Blog post

The Palestine Papers—comment and historical context

Tamar Shlaim24 January 2011

Al Jazeera and the Guardian and Al Quds (Arabic) newspapers yesterday released over 1600 confidential documents laying open the last decade of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The papers go well beyond refuting the threadbare myth that the Israelis have had no 'partner for peace', and show rather how weak and incompetent officials betrayed Palestinians by offering to surrender "virtually everything except their salaries", as Tariq Ali puts it on the London Review of Books blog. As Ali notes, it is well worth revisiting Edward Said's prophetic 1994 article for the LRB in which he described the Oslo accords as a "Palestinian Versailles" in the light of these revelations. 

For more background, see also these essays from a  2001 special edition of the New Left Review on the conflict, by Perry Anderson, Edward Said, and Yitzhak Laor, and this earlier appraisal of the peace process by Norman Finkelstein, also from the NLR archives (some articles are subscription only).

In the Guardian, Karma Nabulsi explains what the release of the Palestine Papers means for the Palestinian liberation movement: 

For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, official Palestinian policy over these past decades has been the antithesis of a legitimate, or representative, or even coherent strategy to obtain our long-denied freedom. But this sober appreciation of our current state of affairs, accompanied by the mass protests and civil society campaigns by Palestinian citizens, has been insufficient, until now, to rid us of it.

The release into the public domain of these documents is such a landmark because it destroys the final traces of credibility of the peace process. Everything to do with it relied upon a single axiom: that each new initiative or set of negotiations with the Israelis, every policy or programme (even the creation of undemocratic institutions under military occupation), could be presented as carried out in good faith under harsh conditions: necessary for peace, and in the service of our national cause. Officials from all sides played a double game vis-à-vis the Palestinians. It is now on record that they have betrayed, lied and cheated us of basic rights, while simultaneously claiming they deserved the trust of the Palestinian people.

Visit the Guardian to read Nabulsi's article in full.

For a thorough background on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the paucity of the "peace process" see Avi Shlaim's Israel and Palestine

For more recent background see Gideon Levy's The Punishment of Gaza and his articles for Ha'aretz. Gideon Levy will be in conversation with Johann Hari in London on 6th March as part of Jewish Book Week 2011. 

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