2011-01-28 Cable: Qatar on the Israeli-Palestine talks, Egypt and Iran

US state cable 2010-02-24: 10DOHA71 outlines Senator Kerry’s meeting with Qatar’s Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani (HBJ) on February 13, 2010. In the meeting, HBJ stresses that it is a mistake to exclude Hamas from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, equates Egypt to a physician with one patient, and accuses Egypt of having a vested interest in dragging out the talks for as long as possible. He also warned against a US military action against Iran.

HBJ told Senator John Kerry February 13 that “everyone in the region” seems to have a separate plan for moving ahead on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute when only one plan was needed; a plan that both the Israelis and Palestinians would accept and finalize. HBJ underscored that it is a mistake to ignore Hamas in seeking a lasting agreement. Saying this does not mean that Qatar expresses a preference for Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot sign off on an agreement on behalf of the Palestinians where open divisions exist.

Senator Kerry responded that we “are where we are.” He assessed that the Goldstone Report and dissatisfaction in Fatah’s ranks in the West Bank made it difficult for Abu Mazen to “give something to Israel” that would allow direct negotiations to begin between the parties. Add in Abu Mazen’s previous statements on the need for a full settlement freeze, and the ingredients for the Palestinian people to accept direct talks simply are not there.

Abu Mazen is out on a limb, responded HBJ. “He climbed a tree (drawing a line in the sand on settlements) and can’t get down.” HBJ noted that in conversations Qatar has held with Hamas’ leadership, it is clear that Hamas is ready to accept Israel’s right to exist. But the acceptance must come about gradually, not in one day. Senator Kerry said he had heard this elsewhere, but in his own conversations, he did not get the sense that Hamas was ready to accept Israel’s existence.

Qatar’s PM observed that the biggest obstacle on the Palestinian side to an eventual agreement with Israel is the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah. HBJ maintained that it would have happened during the previous U.S. administration, but President Bush told Abu Mazen not to sign off on it. Reconciliation can happen, HBJ asserted, but only “if bigger countries in the region allow it.” The leaderships in Syria and Gaza consult each other, and no one leader in Hamas can take a decision alone, reported HBJ.

Chairman Kerry asked HBJ if Hamas is feeling political pressure from Gazans over their current living conditions. HBJ responded that anytime people do not have housing, schools or public utilities, their political leaders feel pressure.

According to HBJ, Egypt — the broker — has a vested interest in dragging out the talks for as long as possible. Egypt “has no end game; serving as broker of the talks is Egypt’s only business interest with the U.S.” HBJ likened the situation to a physician who has only one patient to treat in the hospital. If that is your only business, “the physician is going to keep the patient alive but in the hospital for as long as possible.” HBJ emphasized that Qatar, on the other hand, is interested only in bringing about peace in the region — and as quickly as possible.

HBJ noted that since its inception the Quartet has been anti-Hamas and aligned with the interests of Abu Mazen, Egypt and Jordan. These partners of the Quartet, observed HBJ, are the very partners who have not delivered a Palestinian-Israeli agreement.

Returning to his theme that “peace brokers” act in their own self-interest, HBJ observed that President Mubarak of Egypt is thinking about how his son can take his place and how to stave off the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian government, said HBJ, has jailed 10,000 Muslim Brotherhood members without bringing court cases against them. The Egyptian “people blame America” now for their plight. The shift in mood on the ground is “mostly because of Mubarak and his close ties” to the United States. His only utility to the U.S. is brokering peace between Palestinians and Israelis, so he has no interest in taking himself out of the one game he has, underscored HBJ. “Tell your friends (in Egypt) they must help themselves.”

As for Qatar, “We want to help Abu Mazen and the Palestinians,” declared HBJ. The short-term needs of Palestinians in Gaza are acute, said HBJ. We need to broker a quick reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and move forward quickly on rebuilding Gaza. Senator Kerry asserted that HBJ was preaching to the converted and told the PM he was “shocked by what I saw in Gaza.”

Continuing to illustrate how Egypt had not delivered for the U.S. on Palestinian issues, HBJ said Qatar was told in late 2008 that Israel and the U.S. needed the Egyptians to deal with the crisis in Gaza. Yet former Israeli PM Olmert later complained to Qatar that Egypt is a big country and not nimble; it could not move fast enough. Senator Kerry pointed out he was in Cairo at the time Qatar was calling for an Arab League Summit in December 2008/January 2009 and asked HBJ for his perspective on the rift between Qatar and Egypt at that time.

HBJ told Senator Kerry that Mubarak refused to come to Doha for a meeting of Arab leaders, preferring that the meeting take place in Riyadh. The request to move the meeting was relayed to Qatar by the Saudis, not the Egyptians. Saudi Arabia, as a big country like Egypt, has a vested interest in keeping Egypt afloat, said HBJ. The Saudis agreed to host the meeting in Riyadh not because they objected to traveling to Doha, but because the Egyptians did. “So we argued over the meeting location” while the Palestinians suffered, and we in Qatar “called a meeting and said whoever comes, comes.”

Qatar is worried, said HBJ, about Egypt and its people, who are increasingly impatient. Mubarak, continued HBJ, says Al Jazeera is the source of Egypt’s problems. This is an excuse. HBJ had told Mubarak “we would stop Al Jazeera for a year” if he agreed in that span of time to deliver a lasting settlement for the Palestinians. Mubarak said nothing in response, according to HBJ.

Asked his advice on bringing about an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, HBJ said President Clinton recognized before leaving office that Egypt was a problem. When President Clinton sought help at the end of his term in reaching a final deal, the Saudis and Egyptians did not encourage him, said HBJ. “They told him to do what he thinks right.” Culturally, said HBJ, that is the way Arabs say “you are on your own.” And President Clinton was, said HBJ.

Now we are at a stage, said HBJ, where Egypt does not want Arab League involvement in brokering a reconciliation agreement among the Palestinians unless the talks bog down. HBJ said he had told Abbas that climbing down from his tree on no settlement activity so that talks can go forward will require Arab support. But the Egyptians won’t allow it.

Senator Kerry noted that Special Envoy Mitchell had made a lot of requests of Arabs but with little success. Leaving Qatar aside, the Chairman asked HBJ for proposed next steps. HBJ said he trusts the Saudis, but because they talk openly to Egypt and do not want to create more problems for Egypt than the Egyptian government already has, it is essential to bring in the small countries and start there.

HBJ suggested one or two GCC members, Morocco (although the King there is hesitant) and Syria as the core membership of an Arab League committee to address Palestinian-Israeli concerns. HBJ told Senator Kerry the inclusion of Syria might surprise him, but having Syria play a role would create jealousy among the Arabs. Some jealously and rivalry is just what the U.S. needs, opined HBJ, to get the process moving.

Iran, Lebanon and Iraq

HBJ said Iran’s president views the U.S. as a country that is overstretched and in difficulty as a result of too many commitments. Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S. economy are the three main problems President Ahmadinejad sees. HBJ observed that a Western attack against Iran for Ahmadinejad would be good politics, because it would allow him to take out his opposition using the war as a pretext. Senator Kerry asked clarification of whether Ahmadinejad had said these things, or if HBJ inferred them from conversation.

Qatar’s PM said Ahmadinejad had told him, “We beat the Americans in Iraq; the final battle will be in Iran.”

HBJ said putting economic pressure on Iran is the best way to get the leadership to rethink its quest for nuclear weapons. To be successful, he told Senator Kerry, Russia would definitely have to be on board, as would the Central Asian countries bordering Iran that provide food and supplies.

Asked his perception of the state of play with the opposition, HBJ said the U.S. had done a good job of standing back and not becoming the symbol of the opposition. Cracks in the regime are appearing. It is highly significant that many demonstrators ignored Khamenei when he called on them to stop their protests. The four key pillars of Iranian power — the court, oil sector, imams, and Revolutionary Guards — all must stick with him, stressed HBJ. There are cracks in the system, but the downfall of the regime may not be in the cards.

Asked what the sanctions should target, HBJ said the money that Iran derives from oil. Depriving Tehran of this revenue would force the regime to negotiate.

Senator Kerry observed that Ahmadinejad was making it easier by his actions. There is wide consensus in the Executive and Legislative branches of Washington to press ahead. Senator Kerry warned that Ahmadinejad “should not equate Afghanistan and Iraq with what he faces.”

HBJ encouraged Chairman Kerry to bear in mind that Iran is clever and makes its opponents dizzy in the quest for deals. They will keep you working on a deal and then start from scratch with a new interlocutor. HBJ stressed that Iran will make no deal. Iran wants nuclear weapons, and HBJ said he would not be surprised to see Iran test one to demonstrate to the world its achievement.

On Lebanon, Senator Kerry asked if Iran and Hizballah are ratcheting up their weapons stockpiles as part of Iran’s war against Israel. HBJ affirmed that is the case.

On Iraq, HBJ told Senator Kerry that Prime Minister Al-Maliki wants a Shia state, even though the Sunnis (when you count Kurds and non-Kurds) have the majority.

2011-01-27 Israel and ethnic cleansing

Earlier this week, Israel was accused of ethnic cleansing of Israeli Arabs based on material in the Palestine Papers (summarized here and here). In the Palestine Papers, documents show Israeli negotiators wanting to cut out Arab occupied parts of Israel and give them to Palestine as they were considered “Palestinian” parts of Israel. Other documents discuss the Palestinian diaspora and Israel’s refusal and Palestine’s inability to accept them as citizens. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice suggested they should be transported to Chile and Argentina.

Yesterday, Nurit Kedar aired a report on Channel 4 News telling of a different kind of ethnic cleansing.

In a report first aired on Channel 4 News on Wednesday, 24-year-old tank commander Ohad remembers being told the night before the operation that the entry into Gaza was to be “disproportionate”.

Once into Gaza, he says his orders were unambiguous: “We needed to cleanse the neighbourhoods, the buildings, the area. It sounds really terrible to say “cleanse”, but those were the orders….I don’t want to make a mistake with the words.”

The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] has said its operational orders during the war emphasised “proportionality” and “humanity”.

The importance of minimising harm to civilians was made clear to soldiers, the IDF said at the time. By the end of the 22 day long operation some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed and large areas of Gaza razed. Ten Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians also died.

Since airing the report, the film maker has received death threats.

“I have had phone calls saying ‘you should be hanged’ and calling me a traitor.

“People have sent me messages calling for me to be expelled from Israel, saying I am a traitor to my mother and father.”

2011-01-27 Palestine Papers reaction

In a statement to the press, Saeb Erekat, chief PLO negotiator, spoke out against the reports based on the Palestine Papers in Al Jazeera and the Guardian. “In the past few hours, a number of reports have surfaced regarding our positions in our negotiations with Israel, many of which have misrepresented our positions, taking statements and facts out of context. Other allegations circulated in the media have been patently false.”

While Al Jazeera suffered from about 50 protesters smashing the windows and security cameras of their TV studios, there may have been long term implications for the Palestinian leadership.

Speaking to journalists in Cairo, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said the public had been misled by the reports. “We say very clearly, we do not have secrets.”

 

The citizens of Gaza remained unconvinced.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials said after a meeting of several groups that all were agreed that deals made with Israel by president Mahmud Abbas’s western-backed Palestinian Authority and his Fatah movement were invalid.

“The participants declared … that the Fatah authority was not entitled to speak in the name of the Palestinian people and that no agreement it makes with the occupier is binding upon our people,” senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan told AFP.

In Wednesday’s Gaza gathering, Islamic militants agreed “on the need to restructure the Palestine Liberation Organisation in a way that makes it relevant to the Palestinian people and to stop negotiations (with Israel),” Khaled al-Batsh, a local Islamic Jihad leader told AFP.

In London, Palestinian students have staged a sit-in protest at the Palestinian diplomatic mission in London.

Akiva Eldar of the Ha’aretz Daily told CNN that “People in Israel were not very interested by those reports.” He said that many people in Israel had lost faith in the process after watching their government “dragging its feet” for the last two years.

According to an article in Ha’aretz Daily, a US State Department official said the leak is making an already difficult situation more difficult and that Washington was in no position to verify the papers’ veracity.

2011-01-26 The Palestine Papers (Part 2 of 2) [UPDATE 1]

Part 1 of the Palestine Papers summary is here. The summary concludes with the last documents released on January 26th, and Al Jazeera’s editorials on the documents.

Private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone Report was being discussed at the United Nations.

PA stonewalled the Goldstone voteThe UN Human Rights Council was to vote on a resolution supporting the Goldstone Report, the UN’s probe of war crimes committed during Israel’s war in Gaza, on October 2, 2009. The Palestine Papers document exchanges between the US, Israel and the Palestinian Authority during that period. The Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, looking for an agreement he could politically agree to, was convinced by the US, who were determined that Obama’s promises of renewed negotiations would be met, that renewing negotiations was in their best interests.

During a series of meetings, Erekat presses for some guidelines or foundations for the discussion“SE cautioned that if the US announced negotiations and there is no agreement on these issues, there will be a disaster.” The US refuses to provide any, making clear that for them, the process is the important object. “Undoubtedly you’’ve perceived the sense of urgency of the President. He attitude was consistent: we need to proceed to negotiations … Regardless of the package with the Israelis, we are not asking you to agree to it. So there is no risk of acquiescence.”

From minutes of a meeting between Saeb Erekat and George Mitchell on September 24, 2009:

SE: No. For me Jerusalem is the same as the rest of West Bank. No one, including your government says it’s not occupied territory! So by allowing them this to take place we will be acquiescing to it. We cannot allow it. Again, I appreciate your efforts, but Israel is the occupier, not the US, so it is not enough for Obama to merely say the word Jerusalem. That’s why I asked if you have anything new to tell me. For me this is about international law, legitimacy and principles, not making these deals. With this, you’re better off without a deal than with one. The mere fact that Jerusalem is not part of the moratorium will mean the Arabs won’t accept it. It’s a victory for Netanyahu and he can continue to rule for years, and I will continue to live under occupation. I’ve stated this to you every time we met – wherever and whenever: Anything that takes Jerusalem out will be a non-starter. …

SE: Let’s go back to the Roadmap. It is US language. You knew what you were writing. What we have is ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem …

SE: You know Bibi! I’ve heard this before and I’ve been there before. I simply cannot afford to go into a process that is bound to fail. I am trying to defend my existence and way of life. You know I asked to meet with the Israelis several times- they refused because they told want to answer my questions. And then he says I am a “wild beast of a man” – you know the reference to Ishmael … what a disgrace. I would shake hands with Lieberman and tell him “Shana Tovah” instead of this incitement. You talked about incitement – we have taken significant steps, the sermons in the mosques are under control …

SE: When BO says settlements are illegitimate in front of the whole world, Israel continues, despite this and despite all of international law – the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention, Security Council resolutions. Why then did you reach the position that there needs to be a freeze, including natural growth? This was your language. And why did you then change your mind? Why is it now changed to “restraint”? …

SE: … If you couldn’t deliver on this why did you say that at the beginning? Why didn’t you say “limitations” instead of “freeze”? Now BO is saying “restraints”. …

 

The US prevailed. The Al Jazeera report states that on October 2, 2009, as the Palestinian Authority called for a deferral of the UNHRC vote, they also had agreed to a US document containing the sentence:

“The PA will help to promote a positive atmosphere conducive to negotiations; in particular during negotiations it will refrain from pursuing or supporting any initiative directly or indirectly in international legal forums that would undermine that atmosphere.”

 

The fallout of Erekat’s support of a deferral among Palestine’s Arab neighbours is discussed by Al Jazeera in Erekat “told Amr Moussa to behave”.

What the minutes actually reveal here is that almost 18 years into the (failed) peace process, the Palestinians have edged too closely towards the Americans, to the detriment of their relations with the Arabs. On the other hand they oppose any level of new Israeli-Arab rapprochement they’re not central to.

 

This is discussed further in “The region is slipping away”.

The possibility that the Palesinian Authority had foreknowledge of the attack on Gaza that killed approximately 1400 Palestinians

Al Jazeera discusses this in PA’s foreknowledge of the Gaza war? pointing to quotes such as

Gilad: The West Bank is coming and this is Hamas’ strategic goal. We are not negotiating with them but we allow the entry of food and fuel into the Gaza Strip for humanitarian reasons. My strategic advice for you is to be ready. It is like Achilles’ heel; if the situation goes on as it is for a year or two more, you will become weaker and Hamas will have control over the West Bank. They in Hamas understand the situation and they are fearful. Gaza was only an example. They understand the mood in Israel.

 

to contradict Erekat’s claims that the Palestinian Authority did not discuss with Israel their attacks on Gaza that left 1400 Palestinians dead. According to Erekat, “We knew about the war because the Israelis were saying there was going to be a war … there were never any actual consultations between us and the Israelis before the war.”

The increasingly frequent threat from Palestine of a one state solution as a negotiating tool or a viable option.

The threat of a one-state solution From 2007 on, Erekat, the chief PA negotiator, began referring to the one-state solution as a so-called BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement. In a meeting on October 2, 2009, he stated, “It is the last time for the two states. My option, the BATNA, if all this goes down, is the one state.”

In a meeting on October 21 2009 he repeated the threat:

Erekat: We know what it take[s], after 19 years. They [the Israelis] cannot decide if they want two states. They want to keep settling in the areas of my state.

Mitchell: But they will settle more if you continue this way.

Erekat: Then we announce the one state and the struggle for equality in the state of Israel. If our state will not be viable and will have the wall we will fight against apartheid. You either have a decision for peace or a decision for settlements. You cannot have both.

 

From Al Jazeera:

A poll released in April 2010 by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, for example, found 34 per cent support for a bi-national state, up from 21 per cent in June 2009. An October 2010 pollf from the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research found 27 per cent support for a one-state option, up from 23 per cent in May 2009.

In 2003, Muammar Qadafi was one of the first Arab leaders to publicly endorse a one-state solution, which he named ‘Isratine’ [a combination of the words ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’]. Qadafi argued that a two-state option would create unacceptable security hazards for Israel on the one hand, and would do little to address the issue of the Palestinian refugees on the other.

 

Miscellaneous items of interest.

A glimpse into the negotiation room Al Jazeera has collected a few of the lighter moments of the negotiations in this article including:

  • US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was prone to anecdotes of what her father used to say, and suggested sending the Palestinian diaspora to live in Chile and Argentina, seriously suggested Palestine use Jordan’s airspace as their own since Palestine’s was “too small”.
  • Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni joked, “We’ve a saying too. When you want to curse somebody you tell him “Go to hell” but we shorten it and say “Go to Gaza.”
  • Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “Whoever will be able to reach an agreement to solve this conflict will be the most important figure in the region after Jesus Christ!”
  • And more …

Al Jazeera revisits the extent to which the Palestinian Authority was prepared to subordinate the immediate needs of Palestinians to the battle with Hamas, of which they often spoke of with Israeli officials as a common enemy, in PA lobbying blocked Shalit swap .

The PA vs. Al Jazeera highlights the mentions of the Qatar based Al Jazeera media in the Palestine Papers.

Ahmed Qurei: Al-Jazeera is not our friend, they are with Hamas. So this leak is not the result of journalism, it is a political decision.

Al Jazeera: We adhere “to the highest editorial standards and offer viewers impartial, balanced and in-depth coverage of events in the region and beyond. … To underline our commitment to transparency and accountability, we are publishing all of the documents in the Palestine Papers online, including allegations made against Al Jazeera.”

 

The conclusions drawn from the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera.

An Al Jazeera editorial by Alistair Crooke, What prospect for reconciliation?, looks at the current situation revealed by the Palestine Papers:

The Palestine Papers show that the so-called mission of “establishing rule of law” has become a mere codeword for suppressing Hamas, the Islamist organization that won elections in 2006. From 2001 until present, the Palestinian security forces went from being accused by Israel and the West of complicity in terrorism against Israel, to terrorizing their own society. This was clearly reflected in a conversation between U.S. Security Coordinator Lt. General Keith Dayton (USA), and Saeb Erekat on June 24, 2009.

Dayton: “By the way, the intelligence guys are good. The Israelis like them. They say they are giving as much as they are taking from them – but they are causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people”.

The Palestinian Authority laid out the extent of its cooperation with Israel in a confidential memo they gave Senator George Mitchell in June 2009. Among the actions they highlighted:

  • Arrested approximately 3,700 members of armed groups;
  • Summoned around 4,700 individuals for questioning about various offences, including affiliations with armed groups;
  • Confiscated over 1,100 weapons;
  • Seized over 2,500,000 NIS belonging to armed groups;
  • Confiscated numerous materials used to incite violence.

 

The editorial concludes that reconciliation between the Fatah leadership and Hamas is not possible because

Firstly, it is impossible because the enmity towards Hamas has been so systemized, so ‘built-in’ to every aspect of life, and to every institution, that it would require the dismantling of everything that was built by Abbas and the Americans during the last decade, to make ‘reconciliation’ mean something more than empty words.

But secondly, it will not happen because simply – as the Palestine Papers so starkly reveal – there was nothing on offer. Netanyahu and Livni offered Abbas nothing. In short, what is there to talk about with Hamas? Abbas had nothing to give.

 

The relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the US is discussed further in US sidelined Palestinian democracyThe US role as Israel’s enabler and A letter to the Palestinian people.

Full coverage of the Palestine Papers, with maps and profiles of the main featured players, is available at the Guardian as well as Al Jazeera.

UPDATE: Added section The possibility that the Palesinian Authority had foreknowledge of the attack on Gaza that killed approximately 1400 Palestinians which had been inadvertently deleted.