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Monday, January 24, 2011 

The brutal clarity of the Palestine papers.

When nations have standard, open diplomatic relations with each other, there may be the occasional bust-up or misunderstanding, but for the most part seemingly cordial exchanges of views are maintained at all costs. It's only, as the Wikileaks cables have shown, when those in charge go and report back to their paymasters that honesty begins to come into play. The written record can often be brutal in its contempt for those being summarily dismissed, especially when there's no one to fight their corner: the inhabitants of the Chagos islands were witheringly referred to as their home was about to be turned over to the United States as "a few Tarzans and Man Fridays whose origins are obscure". Much the same was in evidence in a more recent cable, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Colin Roberts stated baldly that it was thanks to the Chagossians no longer being around that the surrounding islands and seawaters were in such "pristine condition". He would presumably describe the US military base which now sits on Diego Garcia as greatly improving the archipelago's ecology on the same basis.

You can't help but be reminded of such hostility, open contempt and even outright imperial arrogance when you take a glance at the Palestine papers. The difference is that views such as the one expressed by Condoleezza Rice, apparently referring to the nakba, that "bad things happen to people all around the world all the time" were made to the faces of those she was supposedly meant to be negotiating or cooperating with. Rice, a specialist on the Soviet Union, may well have been thinking of the Ukranian famine or dekulakisation and the devastating effects of both; the difference surely is that the Palestinians have now been waiting for a state for over 60 years when one could be established in a matter of months if the likes of Rice were prepared to put the necessary pressure on Israel to accept a deal.

Instead, as the logs of the negotiations between the representatives of Fatah, Israel and the US show, the connivance between the two nations is almost total. Neither it seems is even approaching serious when it comes to continuing to regard the two state solution as a viable option, despite so many fine words being expressed on so many occasions. Rice couldn't have been much more blunt than when she told Saab Erekat that the Palestinians simply wouldn't have a state if they objected to the settlements of Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim, both in the West Bank and both illegal under international law remaining Israeli. Tzipi Livni, for her part, was completely honest about the policy Israel has been pursuing, while claiming personally that her party was not:

At a west Jerusalem meeting in November 2007, she told Qureia that she believed Palestinians saw settlement building as meaning "Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible"; that "the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we'll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state". She conceded that it had been "the policy of the government for a really long time".

At the end of 2007, though, "it is still the policy of some of the parties but not the government".


Like someone desperately trying to win over the favour of a prospective partner, the Fatah negotiators are shown to be willing to debase themselves and engage in the most pathetic of flattery, all to no avail. Abu Ala told Livni that he would vote for her, Mahmoud Abbas considered Ariel Sharon to be a friend, and said that "every bullet that is aimed in the direction of Israel is a bullet aimed at the Palestinians as well", while Condoleezza Rice was vomit-inducingly told that she brought "life to the region" every time she came. The only sign of anything even resembling a reciprocation in kind was from Livni, whom on being offered the best terms the Palestinians had ever put across the negotiating table, including the "biggest Yerushalayim in history", said she "appreciate[d] it" even as she rejected them out of hand.

Livni and the Bush administration were simply going through the necessary motions. With Likud and other smaller right-wing parties now in power, even the motions have been abandoned. As Saab Erekat put it so elegantly, the Palestinians are no longer even being offered a fig leaf, and this from the president so risibly described as "completely committed to achieving the objective you want". The Israelis have the equivalent of the entire pack of cards in their hands: it simply isn't in their interests to accept a peace settlement when they are able to create reality on the ground. Despite all their protestations, they can quite happily put up with the irritant of Gaza and the occasional home-made missile landing on surrounding towns and cities if it means they can annex ever more land in the West Bank and carry on building up the settlements as they are at an alarming pace. They also know that the longer they stall and the longer the US continues to fail to force the issue, the more support Hamas gains, ever increasing the chances of a coup in the West Bank to follow the earlier one in Gaza, and therefore forever removing the "partner for peace" it currently doesn't have in Fatah.

Either way, the end result is the same: an entire people effectively impoverished and imprisoned, their demands for justice denied while the Arab world either actively colludes with Israel or watches from afar powerless. And all the while, the festering grievance which motivates so many Islamists and puts so many others on the path towards radicalisation only continues to grow.

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A useful summary for people who haven't the stomach to wade through this account of treachery, abuse and masochism.

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