Thursday, January 27, 2011

Secret Papers, and the Hidden Hand

WHILE politicians at Westminster talked about "democracy", MI6 headquarters, across the bridge at Vauxhall, drew up plans to place Palestinians under police state.

THE so-called 'Palestine Papers' - hitherto secret documents from the Palestine Authority - have roused a storm of anger among the Palestinian people and their friends, but also a ferment of serious political discussion. The Palestinians are not alone in the Middle East, in being the subject of others' secret diplomacy, conspiracy and intrigues.

Great Powers' secret treaties, land sold by absentee owners, UN votes rigged and paid for, Arab regimes sowing division while claiming to speak for them, their very existence as a people denied; and when that fails, attempts to destroy it. Against all this they have struggled for independence, managed to create their own institutions, and asserted their right to decide their own fate.

But the latest scandal concerns the leadership in these institutions, and specifically President Mahmoud Abbas and his ministers, the Palestine Authority which -encouraged by Britain and the United States - resisted the election of the opposition Hammas, and collaborated with Israel, even when the right-wing Israeli coalition was waging war on Palestinians in Gaza, expanding settlements in the West Bank, and doing everything to humiliate even peaceable Palestinians.

The leaked papers, featured by the Guardian newspaper and al Jazeera, confirm some of the worst suspicions and allegations made against Abbas and the PA leaders. They indicate that the Palestinian president was fully behind the Israeli siege and war on Gaza, even though these were opposed by many Israelis. They show the West Bank-based PA prepared to accept Israeli settlement and annexation of former Arab areas in and around East Jerusalem, effectively separating any Palestinian state from its rightful capital and dividing the West Bank into two regions. The right of return for Palestinian refugees was to be dropped, rather than merely saved for future negotiation.

It was conceivable that these papers were initially obtained and 'leaked', if not fabricated, by someone on the Israeli side, with a view to boasting of Palestinian support and acceptance for Israel's policies, embarrassing and undermining the Palestinian leadership, and even dismantling the pretence of peace talks. While some Israelis are saying the papers show how the Palestinian negotiators bent over backwards to get the talks going and it was Israel's leaders who were unreasonable, right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is saying they show Israel can get what it wants without needing to make any concessions, and go ahead with expansionism.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and other officials have moved from dismissing the documents as forgeries to denouncing the motives of those leaking them, accusing the authorities in Qatar, on whose territory al Jazeera is based, of wanting to boost Hamas. In fact, though Hamas might be expected to make use of the revelations, many Palestinians who are far from relishing the thought of Hamas as an alternative, and blamed Palestine Authority corruption for the Islamicists' gains in the first place, say the documents show the need for a major political change in Palestinian society.

Meanwhile, it is not only the Palestinian leadership who are being shown up. Take the British government, which, whatever party is in office, and whatever its armed forces are doing elsewhere in the Middle East, has pretended to be an honest broker for peace, wanting to deliver democracy in the region, and believing in a "two state solution" - though of course it only gives the dignity of recognition to one of them. Since British prime ministers have been as happy attending Zionist fundraising dinners as securing lucrative business with the Saudis and other Arab regimes, perhaps the "two-faced solution" would be a better description of British policy.

To be fair, British diplomats and officials have sometimes done their best to uphold standards of decency, only to be thwarted by those above. Five years ago we commented on another "leak", a report drawn up for the European Union by British consular officials in Jerusalem, which was then officially suppressed by the Blair government using Britain's spell in EU presidency.

When Hamas was elected in what outside observers testify was a relatively free and fair election, Britain acted with Israel and the USA to punish the Palestinian people for this exercise in democracy, by stopping funds. It has continued allowing trade with illegal settlements, while conniving at the blockade of Gaza even though building materials from Britain are held up, and when British citizens and vessels are captured on the high seas. And we won't forget how the relief charities' appeal for war torn Gaza was banned by the BBC.

So it is no surprise to read from the leaked PA documents what Palestinians, even the most moderate, made of Britain's "peace envoy", Tony Blair:

"The overall tone, without making any judgement as to intent, is paternalistic and frequently uses the style and jargon of the Israeli occupation authorities," complained a memo by the PA's negotiations support unit reviewing his proposals. "Some of the terms (eg 'separate lanes' and 'tourist-friendly checkpoints') are unacceptable to Palestinians."

("Separate lanes" presumably refers to the way Israeli occupation authorities have gone one better than Apartheid South Africa or the Southern US, with their segregated public transport, by developing segregated highways!)

In February 2008, Blair is recorded as telling the quartet – made up of the UN, US, EU and Russia – that he has a good relationship with Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak. But he warns that the current approach to the Gaza Strip – under siege since the Hamas takeover – "is wrong and needs to change immediately". Blair found it "discouraging" that there had been no progress since the Annapolis conference, and feared "bad consequences". But a Russian diplomat present at the meeting "got the impression that Blair was talking like Bush's representative".

Blair agreed with Salam Fayyad, the PA's prime minister, on the need to "pacify and stabilise Gaza so that it does not destabilise us: that means ceasefire, opening crossings, engaging Egypt to play a role."

Israel needed to be encouraged to make confidence-building measures to "stabilise and improve the situation in the West Bank". Blair said, though he also passed on the concerns of Israel's Shin Bet security service about the too-speedy release of prisoners.

One draft document refers to a demand by the quartet that Israel should not bomb a project Blair is involved with. "Israel must assure it will spare site military action," the quartet reference reads. The tone of the Palestinian response is angry: "Are they serious? We will implicitly condone criminal acts against civilian targets but please make sure you don't harm investor interest."

    Tony Blair Visits Palestinian West Bank

    RED CARPET welcome and guard of honour for Blair with Mahmoud Abbas. Documents tell a different story.

    Just what kind of aid Britain brought to the Palestinian Authority is also worth noting. Some people were discussing what to do about Hamas, how to avoid a bitter split between Palestinians, and whether the Islamicist party, for all its militant rhetoric and tactics, could be brought into peace negotiations, as favoured by its voters if not its manifesto. Hamas did declare a unilateral cease fire, only to have it ignored by the Israeli military, proceeding to its war on Gaza.

    The British intelligence service, MI6, was in no doubt what to do, it seems. The leaked papers show it drew up a strategy for the Palestinian Authority to crush Hamas and other groups. The strategy included internment of leaders and activists, closure of radio stations and replacement of imams in mosques.

    "Two documents drafted by the Secret Intelligence Service in conjunction with other Whitehall departments, which are among the cache given to al-Jazeera TV and shared with the Guardian, are understood to have been passed to Jibril Rajoub, former head of PA security in the West Bank, at the beginning of 2004 by an MI6 officer then based at the British consulate in Jerusalem.

    The evidence uncovered by the leaked documents highlights the role British officials and security advisers have played in creating and bolstering the PA administration in the West Bank, which is backed and financed by the US, the EU and most Arab states as it pursues what are now all but moribund peace talks with Israel.

    The British papers, one of which is headed Palestinian Security Plan – Confidential, included detailed proposals for a new security taskforce based on the UK's "trusted PA contacts" outside the control of "traditional security chiefs", a British/US security "verification team", and "direct lines" to Israeli intelligence.

    Issues include suicide bombing, weapons smuggling, Qassam rockets and "terror finance". The SIS and other leaked British official documents have been independently authenticated by the Guardian.

    In the most controversial section, the 2004 MI6 plan recommends "Degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists – Hamas, PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and the [Fatah-linked] Al Aqsa Brigades – through the disruption of their leaderships' communications and command and control capabilities; the detention of key middle-ranking officers; and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources".

    The document adds: "We could also explore the temporary internment of leading Hamas and PIJ figures, making sure they are well-treated, with EU funding" – reflecting a concern to distance the intelligence agency from the PA security organisations' established reputation for prisoner abuse.

    The MI6 strategy, which was drawn up to implement George Bush's Middle East "road map" as the second Palestinian intifada was winding down, can then be traced through a sequence of more public Palestinian, EU and British documents and plans, and has now been largely implemented by the US and British-advised PA security apparatus.

    The former MI6 officer Alistair Crooke, who worked for the EU in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said today that the documents reflected a 2003 decision by Tony Blair to tie UK and EU security policy in the West Bank and Gaza to a US-led "counter-insurgency surge" against Hamas – which backfired when the Islamists won the 2006 elections.

    Leaked British documents begins with an unmarked but detailed MI6 draft of the security plan, faxed from the Egyptian embassy, at a time when the agency was working closely with Egyptian intelligence; continues with the second more formal paper jointly drafted by SIS, which floats internment; and is then translated into a series of official papers drafted by the Jerusalem consulate's military liaison office, which liaises with British special forces, the SAS and SBS.

    The documents confirm that by 2005, British projects under the Palestinian security plan – first drafted and passed to the PA under MI6 auspices – included extensive funding of the most controversial parts of the PA security apparatus, including general intelligence, special forces and preventive security under the heading of "UK-Palestinian projects".

    The last in particular has been the subject of repeated and widespread allegations and evidence of torture, including by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. More recently, the British government has denied directly funding the PA's preventive security.

    US general Keith Dayton, who, along with a string of British deputies was in charge of building up Palestinian security forces as US security co-ordinator for Israel and the Palestinian territories until last October, is recorded in the leaked Palestinian records as complaining about torture by PA intelligence in a meeting with chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat in June 2009. "The intelligence guys are good. The Israelis like them," Dayton says. "But they are causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people", adding: "I've only started working on this very recently. I don't need to tell you who was working with them before" – in an apparent reference to the CIA.

    Many of those now arrested and detained in the West Bank appear to have no connection to any armed group or activity. Records of a May 2008 meeting between Israeli general Amos Gilad and the head of PA security forces, Major General Hazem Atallah, refer to a senior Israel security official identified as "Poly" who asked: "How is your fight against 'civilian' Hamas: the offices, people in municipalities etc? This is a serious threat."

    Atallah is recorded as replying: "I don't work at political level, but I agree we need to deal with this" – to which Poly retorts: "Hamas needs to be declared illegal by your president. So far it is only the militants that are illegal."

    On an ironic note, in connection with a leaked PA security document from 2005, which confirms the central role played by British officials in "unifying Palestinian security efforts" , the Guardian recalls that "Abed Alloun, a Liverpool football fan, told the Guardian in 2003 he had been flown by MI6 to Britain and taken to see Liverpool play at Anfield and given a ball signed by Michael Owen".

    In this respect he was better treated than the Palestinian under-19 football side who were invited to Britain to train and play a few charity matches. The British consulate in East Jerusalem saw to it they could not get visas to travel. David Miliband who had just become Foreign Secretary was less than forthcoming with an explanation for this. Perhaps MI6 did not tell him.

    Still, poor old Abed Alloun was later blown up by a bomb.

    Palestinians, angered by the treachery and duplicity revealed in these documents, and encouraged by the risings on the streets in Tunisia and Egypt (as well as the emergence in Gaza of youth declaring a plague on both the houses of the PA and Hamas) are seeing the need for their society to undergo a seismic political change.

    They are not the only ones.

    On the banned football side:

    Some thoughts from Karma Nabulsi :


PALESTINIAN students demanding direct elections to the Palestine National Council have occupied the Palestinian embassy in London for a sit-in. Ambassador Manuel Hassassian told them it was their embassy and they were welcome to the premises.

Karma Nabulsi gave a talk during the sit in.

Police arrived at the Hammersmith premises, but the students said they wanted to make sure their views were conveyed before they would withdraw.

For more reports and press statement see:

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