By Saeb Erakat
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 29/01/2011
The release of Palestinian documents by Al Jazeera reveals nothing new about the nature and content of negotiations. Rather, it constitutes an unambiguous slander campaign aimed at the Palestinian leadership at a time when we seek to take new measures in defence of the Palestinian cause.
We have been accused of making great concessions to Israel behind the backs of the Palestinian people. Such allegations are groundless. For the past 19 years, the Palestinian leadership has engaged in hard-fought but meaningful negotiations with Israel with the aim of achieving a permanent agreement based on two states on the 1967 borders, with occupied east Jerusalem as our capital and a just solution to the refugee issue based on international law and the United Nations Resolution 194.
These red lines have guided and shaped our discussions with Israel and at present with our American interlocutors.
In the course of these negotiations, we have explored a wide range of ideas with the purpose of reaching an understanding of mutual interests leading to an agreed-upon settlement. Yet all of our positions have been grounded in the principles of international law with respect to the rights of the Palestinian people, without exception.
A careful and complete reading of the documents at hand — which goes beyond the sensationalised headlines and spin — will reveal this to be true.
First and foremost, it is essential to understand that no agreement has ever been reached between the parties on any of the permanent status issues. This reality, by its very definition, renders it impossible that either party has conceded anything.
Of equal and closely related importance is the most fundamental premise that has been the basis of our negotiations with Israel: namely, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Accordingly, it is impossible to look at any negotiation map, proffered land swap, or any other issue in isolation without understanding the overall offer then on the table.
Any such attempt places an issue squarely out of context. It is at best a misguided exercise, and one that is assured of misrepresenting the facts in any given portion of what have been lengthy, detailed and highly-charged negotiations.
Furthermore, we have always made clear that any solution agreed upon at the negotiating table must hold up to a Palestinian national referendum. In other words, no agreement will be concluded without the approval of the Palestinian people. Therefore, there are no secrets or back door dealings. We shoulder a huge responsibility with far-reaching implications, and we have spent years trying to reach agreed terms that honour our rights and dignity and that, therefore, will meet the approval of our people.
What should be taken from these documents is that Palestinian negotiators have consistently come to the table in complete seriousness and in good faith, and that we have only been met by rejection at the other end.
Conventional wisdom, supported by the press, has allowed Israel to promote the idea that it has always lacked a partner at our end. If it has not been before, it should now be painfully obvious that the very opposite is true. It is Palestinians who have lacked, and who continue to lack, a serious partner for peace.
Ultimately the world must not be distracted from what has been the only constant throughout this process. Israel continues to occupy the land of Palestine, to colonise it relentlessly, and to deny the most fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, in particular our refugees.
These are the issues that demand attention and that must be addressed without further delay.
Dr Saeb Erekat is the Palestine Liberation Organisation's chief negotiator.