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The 'Palestine Papers' through Edward Said's eyes

By Staff writer / January 24, 2011



Shortly after the 1993 Oslo Accords, meant to be the first step on a short road to a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, the late Palestinian activist and academic Edward Said wrote a gloomy essay for the London Review of Books, predicting that Oslo's ultimate effect would be to delegitimize the PLO in the eyes of its own people and cost the Palestinians major chunks of land.

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In the light of "Palestine Papers" being released by Al Jazeera, which, if accurate, show a weak Palestinian Authority (the child of Oslo) being rebuked by Israel because the concessions it offers are insufficient, the 17-year-old piece makes for fascinating reading.

"The Israeli calculation seems to be that by agreeing to police Gaza – a job which [former Prime Minister Menachem] Begin tried to give [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat 15 years ago – the PLO would soon fall afoul of local competitors, of whom Hamas is only one. Moreover, rather than becoming stronger during the interim period, the Palestinians may grow weaker, come more under the Israeli thumb, and therefore be less able to dispute the Israeli claim when the last set of negotiations begins. But on the matter of how, by what specific mechanism, to get from an interim status to a later one, the document is purposefully silent. Does this mean, ominously, that the interim stage may be the final one?"

The PLO did indeed end up swamped by Hamas in Gaza. The years since in the West Bank have been ones of increasing "facts on the ground" created by Israeli settlers. And if the Al Jazeera documents are right, they show a very weak PA. In minutes of a May 4, 2008, meeting, according to the Palestine Papers, Israel is offered a land swap of 1.9 percent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to about 302,000 settlers, in exchange for 1.9 percent of Israeli land in the north of the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip's eastern flank.

Israel wasn't interested. Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister at the time, counter-offered on August 31 of that year, according to notes of the meeting from the Palestinian side: 6.8 percent of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to an estimated 413,000 settlers, in exchange for 5.5 percent of Israel land. Instead of a one-for-one land swap, Israeli was demanding a much larger chunk for itself. The Palestinian notes said the deal would allow for the return of 5,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel as a "humanitarian" gesture.

That round of negotiations understandably went nowhere.

Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar echoed Said's comments on the "interim stage being final" today. In a column criticizing a proposal by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that a temporary Palestinian state be created on about 50 percent of the West Bank, he writes: "In the 17 years that have passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians have learned that with the Israelis there is nothing more permanent than the temporary."

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