Palestine Papers whistleblower revealed and Saeb Erekat responds

In an article on Al Jazeera English and in The Guardian today, Ziyad Clot, a former legal advisor to Palestinian negotiators has revealed that he was one of the key sources for thousands of pages documents called the Palestine Papers, published in January by Al Jazeera which detail 10 years of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and US and European intervention, including minutes of conversations with top Israeli, Palestinian, American and other officials.

Clot, a French citizen of Palestinian origin, wrote that his conscience compelled him to leak the documents in part because of Israel’s December 2008 - January 2009 assault on Gaza which killed 1,400 Palestinians. Clot adds:

The “peace negotiations” were a deceptive farce, whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU capitals. Far from enabling a negotiated fair end of the conflict, the pursuit of the Oslo process has deepened Israeli segregationist policies and justified the tightening of the security control imposed on the Palestinian population as well as its geographical fragmentation. Far for preserving the land on which to build a State, it has tolerated the intensification of the colonisation of the Palestinian territory. Far from maintaining a national cohesion, the process I participated in, albeit briefly, proved to be instrumental in creating and aggravating divisions amongst Palestinians. In its most recent developments, it became a cruel enterprise from which the Palestinians of Gaza have suffered the most. Last but not least, these negotiations excluded for the most part the great majority of the Palestinian people: the 7 million-Palestinian refugees. My experience over those 11 months spent in Ramallah confirms in fact that the PLO, given its structure, was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests.

The office in which Clot worked, the Negotiations Support Unit of the PLO was headed by long-time Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. Erekat told The Electronic Intifada by phone today that Clot “says that he was affected by Israel killing 1,400 Palestinians we all were affected by this. If he thinks the Europeans and Americans are siding with the Israelis that’s fine, but I don’t understand why he says the PLO wasn’t in a position to withstand what’s being faced.”

Erekat added that he relied on experts like Clot and others, and that it was Clot’s papers that had been presented to the Israelis and American officials: “I brought Ziyad from Paris [and other experts from others countries] and so on because I don’t know water, I don’t know refugees, I don’t know security. So these were my Palestinian experts who came and volunteered for me.”

Reflecting on the leak of the documents, Erekat stated, “He [Clot] was under contract, he cannot go and reveal documents and leak documents. He’s a lawyer and he should know better. But even though he says he’s serving the interests of his people this way, that’s fine, I’m not going to pursue him. I knew all along the way he went and worked in the Royal Court of Qatar, with the Emir of Qatar when he left me. I knew what took place in the Emir of Qatar’s residence, but I don’t think we’ll prove any point by saying that.”

Following Qatar-based Al Jazeera’s broadcast of several days of special reports on the Palestine Papers in late January, several Palestinian officials accused the Emir of Qatar of being behind the leaks.

Contradictions on refugees

One of the most sensitive subjects documented in the Palestine Papers is the capitulation by Palestinian negotiators headed by Erekat to Israeli demands that they essentially give up the right of return of refugees. Israel proposed that only a symbolic number of refugees – between 5,000 and 10,000 – could ever return to homes and lands in what is now Israel.

Erekat insists today that the Palestinian side never agreed to Israel’s number, nor ever proposed any numbers of its own: “We never officially presented a number to Israel, we can’t. It’s up the refugee to decide. The UN must form this committee and go to every single refugee and give them the choices, whether they want to go back to Israel, or stay where they are, and each one is tied to compensation.”

However the documentary record suggests otherwise. A paper prepared by Erekat’s office in December 2009 and circulated to the media in early 2010 – long before the Palestine Papers – clearly states that Erekat’s negotiators had countered Israel’s proposals with a suggestion that 15,000 refugees per year return for a period of ten years, or a total of just 150,000 out of millions of dispossessed Palestinians. The Electronic Intifada published an analysis of that paper in March 2010.

The December 2009 Paper, awkwardly titled The Political Situation in Light of Developments with the U.S., Israel and Hamas Coup d’Etat was also among the Palestine Papers. Despite Erekat’s emphatic insistence today that his team never proposed numbers of their own to the Israelis, the relevant section on refugees states:

Refugees: The Israeli side proposed the following:

  • The return of 1,000 refugees to Israel annually and for a period of five years. These would return for humanitarian reasons.
  • Return to the State of Palestine would be an internal Palestinian affair.
  • An international compensation fund would be established, on which Israel would be a member.
  • Israel rejected to bear any liability for the calamity caused to the Palestinian refugees.
  • Israel would bear a special liability for the compensation of refugees.

On the other hand, the Palestinian side stated the following:

  • Solutions for the refugees properties would be discussed.
  • The right to return is safeguarded by the international law and UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
  • The return of 15,000 refugees to Israel on an annual basis for a period of ten renewable years.
  • Return to the State of Palestine shall be subject to the Palestinian law only.
  • An international compensation fund shall be incorporated, whereby all refugees would be compensated regardless of their choice. The right is to return, not to either return or receive compensation.
  • Host countries would be compensated.

A more detailed analysis on the Palestine Papers and the refugee issue can also be found in Clayton Swisher’s recent book The Palestine Papers: The End of the Road? published by Hesperus Books. Swisher is a reporter with Al Jazeera who worked closely on the story.