One of the two main issues holding up the advance of the peace process (the other is control of Jerusalem) is whether or not the five-to-seven million so-called “Palestinian refugees” should have the right to take up residence in sovereign Israel.
Israel, of course, rejects this condition, as it would mean the demographic destruction of the Jewish state. The Palestinian leadership publicly insists that the “right of return” will never be surrendered, but in private they apparently agree with Israel.
On Monday, the pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera released yet more documents detailing meetings between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Palestinian leaders regarding the peace process. Those documents have been dubbed “The Palestine Papers.”
One of the most recently published documents details a June 2009 meeting between Palestinian Authority officials during which chief negotiator Saeb Erekat states that the Palestinian leadership is ready to accept that only 10,000 Palestinian refugees will be allowed to take up residence in Israel.
Another document has Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas telling a gathering of Palestinian negotiators in 2008 that “it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or even 1 million - that would mean the end of Israel.”
Documents released on Sunday showed that Abbas and Erekat were also willing to cede large parts of eastern Jerusalem to Israel.
These revelations beg the question, why does the Palestinian leadership continue to make such a big deal about the refugees in public, even going so far as to use militant rhetoric? Also, why did they not sign an agreement with the leftist government of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was ready to match these concessions by surrendering most of Judea and Samaria?
For those who have been following the Middle East conflict with their eyes open, the answer is that these Palestinian concessions behind closed doors amount to a negotiating tactic. The leaders know that voicing these offers will make them look conciliatory, even as they have themselves prepared the Palestinian public to violently reject such gestures.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership continues to fume over these embarrassing revelations.
In a written response published by the Bethlehem-based Ma’an news agency, Erekat said the Palestine Papers had “misrepresented our positions,” but acknowledged that concessions had been discussed in private that the Palestinian leadership knew would be rejected by the Palestinian public.
The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda) issued a statement saying that the Palestine Papers had only confirmed the suspicions they had about the Abbas and his government, and demanded that the current Palestinian leadership be replaced immediately.
Jerusalem Post analyst Khaled Abu Toameh wrote that Al Jazeera had also basically judged Abbas and his regime to be traitors, and that the network and the rest of the Arab world are now just waiting for the Palestinian street to carry out the sentence.
The Palestinian Authority is reportedly interrogating employees at the PLO Negotiations Department on suspicion that one or two officials there leaked the documents to Al Jazeera in exchange for a large payment.
Even so, top Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo said the story would have never been aired without a green light from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.
Rabbo claimed the publication of the documents is part of a political campaign being directed by the emir, and accused Al Jazeera of massaging the information to make the Palestinian Authority look as bad as possible.
Washington was also none too happy about the situation. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the Palestine Papers would make it even more difficult for the Obama Administration to broker a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.