Will Leaks End Mideast Peace Process?

January 24th, 2011 at 4:54 pm David Frum | 18 Comments |

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The leaked documents published by Al-Jazeera and The Guardian show the Palestinian Authority considering concessions in exchange for big gains. But, as I discuss in my latest column for CNN, the revelations may have also lost them the support of the Palestinian people.

It’s being called a Palestinian Wikileaks: a dump of 1,600 Palestinian Authority documents to Al-Jazeera and the British newspaper The Guardian.

The first releases reveal Palestinian negotiating concessions. Later releases will (the Guardian claims) detail the extent of Israeli-Palestinian Authority security cooperation.

In the words of a Guardian columnist today:

“Who will be most damaged by this extraordinary glimpse into the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Perhaps the first casualty will be Palestinian national pride, their collective sense of dignity in adversity badly wounded by the papers revealed today.

“Many on the Palestinian streets will recoil to read not just the concessions offered by their representatives — starting with the yielding of those parts of East Jerusalem settled by Israeli Jews — but the language in which those concessions were made.”

More bluntly, Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, has suggested that January 23, 2011, be marked as the day “the two-state solution died.”

Yet very arguably, the real news about the documents is that there is no news.

Former Palestinian Liberation Organization representative Karma Nabulsi writes on the Guardian’s website, “had such deals eventually come to light, Palestinians would have rejected them comprehensively.” Nabulsi is almost certainly correct, and that is the tragedy of the story.

When American officials think about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, they see a simple solution:

Divide the country along the 1967 armistice lines. The Palestinians get the West Bank and Gaza. Israel gets Israel. Jerusalem is shared somehow. The Palestinian state is disarmed, so that Israel gets security. The international community is mobilized, so that the Palestinians get money.

That rough sketch leaves aside many important technical details — water rights, for example — but basically, it’s the answer that every American president since Jimmy Carter has carried in his head.

This answer seems so compelling to Americans that you’ll often hear U.S. experts on the issue say, “Everybody knows what the answer has to be.”

“Everybody knows”? Not so fast.

The Palestinian leaks show the Palestinian Authority leadership trying to work their way to the answer that “everybody knows.”

But the secrecy surrounding the documents — and the reaction to the leak — confirms the Israelis’ worst fear: The Palestinian population does not, in fact, “know” what “everybody knows.” And a Palestinian leadership that did “know” what “everybody knows” is now being reviled by its own population as traitors and sell-outs.

What, after all, are the big, shameful concessions contained in the documents? Where are the wounds to Palestinian national pride?

• The documents as reported demand Palestinian sovereignty over almost all of historic Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

• The documents demand Palestinian control of lands equal in territory to the 1967 lands. Any border adjustment to reflect Israeli settlement activity would have to be balanced by an equivalent surrender of Israeli land to the new Palestinian state.

• Even after the Palestinians get their state on the other side of the 1967 line, the documents demand some kind of recognition of a Palestinian right to “return” to the Israeli side of the line. At one point, the documents suggest that the Israelis be required to resettle 100,000 Palestinians inside Israel.

If these ideas had been accepted as the basis of a final treaty between Israel and Palestine, every Middle East expert in Washington would have agreed that the Palestinians had done very, very, very well for themselves.

And yet, it never happened. It did not happen in very large part for exactly the reason now confessed by angry Palestinians themselves: because the actual demands of the Palestinian population are so much greater than any diplomat can gain.

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18 Comments so far ↓

  • lessadoabouteverything

    Absolutely right David. “Former Palestinian Liberation Organization representative Karma Nabulsi writes on the Guardian’s website, “had such deals eventually come to light, Palestinians would have rejected them comprehensively.” Nabulsi is almost certainly correct, and that is the tragedy of the story.” The Palestinians have needed a Sadat for generations, instead they get corrupt little men or thugs.

    Actually I don’t find this so objectionable: At one point, the documents suggest that the Israelis be required to resettle 100,000 Palestinians inside Israel.
    This would be likely old Palestinians who want to die in the town in which they were born. This is not a big price to pay. In fact most of the theoretical outlines the Palestinians considered are not out of line. My one big criticism is that adhering to that roughly equal territory to 1967 would consign many Arab Israeli citizens to a nascent Palestinian state against their will (I suppose a plebiscite could be arranged but imagine the horror for everyone if the Palestinians chose to remain Israelis)

    Frankly the way things are are likely to be the way things are at the Centiniel of Israel. I despair of any real solution outside of one Israel unilaterally imposes.

    I do, however, have my own solutions. The US can annex Gaza, move all the Gazans to Detroit (would they even know the difference?) and turn Gaza into Club Med. Israel can then declare the West Bank as Palestine and build a huge wall. Or we can swap out Tibetans and Palestinians. In six months the West Bank and Gaza would be overrun by tourists and be an economic boom area. As to the Palestinians, well, let us say the Chinese have shown themselves to be quite capable of dealing with restive populations, and the world would care about as much as it cares about the Tibetans.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    I also have to say it is depressing to see I am the only one so far who has commented on this article, but the Palin one will have hundreds in no time flat. Actually, I should rephrase myself above, it seems tragic to state but the most I can hope for is that at the Centennial of Israel things are pretty much as they are now. Worst case scenario being a radioactive middle east (literally radioactive)

    I used to feel tremendous sympathy for the Palestinian cause but in the wake of the extremely generous offering by Barak and Clinton and the rejection by Arafat and the Palestinians I realized that nothing will change until either the Palestinians fundamentally change or they acquire a visionary leader who leads them to change.

    South Africa had Mandela, India Gandhi, the US MLK, Egypt Sadat…the world (alas not the governments) cries out for a visionary Palestinian peacekeeper. For want of a single individual leader the fate of the Middle East shall remain forever in the balance.

  • JeninCT

    Honestly, if it’s not the leaks it would be something else. I agree, lessadoabouteverything, that the Palestinians need a visionary leader because the hatred has been inbred for generation. They need someone to teach first, then make peace.

    And I agree it’s ridiculous that Palin posts bring out the debaters and middle east peace does not. I think Frum fans the fires of Palin Derangement Syndrome just for traffic.

  • ejreed

    And here’s Al Jazeera’s coverage of the issue and themselves
    Palestine Papers Spark Fury in Ramallah
    The Palestinian Authority has denounced Al Jazeera’s release of the Palestine Papers. Supporters of the PA, angered by the release of the documents, questioned Al Jazeera’s timing and motives in doing so. http://www.newslook.com/videos/285694-palestine-papers-spark-fury-in-ramallah?autoplay=true

  • N Myles

    Palin is the only story the Republicans have at this time – it’s the only one and it is a concern. I think DF is just trying to come to terms with the tatters of the party he loves (if I may be so bold.) Palin is on the outs and that will be that – until then we love it: Bring it on DF!

  • politicalfan


    Honestly, there is not much to think about when commenting on a Palin thread. (This is also the problem that the Republican party has because she is the face of the party at the moment).

    Secondly, I think that it is fair to say that some of us want a two state solution. We may have a grasp of the situation but what would it be like to have this conflict with our neighboring country (countries)?

    I think it is simply a more complex situation. I tend to agree with JeninCT. Where is Frum on all of this? I have read a few of his pieces but not enough to understand where he finds a solution.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    JeninCT, with Palin I don’t even think there is anything to debate. She is a private citizen who I would be quite happy to ignore if she were never mentioned. I don’t mind Frum fans the PDS because he has the right to make money. I truly like him though there are a number of areas I do not agree with him. On FP I am a neo-Con just one who is not arrogant (meaning I supported the war as laid out by General Shinseki, not hope for the best and plan for the best)

    This topic, otoh, is rife with discord and is truly important. I truly am at a loss as to how to resolve the situation. I do sympathize with the Palestinians since the delusion that they can get all of the country back to them has been bred into them from an early age. I think Netanyahu is a hack (not economically, he is brilliant in running economies) on FP utterly beholden to the extremist religious parties and Liebermans. For their own sake they have to begin withdrawing from all West Bank settlements (I don’t include Jerusalem in this because Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have the right to live in West Jerusalem, but I have my own vision of Jerusalem, with a Vatican style enclave for the Capital of Palestine with security guaranteed by Israel and full access to it by Palestinians) The city itself must not be divided like in Cyprus or as in the old Berlin. It is dispiriting, and for the holy place of 3 of the worlds great religions completely inappropriate.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    politicalfan: Where is Frum on all of this? I have read a few of his pieces but not enough to understand where he finds a solution.

    I think his opinion is that there is no solution and will not be a solution until there is a sea change in attitude. I think he finds the Palestinian secret bargaining position to be too generous, personally I would go for it if it meant lasting peace, but if giving the Palestinians pretty much everything they can reasonably want (for example limited right of return for first generation refugees, old people dying in their ancestral home towns is just basic decency) won’t make the populace happy then it is hopeless.

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    It’s true that this might diminish support for the PA. It might be that 10 years ago there was commitment to peace from the Israeli side but not the Palestinian side, and today it’s the other way around.

    I don’t see how this ends well. The demographics will get worse and worse for Israel, and as a consequence you’d expect Palestinian negotiators to back down from their recent generous offers. The status quo, of Israel maintaining detention camps for millions of Arabs, sure looks unsustainable, but… maybe it’s just how things will last indefinitely.

  • abk1985

    That rough sketch leaves aside many important technical details — water rights, for example —

    Thanks for being honest, David.

    The Israelis want all the land and all the water. It’s not because they are bad people. They cannot trust the Palestinians to control the water. That is why Area “A” is about the size of postage stamp. And the disparity of Israeli use (versus Palestinian use) of the same water, the aquifers for which lie mostly across the Green Line, is notorious.

    Actually, the Israelis don’t want “all” the land. They simply cannot stop their people from settling it.

    As a result, there will be no “two state solution.” There will continue to be one state with Palestinians allowed some limited autonomy. But, long term, that’s not really a solution either, since the Palestinians are just as human as the Israelis (Jewish and non-Jewish) and at some point the majority of Israelis will recognize this. Furthermore, I do think the demographics support Arab, rather than Jewish, pop growth. We can see this by the fact that most Jewish refugees do not go to Israel, large numbers of Israelis do not live in Israel, many are returning to Europe for residence (which makes sense, since Israel is essentially an Ashkenazi state in character, regardless of its Sabra population), and many wish to come to the US (again, makes sense, since the vast majority of Americans, and American Jews, are of Ashkenazi and therefore European origin). Thus, just as Israel has been engaged in a slo mo land grab for the past 40 years, I expect the next 40 years to feature a slo mo exodus of Israeli Jews to different climes, leaving behind only those Israeli Jews who benefit from government largesse — the black hats, the recent Russian immigrant wave, and the settlers.

    I just prefer that there’s not a whole lot of violence before the ultimate morphing takes place.

    I think the revelations are bad for both sides.

    I should ADD: Having now read the whole article, the Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria are not driving this process. Rather, it’s the 3 million plus Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Come on. They are the one’s who have the world’s sympathy.

    As for being bad for both sides: clearly, the documents make the Palestinian leadership look weak. And it also makes them appear willing to make unilateral concessions the Palestinians as such are unwilling to make. On the other hand, I don’t see any interest in making peace at all from the Israeli side. And that in turn makes them appear insincere.

  • politicalfan


    Did you continue and read his weekly piece on CNN? I would like to see Frum on CNN debating this with someone with an opposing view. I think it would be informative. (Or on Frum Forum via clip). The CNN piece clarified his position.

  • Palestine papers: live updates | Rubytall News

    [...] 8.19am: David Frum, a former George Bush speech writer, argues that the papers, and the reaction to them, show that the demands of the Palestinian people are too great: [...]

  • midcon

    “because the actual demands of the Palestinian population are so much greater than any diplomat can gain.”

    I don’t believe it is all one sided. I believe that this can be said of both sides, but even so, the people want more than they can have regardless of what side it is.

    The reason you have more posts on a She Who Cannot Be Named For A Month (SWCBNAM) article is because it is at least interesting to bash her about. This particular story has been going on for so long that most people are just worn out with it and no longer care.

    While there is a small number of Americans who have some interest in the issue, the greatest interest comes from our politicians who, of course, have an interest in re-election and support causes that provide them a financial incentive.

  • Nanotek

    “And I agree it’s ridiculous that Palin posts bring out the debaters and middle east peace does not.”

    I can only speak for me … there are too many moving pieces in that gear box for me to understand what is happening. What I read is rarely balanced … the passions and biases drive the writing and placement of stories. Writing about one story comes at the expense of writing another story, which may be more important, but who can tell? I am too ignorant to comment and know it. I’m trying to absorb it; these comments help me more than the articles usually because they trigger discussions about things I didn’t know.

  • Palestine papers: live updates : Algerie Football

    [...] 8.19am: David Frum, a former George Bush speech writer, argues that the papers, and the reaction to them, show that the demands of the Palestinian people are too great: [...]

  • mickster99

    The mid-east peace process.

    Talk about extended reruns and a to-be-continued episodic dysfunction.

    The words mid-east, peace, and process when strung together might not in any way mean much to anyone who has observed the dynamics of Israel and Palestine since the 40-50′s really.

    Does anyone think we are closer now then we were 2 years ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15, 20, 30 years ago to a peaceful resolution when a status quo Mexican standoff has worked so well?

    I am of the opinion as someone who has been alive for 6+ decades and watched with a deja-vu like fascination at the comings and goings of the charade that passes for a peace process that the answer is no, definitely not.

    Not cynical, just using the past as predicter.

  • KBKY

    Palin affects our domestic issues and is a relatively easy topic to understand and discuss. Like her or not, she is influential and a possible candidate for President (not to mention she is usually at least mildly entertaining to discuss). The mideast peace process, on the other hand, has always been a frustrating and demoralizing topic. I thought Barack had a decent chance at getting a little farther, but even those efforts have stymied. I honestly cannot see any possibility of peace in the near future, nor any plan that would have a chance of getting farther. Israelis feel constantly demonized by the rest of the world. This means that the majority of Israelis, who are actually quite moderate, don’t feel the need to pressure the more Orthodox hardliners in the government to offer basic concessions (such as halting the settlements). The Orthodox hardliners are living in a fantasy land where they think that this system is desirable and sustainable.

    The Muslim countries (aside from Palestinians) also have no real reason to want peace. Israel is too convenient a scape goat (e.g. Mossad plots with sharks to decrease tourism and releasing hawks to spy on Iran) and most Muslim leaders have painted themselves into a corner. If Israel is evil, you can’t negotiate with them or give in to their demands. Most Muslim leaders also have their own issues or radicals to worry about (e.g. Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Brotherhood in Egypt) so they can’t afford to lose ground or political capital for a country that they don’t really like (Israel) and a people that they aren’t really responsible for (Palestinians). Like mickster99, I’m tired of discussing reruns.

  • KBKY

    On second thought, there may be one small possibility (warning: you are about to read a simplification of history and policy). After the Holocaust, there was a huge deficit of Jewish scholars and rabbis. Thus, Israel crafted a policy that those who chose to study Torah and not hold a paying job would be subsidized and not requried to serve the two mandatory years to the country. This created a terrible incentive system and a large class of rather poor Orthodox families. The Orthodox (as with most religious) have also been reproducing much faster than the moderates. This has led to a much larger population of subsidized Torah scholars, who are not required to serve in the Israeli military or in any other capacity. This article is a little old, but explains some of the tensions: http://www.presstelegram.com/religion/ci_16471684.

    The moderates have started to get really frustrated and resentful of this particular group and even the politicians have to admit that with birth trajectories the program is neither fair nor sustainable. The Orthodox are also the ones pushing hardest for the settlements. If the resentment continues, there’s a chance of a popular backlash that could find its way into the peace debate, with Israel willing to give up the settlements. I don’t believe, however, that this is particularly likely.