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The Aljazeera Scandal

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Headlined to H4 1/28/11

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I ALWAYS thought this a specifically Israeli trait: whenever a scandal of national proportions breaks out, we ignore the crucial issues and focus our attention on some secondary detail. This spares us having to face the real problems and making painful decisions.

There are examples galore. The classic one centered on the question: "Who Gave the Order?" When it became known that in 1954 an Israeli spy ring had been ordered to plant bombs in US and British institutions in Egypt, in order to sabotage the effort to improve relations between the West and Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, a huge crisis rocked Israel. Almost nobody asked whether the idea itself had been wise or stupid. Almost nobody asked whether it was really in the best interest of Israel to challenge the new and vigorous Egyptian leader, who was fast becoming the idol of the entire Arab world (and who had already secretly indicated that he could possibly make peace with Israel).

No, the question was solely: Who had given the order? The Minister of Defense, Pinhas Lavon, or the chief of military intelligence, Binyamin Gibli? This question rocked the nation, brought down the government and induced David Ben-Gurion to leave the Labor Party.

Recently, the Turkish flotilla scandal centered around the question: was it a good idea for commandos to slide down ropes onto the ship, or should another form of attack have been adopted? Almost nobody asked: should Gaza have been blockaded in the first place? Wasn't it smarter to start talking with Hamas? Was it a good idea to attack a Turkish ship on the high sees?

It seems that this particular Israeli way of dealing with problems is infectious. In this respect (too), our neighbors are starting to resemble us.

THE ALJAZEERA TV network followed WikiLeaks' example this week by publishing a pile of secret Palestinian documents. They paint a detailed picture of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, especially during the time of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when the gap between the parties became much smaller.

In the Arab world, this caused a huge stir. Even while the "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia was still in full swing, and masses of people in Egypt were confronting the Mubarak regime, the Aljazeera leaks stirred up an intense controversy.

But what was the clash about? Not about the position of the Palestinian negotiators, not about the strategy of Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues, its basic assumptions, its pros and cons.

No, in the Israeli way, the main question was: who leaked the documents? Who is lurking in the shadows behind the whistle-blowers? The CIA? The Mossad? What were their sinister motives?

On Aljazeera, the Palestinian leaders were accused of treason and worse. In Ramallah, the Aljazeera offices were attacked by pro-Abbas crowds. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, declared that Aljazeera was actually calling for his murder. He and others denied that they had ever made the concessions indicated in the documents. They seemed to be saying in public that such concessions would amount to betrayal -- though they agreed to them in secret.

All this is nonsense. Now that the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating positions have been made public -- and nobody seriously denied their authenticity -- the real discussion should be about their substance.

FOR ANYONE involved in any way with Israeli-Palestinian peace-making, there was nothing really surprising in these disclosures.

On the contrary, they showed that the Palestinian negotiators are adhering strictly to the guidelines laid down by Yasser Arafat.

I know this firsthand, because I had the opportunity to discuss them with Arafat himself. That was in 1992, after the election of Yitzhak Rabin. Rachel and I went to Tunis to meet "Abu Amar", as he liked to be called. The high point of the visit was a meeting in which, besides Arafat himself, several Palestinian leaders took part -- among them Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Abed-Rabbo.

All were intensely curious about the personality of Rabin, whom I knew well, and questioned me closely about him. My remark that "Rabin is as honest as a politician can be" was greeted with general laughter, most of all from Arafat.

But the main part of the meeting was devoted to a review of the key problems of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The borders, Jerusalem, security, the refugees etc, which are now generally referred to as the "core issues".

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Gush

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