The Palestine Papers: so what

Posted on 25 January 2011

The fact that the Palestinian Authority is venal and corrupt should hardly be a surprise. It’s interesting though to see some of the details of what has long been suspected: the PA selling out the people it is supposed to represent, and Israel’s refusal to accept anything other than as much territory with as few Arabs as possible. But while everyone is focusing on the information exposed, I am far more interested in the reaction in Palestine to the papers; and, more interestingly, who is behind the leaks and why now?

We should be clear about the PA’s role. The PA does not represent Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank, nor does it have a mandate to negotiate on anyone’s behalf. The elections scheduled for early 2010 were cancelled, therefore neither Abbas’ presidency nor the Authority has legitimacy. When Erekat speaks, he speaks on behalf of himself and Fateh only.

For the past nineteen years the faces haven’t changed. The same negotiators, yet no progress. While one could argue that, for the Palestinians, starting from a position of such weakness it is impossible to do anything but capitulate. But that is not good enough and is a further slap in the face for Palestinians who have fought, been imprisoned, had their homes demolished, their land confiscated and their children killed.  Isn’t the time long past for new faces, new ideas, a different way?

So while Erekat accuses Al Jazeera of a plot to bring down the PA and Abbas claims the documents are forged, most Palestinians recognise the treachery that has underpinned negotiations. So why are those Palestinians not in the streets, in their hundreds of thousands, demanding an end to the charade?

In recent years the West Bank has been pacified by money: money from the West, controlled by the PA. After years of unrest, uncertainty, violence and fear, life is relatively good for quite a few people. But it is all inextricably linked to the PA. The vast security forces, the bought permissions, the bribes and deals. While the PA has no control of Palestine the land, it does control, in the main, Palestine the people. Some people have done very well out of the occupation, thank you very much. Coupled with the fact that PA security forces routinely use brutal methods to supress any dissent, it’s no wonder people are currently blaming the messenger.

Therefore, when the PA demands that Palestinians march to support Abbas, many comply.  Especially when their or a family member’s salary is paid by or connected to the regime. And when the PA accuses Al Jazeera of attempts to destablise its rule, Palestinains attack its office in Ramallah. They do not rise up to condemn their leaders who have, for years, profited from the occupation that has harmed them so much.

But never mind the charade that has played out for decades, or the lack of fight left in the people of Palestine. Why these papers and why now? The pretence of a peace process has stagnated since Israel’s refusal to stop building settlements. And given the apparent willingness of the Palestinian negotiators to give up nearly every demand of the Palestinian people, Israel has consistently rejected any such proposal.

Neither Israel – “we have no partner for peace”, a statement clearly ridiculed over the last few days – or the PA’s offer of the “the biggest Yerushalayim in history” – come out well from the leaks. So, the question begs, who does? The leaks serve no one other than offering an insight into a process long believed to be sterile. So, where did all these highly classified documents come from? Clearly someone who wants to challenge the current status quo, but is it a disgruntled PA employee or someone with more to gain, or lose?

Perhaps Mohammed Dahlan, deposed Fateh strong-man in Gaza and lately the subject of a PA investigation, might be one person able to provide an answer? Dahlan was recently described in a Financial Times article as the trusted “cave of secrets for the president”. The acrimonious falling out between the two men has been bitter and public; and many believe that Dahlan is supported by the Americans. He left the West Bank last week.

Until The Palestine Papers were published, nothing was happening in terms of a peace process. (The reality is there was never a peace process all along.) Will these revelations give new impetus to the current impasse? I’m not holding my breath…

Read all the papers for yourself.

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