.

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    1. Harvey Stein

      All I see is the whole huge world of hype, distortion, selective ignorance, etc, of EVERYONE (not the Palestinian negotiators, but us onlookers to the leaks) in this somewhat ridiculous Palestine Papers affair – the leaks seems to be simply bringing out the hidden agendas of everyone involved in releasing and discussing these “leaks”. And so I disagree with Maath Musleh’s basic thesis, that the Palestinian team has no dignity.

      According to Bernard Avishai’s recent blog post, the Guardian chose not to highlight the second half of one of Erekat’s statements to Livni:

      “It is no secret that…we are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew word for Jerusalem] in history. But we must talk about the concept of al-Quds [Jerusalem in Arabic].” The Guardian put in the headline only the first part of the sentence, and then implied in the story that Erekat was a kind of Patti Hearst, adopting the conquerer’s language, when he was in fact trying to create an atmosphere of empathic reciprocity.
      Does the Guardian actually like this conflict? If this quote of Erekat’s is accurate, then he is precisely trying to preserve Palestinian dignity, in the face of Israeli rapaciousness.

      Sure it’s easy to chip away at anyone in power (and I’m happy to do that in the case of Israel’s right wing government!), but where does this outsider’s perspective leave us in the case of the Palestinian leadership? Maath – what do you suggest in terms of preserving Palestinian rights and dignity? How do we get there in the real world?

      Reply to Comment
    2. zvi

      “But peace is not just an absence of war. Peace is a state of being….” Well put!

      I have yet to meet a Palestinian who had anything good to say about their leadership. All of them, with the accent on “them”. I have no idea how we can move forward, but Israel’s persistent efforts to undermine Palestinian institutions of governance is not helpful….

      Reply to Comment
    3. Fares S. Mansour

      As an Arab living in Jerusalem as well, i don’t agree with Mr. Maath Musleh on some of the points he made, especially the betrayal part of the PA to the people, the PA simply doesn’t have anything to offer israel, they gave everything ( recognition, alteration of charter, dropping of historic claims, etc.) back in the late 80’s; and the israelis simply forgot, and dragged the negotiations 20 years while building settlements on top of land captured in 1967. the PA is trying to move on the thin line of getting a viable country out of israeli claws and keeping the dignity and freedom of the Palestinian people.
      i personally don’t like calling the PA traitors for negotiating the hard issues, what are your proposals Mr. Maath Musleh? israel will give you an unjust proposal and you’ll refuse, guess what happens next…
      In 1947 Arabs refused, Palestinians lost, in 1967 Arabs bluffed and Palestinians lost again, this Aljazeera leak is reminding me of the older stories: “NO!. REFUSE!. DON’T ACCEPT!.” and we’ll end up in a big prison like in Gaza, but we’ll have our dignity i suppose.
      and No, Abbas was not trying to drag Arab leaders into the issue, all negotiations and Palestinian proposals are sent to the Arab league to keep them updated and to make sure the Arab league is ok with them.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Maath Musleh

      Harvey, as I said, the papers were not shocking. The majority of Palestinians have been talking about even more concessions publicly long time ago. I meant to specifically highlight the negotiators’ responses to this scandal. And just to make something clear, about Erikat, this blog just proves the contradicting personality that I pointed. “Yeah sure you can have all Jerusalem, but let’s talk about Jerusalem”.
      I also have to make something clear. These are not the Palestinians leadership, at least not the leadership chosen by the Palestinians. First you know very well, a government established under occupation is not legal. Second, even if we want to disregard this fact, remember that Abu Mazen has outlasted his presidency period. And in the last elections when Hamas won (not because people want Hamas but because they don’t want these people in the PA now) Hamas leadership was boycotted and marginalized because Israel and the US don’t want them. And third point to keep in mind is that only West Bankers and Gazans participate in these Elections (less than 40% of the Palestinians). So I think we can agree that these are not the Palestinians leaders. And again to be clear on your last question, having a state is not our priority (we can also debate if it’s a right), the priority and the Palestinian right is in the Refugees’ rights; let’s also remember the right of the return is a personal right, so really not under any circumstances any Palestinian leader could bargain with it.

      So what do I suggest to preserve the Palestinian rights and dignity? I suggest the negotiators reprioritize their demands. Put the Refugees’ rights up at the first place and drop the demand of their state down low to the bottom.

      Anyways, as I know this is not the right setting for a debate, if you feel like discussing certain points that you don’t aagree with, please feel free to write me on maath.musleh@gmail.com

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ola Ezzedine !

      ” Peace is a state of being ”
      may god bless those people who touched our souls with their simple words ! God bless you Mr.Maath !

      Reply to Comment
    6. ilana sebba

      Mr. Maath,
      I would be interested in more of your specific ideas as to how to put the rights of the refugees back on top, what do you envision in a practical way?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Maath Musleh

      Thank you very much Ms. Ilana. You’re really the first one to ask me this question. People anti the rights of the refugees just say it’s impossible without even looking into ideas on making it possible.

      Anyways, as alot of people, I do have a vision on that, I’ve been working on writting something on that for a while. As soon as it’s ready and published, I’ll let you know.

      Thanks again.

      Reply to Comment
    8. MM

      Good Job Maath,
      Keep up the good work. I’m looking forward to read ur paper on how you envision the rights of refugees.

      Reply to Comment