Many people told them so -- told them, meaning told the United States and Israel and even the overeager Palestinian leadership, that the Oslo agreement in 1993 wasn't fair; that it made too many demands of the Palestinians and virtually no enforceable demands of Israel; that the United States, no honest broker or neutral mediator, was looking out only for Israel's interests and cared nothing for Palestinian concerns; that the peace process breakdown at Camp David in 2000 was not the fault of the Palestinians but was the responsibility of President Clinton and his "Israeli lawyer" advisers for representing only Israel's needs; that while Clinton demanded Palestinian concessions, he was winking at Israel's steady expansion of settlements and land grabs in Palestinian territory; that Clinton's two successors did the same.
Many analysts told them that hopes for a genuine two-state solution died in the 1990s -- indeed, were never realistic -- because Israel, with U.S. knowledge and support, was swallowing Palestine, eating the pizza they were supposed to be negotiating over, as many Palestinians have said. But no one in power in the United States or the international community or in the media listened.
Someone may have to start listening. This U.S. complicity in Israeli expansionism, and the desperate acquiescence of the Palestinian leadership in Israeli demands for its surrender, have now been exposed in the massive document leak by al-Jazeera. Dubbed the Palestine Papers, the collection of almost 1,700 documents was obtained from unknown, possibly Palestinian, sources and covers a decade of "peace process" maneuvering. So far, there is only silence from the Obama administration, which is implicated in the documents along with the Bush and Clinton administrations. But reaction around the world is voluble and hard to ignore.
Palestinians, the documents show, offered compromises that verge on total capitulation. At a time in 2008 when talks with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were coming to a head and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was pushing hard, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his colleagues offered Israel the 1967 borders, the Palestinians' right of return, and Israeli settlements on a silver platter. The Palestinians would have agreed to let Israel keep all settlements in East Jerusalem except Har Homa; allowed Israel to annex more settlements in the West Bank (altogether totaling over 400,000 settlers); agreed to an inequitable territorial swap in return for giving Israel prime West Bank real estate, and settled for the return of only 5,000 Palestinian refugees (out of more than four million) over a five-year period. And still Israel rejected the package of compromises, which they said "does not meet our demands" -- presumably because their principal desire is that the Palestinians simply disappear.
The Palestinian eagerness to offer Israel such massive compromises has been the most prominent story from the Palestine Papers thus far, but the story of the pressure one U.S. administration after another has exerted on Palestinian negotiators to make these concessions and accommodate all Israel's demands shows U.S. conduct throughout almost two decades of negotiations to be perhaps the most cynical, and indeed the most shameful, of the three parties.
United States negotiators, from Bill Clinton's team, through Condoleezza Rice, to Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell today, have consistently treated the Palestinian leadership with humiliating derision. In the fall of 2009, Hillary Clinton asked Erekat why the Palestinians were, as she remarked snidely, "always in a chapter of a Greek tragedy." Mitchell treated Erekat with similar contempt. During a meeting in 2008, Rice dismissed a Palestinian request for compensation for refugees forced to flee their homes in 1948 -- a demand that goes to the heart of Palestinian grievances -- with the remark that "bad things happen to people all around the world all the time."
Policymakers clearly couldn't be bothered. Scat, these Americans said to the pesky Palestinians in effect; we're not interested in your silly grievances. In a blunt commentary on al-Jazeera, former CIA officer Robert Grenier has written that his reaction to what the Palestine Papers reveal about U.S. conduct is "one of shame." The U.S., he says, has always followed a path of political expediency, "at the cost of decency, justice and our clear, long-term interests. More pointedly, the Palestine papers reveal us to have . . . demanded and encouraged the Palestinian participants to take disproportionate risks for a negotiated settlement, and then to have refused to extend ourselves to help them achieve it, leaving them exposed and vulnerable." The papers "further document an American legacy of ignominy in Palestine."
Shameful indeed. A London Guardian editorial captures the essence of U.S. policy as it has been pursued since the first days of the Obama administration and indeed since the first days of Israel 63 years ago: the Americans' neutrality, the Guardian writes pointedly, "consists of bullying the weak and holding the hand of the strong."
It may be too much to hope for serious change in this U.S. policy anytime soon, but the Palestine Papers revelations may at least open discussion on the wisdom of continuing to pursue a policy that virtually everyone throughout the world recognize as a "legacy of ignominy."