There's seemingly no connection between the two steps the Palestinian Authority took recently: In July, senior PA officials released their view of why Camp David failed. A year late, they tried to prove that the Barak's offers could not have guaranteed an agreement that would have meant genuine Palestinian sovereignty and the establishment of a viable state with territorial contiguity.
The other step is the renewed campaign of arresting Palestinians suspected of cooperating with Israel and putting them on trial in lightning procedures in the PA's military tribunals. In the wake of the latest assassination campaign that climaxed last week in Nablus, the public calls for finding the accomplices of the Israeli Shin Bet security service have been strengthened. The Palestinian security apparatus tried to persuade the public that in a few hours, they reached the main suspects; that in a few more hours, they had confessions; and that within days, they convicted four men and sentenced them to death.
The two steps are two sides of the same coin: the way the PA presented its version of reality to its people during the seven years of Oslo. More precisely: the way it coped with the reality in which Israel was and still is the determinant ruling power.
Since 1993, at all levels of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the first leaks of information were almost always Israeli. They were usually full of detail while the Palestinians, when they did speak, chose to make declarative statements rather than provide information.
Palestinians, at all levels, explained that the sides agreed that the media were to be kept out of the negotiations. But meeting after meeting, government after government proved that in reality, there were leaks - and amazing enough, they always strengthened the Israeli side of reality. And getting information from the Palestinian negotiators was always frustrating work.
Throughout all the years, the negotiating process reflected the nature of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. These are the relations between the ruler and the ruled, those who hold all the keys and those who are begging for just one. In off-the-record conversations, the Palestinians complained about the way their Israeli counterparts lorded it over them. But the Palestinians preferred to show restraint in the face of the personal and national insults.
There were those who said openly that they are afraid to reveal precise details - for example, about development projects that were held up because the Israelis didn't provide authorizations. They explained the Israelis would immediately identify the source of the leak and there would be retribution in the form of travel limits or rejecting other requests, both personal and general.
But the main point is that a detailed description from the back rooms of the negotiations would have disrupted the PA's effort to present the reality of Oslo as a gradual but certain progress toward genuine sovereignty and full independence. A precise description of the negotiations would have revealed that the Oslo accords were formulated with convenient ambiguity that, for example, did not expressly forbid the construction of new settlements and left the decision about how much and which territory Israel would "give up" in the hands of Israel. A true depiction of the process would have revealed just how much the PA gave up on almost every issue.
An open admission that Oslo was ambiguous would have resulted in a different way of coping with reality: a formal, more sincere and open dialogue with the public, strengthening the pre-state institutions like the legal system and responding to the grass-roots demands for government reform. A different manner of coping would have forced the Palestinian leadership and its inner circle to give up some of the material benefits granted them in the context of their good relations with the Israeli security services.
And that's where things connect to the matter of the Palestinians who cooperate with the Israeli security services. Oslo put a ban on PA arrests of such suspects. The PA said that the agreement referred to Israel's pre-Oslo accomplices. On that basis, here and there some small fry were arrested among the accomplices. Some were killed by unknown murderers in what was described as an attempt to prevent them from handing over information about their bosses. The most senior found refuge in Israel or reached a sulha with the PA, usually on the basis of paying a ransom.
In the last seven years, there was no real intelligence attempt to identify and obstruct the work of Israeli accomplices. There was no public educational campaign to preempt the phenomenon, to find legal ways and educational means to reduce it and obstruct it. The PA operated as if it did not want to make the Israeli side too angry.
The haste with which they are now identifying and punishing Israel's accomplices may seem to calm the urge for revenge - for a few hours, at least. Presenting the Palestinian version of events at Camp David, even belatedly, brings back some intellectual integrity to the argument about what led to the crisis.
But both steps are reminders that in the last seven years, the PA has not exploited a number of areas in which it had maneuvering space in order to confront the new manner in which Israel remained the ruler under the Oslo framework. It may have been short-sightedness, or maybe the result of personal benefits, or naivete, or maybe the fear of telling the truth and exposing the weakness.
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