The leaks of the Palestine Papers, now being published by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian, are important on many levels and for many reasons. But after reading some of the documents, what strikes me most is the tone of condescension in the Israeli negotiators, up to Tzipi Livni – condescension, sarcasm, and the feeling of having all the time in the world. (Livni opens a meeting in which the Palestinians present their detailed proposal for Jerusalem by saying, "Based on what I have heard in the trilateral meeting with Condoleeza Rice, I believe that your offer will not be exciting.") Part of this may be to the inexperience of the Israeli negotiators, who have changed repeatedly since 2000 (well, not so repeatedly; there were virtually no negotiations when Sharon was Prime Minister.) On the Palestinian side you have men like Saeb Erekat and Ahmad Qurei, who have been involved with negotations with Israelis since the 1980's, at least. But most of it stems from the fact that Israel thinks it holds all the cards and knows that it is under no pressure to give an inch. Abu Ala' in effect gave Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert Yerushalayim on a silver platter. And according to these documents, anyway, the Israelis did not even make a counter-offer.
What also strikes me is the complete absence of Israeli give-and-take at all. In any serious negotiation, there is some sort of give-and-take that brings on an agreement. But in this negotiation, there is no Israeli give, partly because of the imbalance of power and partly because the two sides are not negotiating over the same thing. For the Israelis, Jerusalem and the surrounding settlements, as defined by Israel are not negotiable. Period. What they seem to be willing to negotiate is a handful of Arabs living within East Jerusalem having citizenship in the Palestinian state. But from a territorial view, what determines Israel's starting point is "facts on the ground". The only border Israel is willing to consider is the "border" that it has consistently moved over the last forty three years. The Palestinians, on the other hand, and like the rest of the world, still refer to the 1967 border. The Israeli negotiators consistently refuse to allow even negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 border. It simply does not exist in their head. What the Israelis want to do is to be "creative", to have a "new approach," not to rely on any international law, to create a "soft language".
The same is true of the general negotiations over borders. In fact, the Israelis explicitly say that they don't want to think of this negotiation as a give and take. Here is an excerpt from 12 March, 2008, the first meeting on territory.
Udi Dekel: We don't see the 1967 border as a reference, first because we don't even know exactly where the line is.
Saeb Arekat: We have all the maps that were signed by you.
UD: But that wasn't exactly the line on the ground.
SA: If not the 1967 line, then what is your reference?
UD: We said already, the situation on the ground.
SA: The wall?
UD: The security fence is not a border. Unfortunately, it is needed for security. Every week we intercept 3 to 4 suicide bombers. As we've said before, the fence is not a border and can be moved like we did with Lebanon. [ Comment by Jerry: This standard Israeli line was belied by the government lawyers' testimony before the Supreme Court in the Bil'in case, where they said that Israel would indeed claim the area up to the fence in subsequent negotiations.].
Nizar Farsakh: What is your frame of reference?
UD: We're talking about blocs of settlements—not far in the West Bank, but close to the area we are talking about—are to be part of Israel. In Oslo we used the West Bank outline map.
DT: It is the West Bank outline map, in which under our law Israeli military law is applied.
SA: This is your law. In our law, the line is 1967.
DT: Based on which maps? There is no…
SA: This is the standard we've worked from, from Oslo to Taba… we are not going to discuss any other line. If we're going to waste time this is something else.
UD: This is your opinion, but not our opinion. It is very difficult to locate the exact line of the situation that existed on 4 June 1967. It's not the same line. But for us, the baseline we use is the outline of the West Bank. It may be close, but it's not the same line. You mentioned the NML—you can't say this is "occupied".
SA: It doesn't belong to you either. The Jordan army was there at least in some places, but the Israeli army was not anywhere (in the NML).
UD: This is our line. We have proof that the area was split and we consider it part of Israel
NF: This was a gentlemen's agreement that was not signed whereby the farmers from each side cultivate up to the middle of the NML, but then a dispute erupted in 1964 whereby this arrangement was dismissed.
UD: We do not agree.
NF: OK, then we agree to disagree.
Khalid Elgindy: There are two practical problems with your approach. How can we start from realities on the ground when the situation on the ground keeps changing, even as we speak. Second, how can we identify which areas in Israel would be swapped in exchange for what is being taken in the West Bank if we don't have a reference line?
UD: We are not speaking in the same dimension. We are not speaking about "giving" and "taking"… we are taking about realities. Our goal is to create a better situation for Palestinians, as well as for Israelis.
UD: We didn't take anything from you. No Palestinian state existed before. When you say 1967, it's not something we can recognize. First, it's not a border. Second, we don't know exactly where it is. So we have to forget those things. It doesn't help to talk about what we "take" or "give". Also, percentages don't help. But if we agree on a border then we can move forward
NF: We're disagreeing over approach. I still fail to see how this is so. Yes, the exact 1967 line is hard to know but there are ways to deal with this. With Jordan you had that problem because of the vague definition of the boundary in Wadi Araba (where it said the middle of the wadi) and you split the difference between your interpretation and the Jordanian one. We can deal with any discrepancies between your interpretation and ours. But need some sort of starting point.
KE: The entire international community does not accept Israeli sovereignty in any of the territory occupied in 1967. You are asking us to accept what the whole world is refusing to accept. This is not logical.
UD: The international community is not relevant here. We are not agreeing with them; we are agreeing with you on the border between us. And there wasn't a border. All the maps we agreed upon are based on that line ["WB outline"].
KE: But even your line is based on the 1967 line. If we compare your line to 1967 line we'll find that it coincides everywhere except the Latrun NML and Jerusalem. You mentioned UNSC Res. 242, which itself means the 1967 line.
UD: You know the wording of 242 so… Maybe we can start by identifying differences between our West Bank outline and what you call 1967.
SA: We have maps and you have maps, but if you want an international commission to judge where the line is, this is a waste of time.
UD: We want to reach an agreement between us. We don't need the international community to tell us what to do.
SA: We cannot take the line you created.
UD: It's not created, it is used in our agreements with you in Oslo. It's based on this line ["WB outline"]
NF: The Interim Agreement has no line. It just shows Areas A and B.
UD: But the percentage of the areas are calculated according to that line.
NF: That still does not mean that we accept that line. [Jerry's Comment: In fact, the Israeli line could not have been accepted by the PA because that would have ipso facto meant reinquishing claims to East Jerusalem. So an Israeli line that was given status as an interim line, much to the detriment of the Palestinians, was now being claimed as the base line on which negotations for final borders would be made.] I can draw 100 different lines and still get the same areas; that is not a standard.
UD: Let's check the line you have and what we have. If it's 90% the same, we can work on the rest…
SA: but we used this line in Camp David and Taba, so why restart the discussion?
UD: I'm trying to change the language between us, to create a soft language between us. We don't want to fight over symbols; we'd like to create a new approach. If we use symbols, it will be very difficult for you, and for us. We'd like to have a new approach—not looking at maps signed by Moshe Dayan and Jordanians in the 1950s.
SA: We also want to be creative and have an open mind to make an agreement acceptable. But you cannot impose on me facts on the ground that you created and say this is the starting point. These facts on the ground caused lots of problems for us. We want to be creative
h/t to Matt Duss for pointing me to this document.