Al Jazeera leaks: Who are the winners and...

Al Jazeera leaks: Who are the winners and losers?

By Carlo Strenger, Haaretz

Via Haaretz (click for original)

Does the common wisdom that Al Jazeera is close to Hamas and wanted to undermine Abbas really hold true?

Now that the sound, the fury and the dust from the Al Jazeera leaks are beginning to fade, the inevitable question is: what are we to learn from the material that was published? What are we to learn from the way the material was presented by the various parties? And finally the inevitable question: who are the winners and losers of the leaks?

First, the dry conclusions that have been pointed out by commentators around the world including the New York Times: there were serious and constructive talks between Ehud Olmert’s government and the Palestinian Authority; and the differences between Israel and the Palestinians, while not negligible, were by far not as deep as both politicians and the press seemed to imply.

Common wisdom is as follows: Al Jazeera is close to Hamas and wanted to harm Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team, since they are against a negotiated peace agreement. They therefore wanted to portray Abbas and his team as selling out to Israel, as weak “collaborators with the Zionists.” It was supposed to be a shock that Palestinians were making concessions on the right of return to Israel within the 1967 borders and on Jerusalem, including the Old City.

The interesting question is, why indeed there should have been any shock at all, as most Israeli commentators have pointed out. The basic parameters of any future peace agreement were already formulated by Bill Clinton in the year 2000, and they were reasserted in the Geneva Accords. None of the contents of the Al Jazeera leaks differ dramatically from either. Anybody who was shocked would have to be profoundly misinformed about the peace process in the last twelve years.

It might indeed be that Abbas, Saeb Erekat and Ahmed Qureia will have to be less forthcoming in the foreseeable future to counteract the impression Al Jazeera tried to create. But so far Palestinian reactions have been less negative than many expected.

On the international level, the credibility of the Palestinian leadership has actually increased. It is clear that they mean business, and that the Netanyahu-Lieberman line that there is no partner for serious negotiations is groundless. This will certainly increase the momentum of the Palestinian effort to push for international recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Hence Abbas, Erekat, Qureia and other negotiators may have gained from the leaks. It is to be hoped that Palestinians will realize that Abbas and his team are far from selling out to Israel: they are trying to ensure that the Palestinian people will be able to live in freedom and dignity.

Netanyahu’s government is the most immediate loser. Nobody on the international scene believed their adage that the Palestinians are the peace refuseniks to begin with. If anybody had any doubts left that their position is both insincere and false, the leaks have made it clear beyond any doubt that their position is cheap propaganda.

Abbas and his team come across as eminently sensible; they have good understanding of Israel’s needs, particularly when it comes to security. Most importantly, they showed flexibility in what is by far the most pressing existential issue for Israel, the Palestinian right of return. The leaks show beyond any doubt that the slogan “There is no partner,” coined by Barak after the failure of the Camp David Summit of 2000 is a misrepresentation at best and a simple lie at worst.

The result is that Bibi’s government is now officially stamped as the peace refusenik. Its attempt to offer the Palestinians a state with temporary borders didn’t stand a chance to begin with – but now it proves to be a total no-brainer.

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