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The Al-Jazeera documents: what's next?

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Al-Jazeeraby Khalid Amayreh

Palestinian Authority (PA) officials have lashed out at the Al-Jazeera pan-Arab network for disclosing previously secret documents showing that PA negotiators had agreed to compromise over some cardinal issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict; these include the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for millions of refugees, uprooted from their homes when and since Israel was created in 1948.

In an impromptu press conference held in Ramallah on 24 January, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Secretary-General of the PLO, accused the Qatar-based network of waging a relentless war on the PA and besmirching its leadership's image for the benefit of Israel and the enemies of the Palestinian struggle. He said Al-Jazeera was fabricating evidence to discredit PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides, adding that this campaign wouldn't have been launched without the personal approval of the Qatari Amir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

However, a close and objective examination of the documents shows that Al-Jazeera didn't exceed its bounds and that regardless of how the network acquired the leaked documents, elements of concoction, fabrication and doctoring didn't play any role in the process. Unfortunately, PA officials and negotiators, including chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, didn't stick to the facts when trying to defend the negotiators' behaviour. Instead, they resorted to name -calling, abusive language, unfounded accusations and brash mendacity. It is not uncommon for PA apologists and spokespersons to resort to diversionary tactics and red herrings, even unnecessary jokes, to evade the hard issues at hand. In this case, the examination of the issue does show that the PA was willing to abandon and betray inalienable Palestinian rights.

The issue of Jerusalem stands out among other issues over which the PA was obviously willing to compromise. The documents show that the PA was prepared to cede to Israel nearly all of the illegal colonies that the Zionist state has built east of the 1967 armistice line in and around occupied East Jerusalem. It is true that these settlements are not located within the boundaries of the traditional area of al-Quds al-Sharif (Noble Jerusalem) which Israel occupied in 1967. Nevertheless, they remain administratively and territorially an integral part of metropolitan East Jerusalem.

More to the point, it is crystal clear that PA negotiators swallowed the misleading Israeli concept of a "Jewish Quarter" in the Old City of Jerusalem, even though almost all of occupied Palestine was an Arab quarter. Fewer than 20% of the houses in the so-called "Jewish Quarter" were lived in by Jews in 1968. One is prompted to ask why PA negotiators failed utterly to demand the restoration of such Jerusalem villages such as Lifta, Ayn Karem, Bayt Mahsir, Bayt umm al Mays, Dir Aban, Dayr Rafat, Deir Yasin and Al-Malha, to mention a few. Indeed, why do the Israelis have the right to insist on "restoring" Jewish property in the Armenian Quarter and the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, while Palestinians who still have the keys to their former homes are denied the right to reclaim their homes and property? Are the Palestinians children of a lesser God? This is not only wantonly unfair and unjust, but also stupid, especially on the part of the Palestinian negotiators.

I know that the negotiating position of the Palestinians is unenviable, to say the least, given the hard realities of the balance of power on the ground. However, the PA shouldn't just concede historical rights which it can't obtain by negotiations.

The same applies to the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees. The right of return, or repatriation, along with the right to compensation, was well-established by UN resolution 194. According to the documents leaked to Al-Jazeera, PA officials agreed to deprive the vast majority refugees of this right to return to their homes in what is now Israel. They agreed in principle to accept the repatriation of 100,000 refugees over 10 years, and no more. So what will happen to this historic and legal right for those who have been languishing in miserable exile for more than sixty years? Should they just kiss that right goodbye?

Moreover, it is perhaps more pertinent to ask Ahmed Qurei, Saeb Erekat and Mahmoud Abbas exactly who it was who authorized them to make such compromises. In the final analysis, the right of return is the heart and soul of the Palestinian question. It is also an individual right which no one except that individual has the right to waive. Hence, any agreement by PA officials to cede this sacred right of the refugees is null and void according to all international and moral laws, man-made or Divinely-inspired.

Some PA apologists have sought to justify their faulty negotiating, which amounts to criminal activity in a way, by suggesting that certain Palestinian positions in the negotiations were coordinated with "brotherly Arab rulers". This beggars belief; since when have these despots been entrusted with the defence of Muslim and national interests in Palestine? Indeed, if these dictators were capable of doing any good at all, they would surely be doing good for the benefit of their own people. The ongoing events in Tunisia are an example of what I mean. In agreeing, even tacitly or implicitly, to accept the de facto liquidation of the right of return, the PA is abandoning a long-held Palestinian national constant, including the resolution of the right of return pursuant to UN resolution 194, which stipulates both repatriation and compensation.

We certainly don't expect Palestinian Authority officials and negotiators to emulate the great Salahuddin Al-Ayyoubi in returning Jerusalem. They are too corrupt and too un-Islamic to deserve such an honour. However, we do expect them to keep the promises they have made consistently to the Palestinian people, including the rejection of the illegal Jewish colonies established in the West Bank since 1967. These settlements are acts of rape against the land of Palestine that should never be legitimized.

The scandal triggered by Al-Jazeera's revelations has underscored the problem of entrusting the entire Palestinian problem, with all its Islamic and historical dimensions, to mediocre Palestinian negotiators who are left alone at the mercy of Israeli arrogance which springs out of being the occupying power.

Hence, this issue should serve as a wake-up call to all of us, however late it may be, to make sure that these negotiators, indeed the entire PA regime, are not left alone to deal on our collective behalf. After all, Palestine and Jerusalem are Islamic issues. Omar ibn Al-Khattab and Salahuddin Al-Ayyoubi never thought of Arab, let alone Palestinian nationalism, when they liberated the Holy City. The holy Qur'an reminds us that we might dislike something in which there is much good for us. As such, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims must stop mutual recriminations and make sure that the Palestinian Authority is never put in a position where it can repeat these potentially fatal mistakes.


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