The "Palestine Papers" published by Al Jazeera and The Guardian allow those interested in the peace process an unprecedented glimpse into how the talks between Israel and the Palestinians were conducted. This is the first publication of minutes of talks held by the Kadima government with the Palestinian Authority. What is revealed is not merely the positions of the parties and the gaps between them, but also the jokes and proposals never meant to see the light.
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The documents show that contrary to the "no-partner" image perpetuated by Israelis, the Palestinians were holding serious negotiations on the borders of their future state and that they produced a detailed map of territorial exchanges in the West Bank and neighborhood partitions in East Jerusalem. Until now, we knew that Olmert had offered Abbas a detailed proposal that included a map, but Abbas would not give a straight answer; now it transpires that the Palestinian negotiating team, led by Ahmed Qureia, was quicker than Olmert and presented a plan of its own.
These maps show why no agreement was reached and why it will be difficult to reach one in the future: disagreements over the large settlement blocs. Israeli leaders have repeated to the public time and again, over the years, that Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel and the area around Jerusalem will be a part of Israel in any future agreement. The dispute between left and right in Israel concerns a hundred or so settlements beyond the separation barrier.
The trouble seems to be that Olmert and Livni's proposals were far from the minimum the Palestinians considered acceptable. The Geneva Initiative team members used to pride themselves on the theoretical deal they made with their Palestinian counterparts - Ma'aleh Adumim annexed to Israel in exchange for the evacuation of Ariel. The Palestine Papers show that Qureia and his men never accepted that deal and demanded that Israel's eastern border run along Mount Scopus.
But the most embarrassing and surprising revelations concern residents rather than territories. Livni suggested transferring to Palestine Arab villages from the Israeli side; Qureia offered to have the settlers of Ma'aleh Adumim remain in their homes under Palestinian rule. Both proposals were rejected out of hand, and both contradict the official positions of the two sides.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must be enjoying the embarrassment caused to his two rivals, Livni and Abbas. But when the initial insult fades away, the Palestinians will be able to use the leaked documents to reinforce their claim that they have no partner on the Israeli side. Just look, they'll say, we drew a map and agreed to effectively give up the right of return, and got nothing.