The Palestine Papers: facts and fiction
Only those who unquestioningly embraced the propaganda of the ‘peace process’ could be shocked by these papers.
The most shocking thing about the Palestine Papers – a collection of internal Israeli-Palestinian negotiation documents leaked by Al-Jazeera to the Guardian and others – is the fact that anyone is shocked by them. Many commentators seem genuinely surprised that Palestinian negotiators made massive concessions to the Israelis, at one point even promising to grant Israel control over swathes of East Jerusalem. One journalist writes of ‘the shocking nature, extent and detail of these ghastly revelations’.
Where have these people been for the past 15 years? On the beaches of Gaza with their heads literally buried in the sand? Some of us have been pointing out for years, without the benefit of Top Secret communiqués, that the entire ‘peace process’ in the Middle East was predicated on the weakness of the Palestinian movement for independence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. ‘Peace process’ was always a fancy term for Israel accepting the surrender of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which formally recognised Israel in 1988 and ditched its demand for a fully sovereign state in 1993. The PLO and its political offshoot Fatah, current rulers of the West Bank, were subsequently rewarded with various concessions – most notably a semi-autonomous political territory, whose legitimacy would be underpinned, not by the democratic aspirations of the Palestinian masses, but by the blessings of the international community.
More fundamentally, the ‘peace process’ in the Middle East – like those in Ireland and South Africa – spoke to an important shift in the global balance of power in the post-Cold War moment. With the demise of the Soviet Union, which acted either as a direct backer of national liberation movements or at least as a kind of symbol that Western imperialism was not the only show in town, independence movements became increasingly isolated. Exhausted by war and weakened through political alienation, they were drawn into making deals with their former arch enemies – enemies who were in a generally ascendant position, and who thus could demand the surrender of these movements (disguised as ‘concessions for peace’) and the creation of a new reality that asserted their own, somewhat diluted authority over populations that once demanded greater control over their destinies (trussed up as a ‘peace process’).
Political observers’ failure to recognise this reality – so that their mouths drop when they now discover that Palestinian negotiators were usually on the backfoot with Israel and America – reveals the extent to which they bought into the propaganda of the ‘peace process’. It is their earlier failure of critical thinking, their anaemic skills of independent analysis and investigation, which means they can now be taken aback by the contents of the Palestine Papers. This is revealed in the handwringing commentary asking what happened to the ‘promises’ of the peace process. This was supposed to be about ‘risks for peace’ and ‘land for peace’, says one writer, yet Palestinians seem to be the only ones who took risks or gave up land. The real problem here is the media’s earlier embrace of the propagandistic terminology of the ‘peace process’.
Most strikingly, the fallout from the Palestine Papers demonstrates the extent to which the apparently pro-Palestinian lobby – which is dominant in the British media – is cravenly reliant on the pity and favour of the international community to save Palestinians rather than genuinely trusting in Palestinians’ ability to run their own affairs. Having foolishly invested all their hopes in the architects of the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap for Peace – the US, the UN, the EU: those well-known lovers of freedom – these Palestine sympathisers now claim that the Palestinian people, and more importantly they themselves, were ‘let down’. The fools: they fail to understand that the very aim of the peace process was to ‘let down’, as in deflate, the Palestinian thirst for independence and to co-opt the Palestinian leadership into new political structures.
If the undeserved shockingness of the Palestine Papers reveals the folly of waiting for ‘the truth’ to be leaked, then the way the contents have been presented shows that even leaked info gets its own spin. This is not pure information which gives us ‘the truth’. Rather, this material, too, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – not only because it is made up of minutes and emails written by figures of Israeli and Palestinian authority, but also because it is now being refracted through a media that have very particular views, often black-and-white ones, about the conflict in the Middle East.
Most notably, some are citing the papers as evidence that nothing has changed in the Middle East. America still backs Israel, Israel still bosses the Palestinians around, and the Palestinians suffer. Conveniently, this sits perfectly with the dominant view of the Middle East at both Al-Jazeera and the Guardian, the leading leakers of the papers – namely: Israel Evil; Palestine Sad And Pathetic. But in truth, there have been some important shifts over the past 15 years, since the heady days of the ‘peace process’, particularly in the area of the West’s attitude to Israel. Far from uncritically supporting Israel, many governments, including Washington, are increasingly critical of it and even hostile to it.
This is revealed in some recent leaks, but these ones tend to be played down. As one Israeli journalist points out, even George W Bush’s administration, widely seen as psychotically right-wing and pro-Israel, did not ‘serve as Israel’s diplomatic shield’ – it ‘facilitated the removal of 25 Israeli settlements from Gaza and the West Bank’ and pushed for a ‘final-status deal’ (that is, Israel’s recognition of a Palestinian state). And many seem to have forgotten already that at the end of last year, Wikileaks revealed that the Obama administration put pressure on Israel to make concessions.
Those kind of leaks tell us something important (though not any Final Truth) that doesn’t fit very neatly with the myth built around the Palestine Papers: they tell us that Israel, in its relations with Western powers, is often on the backfoot, too. The ‘peace process’ may initially have been a boon for Israel, allowing it to dampen Palestinian opposition to its authority and existence, but it has impacted negatively on Israel’s own interests in the long term. That’s because the shift in the global balance of forces 20 years ago, the demise of often Soviet-backed movements for national liberation, also meant that Israel became less important to the West as a gendarme guarding against Soviet influence and Arab nationalism. The very same ‘peace process’ that was really a military victory for Israel over the PLO was also a pain for Israel in the longer-term political picture.
If you really want to wait around for leaked info to teach you real lessons, then surely the lesson of the Palestine Papers is that there is way too much Western intervention in the Middle East. Such intervention copperfastened the defeat of the Palestinian drive for freedom, and it now exacerbates tensions by pressuring both the Israelis and the Palestinians to concede, to build barriers between one another, and to do what best suits the political and PR agendas of Washington, Brussels and the UN. But this lesson is not being learned. The seriously uncritical approach to Middle Eastern affairs means that some are still calling for more meddling and effectively for a better ‘peace process’. One left-wing writer says the US and the EU should ‘rejoin the international consensus and apply serious leverage on Israel [to accept a two-state solution]’. I think they call this fighting fire with petrol.
The fuss over the Palestine Papers brilliantly reveals why leaked information is not the best tool for making sense of political affairs. The startled reaction to the papers suggests that our increasingly leak-reliant world is also a profoundly unquestioning place, zapped of critical thinking, where journalists wait around for revelations from on high to inform them of things they could easily have found out for themselves. The cult of leaking neuters journalists’ critical faculties, making them the passive recipients of info rather than hunters for truth. And the way the papers and their contents have been presented to us, the public, confirms that there’s no such thing as ‘pure’ leaked information. In the process of being leaked and reorganised, it, too, gets infused with the political prejudices of the elites.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his personal website here.
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