This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 26/01/2011
Before going into the details, the answer to the above question is: No! It seems that some today, through the use of leaked documents, are trying to convince the Palestinians and the Arabs that Mahmoud Abbas and his associates have sold out the Palestinian issue.
The bulk of the so-called "Palestine papers" contains nothing new, especially to the Arabs, and many officials are responding to this by saying "yes, we already knew this." The leaked documents relate to details of the negotiations – not agreements – conducted during the latter part of George W. Bush's presidency. It must be noted here that when a negotiator goes to the negotiation table, and this is something that goes for any negotiator and any negotiations, he puts forward a variety of ideas, that are both consistent and inconsistent [with previously stated positions]. This is something that resembles the blades of a helicopter, with nobody knowing whether these are spinning clockwise or anti-clockwise. The most important point is always the final agreement. Furthermore, there is a certain rationalization that governs both sets of negotiators, prompting them to roam from their interests and stated positions, for there are facts on the ground, both historical and religious, that cannot be ignored.
If these documents had come out when Mahmoud Abbas and his associates were sitting at the negotiating table, face-to-face with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then we could say: maybe they deserve this Arab outburst. However, the documents have come out at a time when the Palestinian President is refusing to negotiate with Israel, because of ongoing settlement activity. This is the puzzling matter, for how can we accuse Abbas and his men of ‘selling out’ the Palestinian cause, or offering major concessions, at a time when they are being criticized by many, including ourselves, for refusing to return to the negotiation table, under the pretext that there must first be a settlement moratorium? How can someone intending to sell out Jerusalem also battle to stop settlement construction there? The truth is that the current uproar does not even merit the time that has been spend discussing it.
I am not saying this in order to disregard [the leaked documents], but rather to express my disapproval of the attempts to destroy the Palestinian Authority, when it is currently obtaining official recognition for an independent Palestinian state, from one South American country after another. The latest country to do so was Peru, the day before yesterday, announcing that "we recognize a free and sovereign Palestinian state." Israel was yesterday furious when Ireland decided to raise the status of Palestinian representation in Dublin to the level of ‘diplomatic mission’, something that both France and the U.S. have done previously, whilst Britain is currently considering adopting the same measure.
Therefore, the question that must be asked today is not the one I mentioned in the title, i.e. is Abbas a traitor? Rather the real question is: Who benefits from releasing these negotiation documents at this time, considering that they are non-binding, and were not signed by anybody? That is the question, and all indications would suggest that Israel is the only beneficiary. As for the current criticism being lodged by Hamas, this is both pointless and petulant. If the details contained in the leaked negotiation papers justify anger against the Palestinian Authority, or criticism of the Palestinian President, then what can we say about Hamas, who offered a limited-period truce to Israel? Does this mean that they only wanted to "rent" Jerusalem from Israel, for a specific period of time?
Unfortunately, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been ongoing for around 60 years, and the Palestinian cause is still being used as a weapon to settle inter-Arab disputes; we do not image that inter-Arab relations will be resolved anytime soon, however what is unfortunate is that the methods of inter-Arab bickering have not developed, and in fact continue to decline.