Al Jazeera’s stunning revelations about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have different meanings for Israelis, Americans and for Palestinians.
The bottom line is that, despite the assurances it gave to the Palestinian people that it was driving a hard bargain with the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority accepted Israel’s position on every key point: borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees.
On no major issue did the PA hold the line. None.
The Palestinians offered Israel everything Israel wants and Israel still said “no” with the backing of the United States.
So what does it mean?
For Palestinians, it means that the Palestinian Authority understands that with the United States solidly backing every Israeli position no matter how extreme, the only thing it can do is negotiate for crumbs. It never told the Palestinian people that it was unable to represent them in any serious way. Its credibility is in tatters, although it is hard not to have sympathy for the PA. What can it really do when it, not Israel, has no negotiating partner and, on top of it, America sits on its face like a thousand pound gorilla?
For Israelis, they can be reassured (if they are on the right) that they have a government that intends never to give up anything. The settlements — even mega-settlement Ariel, smack dab in the middle of the West Bank — are safe. All of Jerusalem will be theirs. Above all, they need not worry about negotiations because Israel is not really negotiating. It is playing at negotiating.
The Israeli left learns nothing new here except that the Netanyahu government has no interest in peace on any terms and that more wars are inevitable. It needs to bring this government down and elect one expressly dedicated to ending the occupation. (Yes, that could take years.)
As for Americans, we learn, as if we didn’t know, that due to the pressure of AIPAC, we simply lie about the whole conflict. We pretend that the Palestinians still need to make concessions for peace when there are none left to make. No matter what the provocation — the brutal attack on Gaza flotilla, the blockading of Gaza, Israel’s lies about the Goldstone Report, the land grabs in Jerusalem, the shootings of innocent Palestinians, the monstrous behavior of settlers — we are silent UNLESS we can enthusiastically endorse Israel’s position. We are not an honest broker. We are no broker at all. Worst of all, we know (the Al Jazeera papers confirm this) that we are endorsing Israeli positions that we know not to be true.
Why do we do it? The same reason we don’t ban assault weapons. A lobby (only in this case, the lobby of a foreign government) is dictating our policies with no regard for the greater American good.
So what’s next? One, the United States must now absolutely refuse to veto the UN resolution condemning settlements or demonstrate to the world that, despite the Al Jazeera revelations, we are still utterly in Israel’s pocket (I won’t hold my breath). And, two, the Palestinian Authority must reach out to Hamas with the goal of calling new elections in which Palestinians can choose a legitimate democratically-elected leadership which can then — in the name of all Palestinians — declare the state.
Yes, such a declaration will be symbolic. But what a symbol! Palestine will be a country, with a flag flying at the UN and a seat in the General Assembly. It will not control territory…yet. But it will have a powerful voice that will be heard throughout the entire world. Nelson Mandela had a lot less when he started.
There is no alternative. The Palestinians must declare their state and then reach out to the majority of Israelis who will welcome its establishment and will join with it to help make a symbol a reality.