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."
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.
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