Palestine Papers' real scoop

Many commentators far more erudite than I am on the subject of peace in the Middle East have given vent to their erudition in respect of the so-called "Palestine Papers"- the 1,600 or so documents leaked to Al Jazeera and then passed on to other media.

To those of you with the time and inclination to delve into the documents and to divine their meaning I must issue some health warnings. The first is to remember that - assuming they are authentic - what we have been presented with is no more than a carefully chosen assortment of minutes, maps, emails and the like that originated on the Palestinian side of the negotiating table, specifically from its so-called Negotiating Support Unit (NSU), a disgruntled member of which is said to have been responsible for the leak.

Whoever the leaker was, he or she had a purpose in leaking, and that purpose is likely to have been to discredit the Fatah-based Palestinian negotiating team. Israel has neither been discredited by the leaks nor been shown to have been in any sense duplicitous in its dealings with Palestinian negotiators during the period (1999-2010) covered by the leaked material. This cannot be said of the Palestinian side.

We certainly do not have the entire Palestinian archive on the negotiations, and we therefore almost certainly lack some important contexts in which the Papers must be viewed. And we do not -yet - have access to the Israeli or American archives.

Palestinians have admitted that Jews too have a right of return

But insofar as the Palestine Papers as given to Al Jazeera are concerned, whose authenticity has been verified by a number of Israeli participants in the negotiations, there was no credibility gap separating what Israeli government representatives said in private to their Palestinian counterparts, and what they said in public - for example, on the indivisibility of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and on the Israeli rejection of the "Right of Return" for all Palestinian Arabs, and their descendants, who for whatever reason left Mandate Palestine in 1948-49. And, on the issue of territorial claims in Judea and Samaria, the Papers support what we have known for a long time- that Israel has offered to cede territory elsewhere (principally in the Negev) in return for Samarian and Judean areas now populated by Jews.

In public, Palestinian negotiators have denied any willingness to entertain the ceding of territory in this way, have rejected the indivisibility of Jerusalem, and have insisted on the implementation of a complete Right of Return. But in private, as revealed by the Papers, they have apparently taken very different positions.

Meanwhile, they have made no attempt to prepare their citizenry for the concessions they declared in private that they were prepared to make. Which face of the Palestinian Authority are we to believe? More to the point, which face are the Palestinian masses to believe?

Bearing these questions in mind, I want to draw your attention to a document in the Papers that has not been given the media attention it deserves. Go, as I did, to the Al Jazeera website, or more correctly to the website of the "Al Jazeera Transparency Unit", where all the leaked material has been usefully catalogued. Go specifically to document 3369 (www.ajtransparency.com/en/document/3369 ). This is a paper drafted by the NSU in September 2008 on the subject of the "Rights of Jews within the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories] acquired pre-1967".

Obsessed as they are with the "Right of Return", Palestinians and others have generally been scathing and dismissive whenever I have raised with them the question of compensation to Jews expelled from Arab lands in the period 1948-53. Either, I have been told, these Jews left of their own accord or they were forced out by Zionist bully-boys.

Yet, here in document 3369, we have a Palestinian admission that Jews who owned land and other property in Judea, Samaria and Gaza prior to 1948, and which was confiscated by the Jordanians and Egyptians, "have the right to have their land restored to them or to be compensated, if restitution is not materially possible".

The document further explains that "Jews are entitled to compensation for other material and non-material losses, including lost profits, lost income, etc caused by their displacement and dispossession." This admission - that Jews legally owned land in areas claimed by the Palestinian Authority and are entitled to compensation for its loss - is truly remarkable. What a pity the Palestinian leadership has to date made no public acknowledgement of this right.

    Last updated: 10:37am, February 21 2011