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Why the Silence of the Lambs?

February 2, 2011 – 7:40 pm30 Comments

By Larry Stillman

The Palestine Papers, as revealed by Al-Jazeerah and the Guardian, are explosive evidence about the state of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, leaning over backwards to break a deal—a deal that never went ahead and has even less chance of doing so with Netanyahu still in power.

What has been talked about for years on the left, and vigorously denounced by the Israeli government and its foreign agents, has been confirmed by cold hard facts.   Israel has not negotiated in good faith. A state of war has been an easier option than a just two-state solution for Palestinians.  The latter would require Israel’s leaders to take some extraordinarily challenging political decisions and undertake territorial sacrifices that shake some of Israel’s core beliefs to the core.

But something very strange is going on at a time when many voices should be heard both about the situation in which Israel now finds itself.  All the machers and fixers, from the well-funded Diaspora lobby groups, those who never seem to lack a comment, who to act as an ‘amen corner’ for Israel at every opportunity, have fallen strangely silent.


The Palestine Papers show that, contrary to all the public protestations over the years by Israel and its hardline supporters, Israel did in fact have a willing partner for peace, even, if, tragically, in my opinion, the Palestinian Authority offered a solution that is out of tune on several issues with the Palestinian public. 1) The right of return. 2) Proper evacuation of settlements as well as some neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem that have been unlawfully appropriated since 1967. 3) The status and administration of holy places.   This means that if the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government are to be real partners for peace, each of these issues needs to be dealt with much more generously by Israel to the point that the solution is acceptable to most Palestinians (perhaps affirmed through a plebiscite like that held for Sudanese around the world).

Additionally, the papers show the extent of collusion between the Palestinian Authority and Israel on security matters (including the Gaza Invasion, rather than a state of mutual antipathy).  In the long term, this would result in an authoritarian and unrepresentative regime in the State of Palestine, which while useful to Israel, would be along the lines of other authoritarian Arab regimes (and we can see what’s happening to them right now).   Any future relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel needs to be based on civil society principles, not authoritarianism.

The papers also demonstrate that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are in something of a fantasy land if they think that they can keep the screws on Hamas, whose prestige is only going to be advanced through these revelations. This doesn’t automatically mean that Hamas supporters are all supporters of the despicable Hamas covenant with its anti-Semitic calumnies, or that they are Islamic ideologues. Hamas is seen as taking a more just and moral stand than the secular Fatah.  In one way or another, Hamas and Gaza are part of the story.

Finally, without internal constitutional and structural reform that again demands a rethink of Zionist tenets, an Israel-Palestine deal will never gain the support of Israeli Palestinians whose status as equal citizens needs to be absolutely established in a way that does not lead to their situation of being in a kind of citizenship limbo – yes you are equal, but…not absolutely equal.

Now, in the major Jewish Diaspora communities, my bet is that the machers don’t quite know what to spin because nothing makes much sense anymore. None of the old justifications for a poor, weak, massively threatened Israel make sense.  A deal with a supine Palestinian Authority will last five minutes and Israel is seeding the roots of another revolt if it thinks it can get away with it.

It gives me no pleasure to have to take such a critical view of the whole episode, and I am not happy that the Palestine Papers will make Israel haters delirious.  Back in the early 1990s I believed that the Oslo Accords were a first step towards a long-term peace, and I was angry at Palestinian critics such as Edward Said who said in 1993, that it was all a fraud, ‘an instrument of Palestinian surrender’. Sadly, he has been proven correct.

There appears to be no other way around it.   International intervention is desperately required, certainly more than the one-sided and in many ways ineffectual approach taken by US administrations. Israel’s leaders, for all the think tanks and experts it appears to have on board, have not proved that they want much more than an enforced peace with a local Bantustan, without any pain, or apologies for deep injustices over the years.

Trumpeted exceptionalism to the rules of international law and peace-making curry little favour for Israel these days.  Israel’s justifications are looking very thin and will get very little support as the Middle East erupts with new states, some democratic, some not, but most of which will not necessarily play ball with the non-resolution of a problem that has simmered, with increasing fervour, for not just 40 years, but ever since Zionists became political.

And no wonder so many of the local lambs are playing very quiet to their guiding fox these days.

The author is writing purely in a personal capacity.

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  • Zeev says:

    I believe it is more accurate to say that the papers will declare what ever one wishes them to.

    The left can find their quotes – as this article does.

    The skeptics will ask what Al-Jazeera’s agenda is in releasing partial papers, at this particular time and why the PA support has suffered because of what it reveals.

    The centrists will comment that a full picture needed to be negotiated before the specific details would be accepted.

    My feeling is that the “hard facts” within them will reinforce any argument that was made before they were revealed.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Larry.

    Firstly, I wouldn’t come to any firm conclusions based on papers that have selectively leaked to a media source (Al Jazeera at that!), and then selectively released by that media source.

    Having said that, I agree that it still doesn’t look good for the Israeli government.

    Secondly, you state that
    “the Palestinian Authority offered a solution that is out of tune on several issues with the Palestinian public.”

    To the extent that this may well be true, it’s a vicious circle. Arab rulers (not limited to the Palestinian leadership) have for decades fermented anti-Israel sentiment in order to deflect from their own corruption and/or authoritarianism. Now, even if they want to make peace, they have not prepared their people for this – in fact, they’ve spent the last 60+ years doing the exact opposite.

  • Sam says:

    Larry, you state in the main article:

    “The Palestine Papers, as revealed by Al-Jazeerah and the Guardian, are explosive evidence” and a few lines later ” has been confirmed by cold hard facts. Israel has not negotiated in good faith.”

    I also have significant doubts that these are cold hard facts; based on what irrefutable evidence, if you can present that to us.
    But what is sad for me, and I am sure many others, is the tone which comes through, in that you are pleased that Israel has been now officially caught out.

    You also say ” It gives me no pleasure to have to take such a critical view of the whole episode.”

    This is not really believable, as you are very willing to give the contents of the leaks another airing in a public forum that is regularly visited by a number of anti-semites.

  • larry stillman says:

    Zev–a view that has been expressed is that they confirm what we sort of knew already, but was denied. I can’t speak for Al Jazeerah, but it seems that there are some pretty angry people in Fatah who at least have the ear of people in Al Jazeerah.

    Frosh–selectively or not, the consensus appears to that they are a fair reflection of what is ‘there’ and what the key issues are. There is an interview with Shlomo Ben Ami on al-Jazeerah who has been in negotiations like these. He didn’t seem too troubled by either their authenticity or content. As for the range of documents, see http://english.aljazeera.net/palestinepapers/2011/01/2011123114726552723.html. It would be nice (or incredibly tedious) to see everything, and perhaps there are some documents which really do affect peoples lives and security. Maybe someone will get cheezed off with Al Jazeerah and pass them onto Wikileaks, but Wikileaks vets as well…

    Sam-as I’ve stated, they aren’t fakes. As for me helping anti-Semites..what? They are nut cases who pounce upon any and everything. It is a bizarre argument that is really out of place in a discussion of a real crisis time with Israel’s future in which we all have a stake (and on top of this, Egypt)…

  • frosh says:


    The only “consensus” I see on this matter is that the leak is designed to weaken Fatah’s position (rather than Israel’s) vs. Hamas.

    But, as I’ve said, it’s Fatah’s own fault for not preparing their people for peace, but rather continuing the hateful rhetoric for so many years.

  • rachsd says:

    Hi Larry,

    I can’t speak about Jewish diaspora communities in general, but here in Melbourne (and perhaps Australia more broadly with the exception of the North Coast of NSW), one of the main reasons that none of the machers have said anything about the Palestine Papers is that they don’t represent the diversity of the Jewish community.

  • Believer says:

    I get so sad when i see these articles and the comments. So much energy is wasted, so much discord is created. What is acheived?

    G-d says in the Torah that Israel is the land of the Jewish nation. Thats it. Let the arabs live their lives, let everyone live happilly and peacfully. Forget the fighting, forget the boycotts.

    There is so much good to be done; in our families, in our communities, in our world.
    We pray for the people in far north Queensland and all the world.
    Have a good night.

  • Reality Check says:

    Mr/Mrs Believer, your spelling of Arabs with a small a says it all.

  • Mohan says:

    The coments should be on the merits of the case – not Al Zaeezera’s motives in publishing them. AL Zazeera might wish to weaken the PLo, it might be seeking sensation, publicity, boosting its ratings etc.
    But the papers have shown that the idea of eretz Yisrael is not dead and continues to inform Israel’s policies.

  • Shaun says:

    I agree that the ‘Palestine Papers’ don’t make the Israeli government look good.

    I would, however, limit it to the current Israeli government, who have made no effort to return to real substantive negotiations that were being discussed when Olmert/Livni were in power. The question is to what extent these documents will change predominant Israeli attitudes regarding the ‘no partner’ narrative, if at all.

    I don’t think you can really blame Olmert and Livni as I think they were negotiating in good faith, and the failure for the talks more stems from the fact that Olmert was kicked out of government, rather than the talks coming to an end because of lack of progress. Further, the ‘Palestine papers’ were selective to the extent that they did not cover the discussions between Olmert and Abu Mazen directly, which I understand is subject to a detailed article in the NY Times Magazine in a couple of days time.

    Also, the Palestine Papers show that there are still very real gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions on territory and on the holy sites.

    My trouble with Al Jazeera’s coverage (and to the Guardian, although to a less extent) is the way they have tried to spin what the papers actually say, effectively taking the view that the Palestinian negotiators ‘sold out’, rather than giving credit to the negotiators for taking more moderate positions. It is interesting when you read fairly left wing Israelis such as Bernard Avishai and former editor of Haaretz, David Landau that they have been critical of the the Guardian’s spin in covering these documents.

  • Mohan to Shaun says:

    Words and papers are one thing facts on the ground another. Neither Olmert nor Netanyahu have halted the expansion of settlements.

  • Newsmaker says:

    It’s a real shame that some left wing Jews support policies thatare more anti-Israel than some Palestinians:

  • Kovi Rose says:

    see im just concerned about the fact that Larry Stillman is worried about “peace-making curry [with] little flavour for Israel”.
    Mr Stillman, how can you be so opinionated about the lack of flavourful curries in israel, when there is a political crisis in the middle east.
    for shame.

  • Mohan,

    This latest WikiLeaks episode has been somewhat less transparent than most others. Because of the way these papers were released, and because they are selective, one has to include the channel and any of its motivation in the discussion.
    Unlike most other leaked documents, some of the subjects have disputed their legitimacy rather than dealt with them as fact. Clearly there is more to this than what we have been provided.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I will leave other comments for the moment. Kovi, the expression I used was curry little favor, not flavor. I was not making facaetious jokes at Israel or any other country’s expense.

  • ariel says:

    The PaliLeaks are irrelevant because the PA has never been able to deliver on the bottom line and they know this. They know this because they educated for war, not peace, as frosh points out.

    The PA does not represent the people anymore. With what is going on in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, Israel must take the initiative and disengage completely along a border of its own choosing, which is also sensible. Before there is a Palestinian intifada against their own leadership which will usher in Hamas, blood and death.

  • frosh says:

    Shaun’s point about how the Palestinian negotiators were portrayed as ‘selling out’ rather than making brave compromises is a telling one. That such sentiments came from the Arab media was disappointing, but not unexpected to those acquainted with how things played in that worldview. It seems Arab commentators far away from the front lines still want Palestinians to die for their pride.

    However, far more shocking was that these sentiments of “they’re sell outs” came from the western leftists also. Clearly, people expressing such sentiments don’t want peace but also would rather Palestinians die for their far-left dreams of extinguishing Israel.

  • Sam says:


    You have stated that the leaks arent fakes so that is that so to speak.You saying that my claim that airing “facts” denigrating Israel is bizarre at a time of crisis just indicates that you wont see the damage that could be done for our cause by only emphasing what you believe are the failures of our leaders in Israel.

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    Just a quick comment –
    Why is it that Larry and most others critizise the Goverment of Israel? The Israeli Goverment is elected democratically and represents the will of the majority of the citizens of the country. And so, if Livni, refuses to discuss Jerusalem because of Shas’ involvement in the coalition or any thing else it is because that is how things have invariably panned out due the decisions of the population of Israel(including decisions regarding who to elect, systems of goverment, etc). All criticism should therefore be directed to the citizens of Israel and not the goverment that represents their overall will. I would even say that in criticising the goverment and not the country you are trying to undemocratically influence another country’s policies.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    There’s a lot going on in this conversation so I can only pick up salient points.

    1) the issue of not saying anything about Israel (because I assume of a belief that its interests might be damaged) is one that is argued to death. I have little to add except the strong view that this is an anti-democratic view, particularly for a country that claims our loyalty and support and even a degree of representation, and for which in turn many of us have (differing forms of commitment (and for some affection). I think it was Sam who said that the Israel’s government are ‘our leaders’. Not exactly, we didn’t vote for them unless you are speaking of Israeli citizens–all the more reason for non-Israeli Jews to be concerned about what Israel does and claims is in the interests of Jews around the world.

    Time and time again ‘silence’ appears to have served against better policy–that is why organisations such as Shovrei Shtikah–Breaking the Silence–arose amongst soldiers who felt that they could not keep silent in the face of what they believed were crimes and wrongs being committed by the Israeli Army. Its members include both secular and observant Jews, so it is not ‘the usual suspects’. But the lessons of politics generally in all societies, show that silence in the face of evil or total trust in authority is a dangerous thing. The ‘special case’ argument is getting on thin or no ice these days.

    2) Israel’s government is representative of its people, so we should put up or shut up. Response — The Israeli political system is one of fragile and corrupt coalitions, sometimes minority governments, that are forced to take positions to say in power (eg on religious and human rights affairs), or are dominated by extreme viewpoints (eg Liberman). Furthermore, many people claim that because Israel rules over Palestinians in E. Jerusalem and the West Bank, 2 million people whose lives are affected are effectively disfranchised. Ari’s point that criticism at the Israeli government is undermining the country when criticism should be directed at the people for their choices is kind of strange to me–I really can’t answer that one properly, since the problem is a mix of the society, its politics, and its government system–it is like saying we shouldn’t attack Mubarrak, but should only support the people because attacking Mubarrak undermines him… (also see my remarks about Sam above).

    3) Shaun and Arie’s point on the spin being one that portrays the Palestinian negotiators as weak rather than brave for the concessions they have made. I think this misses the point–that has been made many times since the 1990s, but which many have chosen to ignore or irrelevant or exaggeration–that Palestinian representatives have developed responses that do not at all reflect that politics of the mass of Palestinian people. They are seen to have conceeded an enormous amount and very little in return. In particular, the cardinal belief of Palestinians is the right of return and what this should be is a decision that they alone can make (I hear this over and over again). Now, the papers should that what is presented is a virtual abandonment of this and of quite symbolic importance to Palestinians, very little real concession by Israelis other than giving up settlements, but not all seized land such as parts of E. Jerusalem that have been settled since 1967. For my own part, I suppose I took put the right of return issue on the back burner hoping it should go away, when in fact, it is an upfront issue that has to be dealt with front and centre.

    4) Nearly everything I have seen from Palestinians –and from whom I also have direct contact online, reflects this position (with I think the exception of Dauod Kuttab). If for example, they had at least presented a stronger position, with an outline of a compensation mechanism and international tribunal for claims (as has been proposed by some Palestinians, but also well-developed in the Geneva Accord by a joint working party– see http://www.geneva-accord.org/mainmenu/refugees-documents), this might have had a better chance of being ‘sold’ at least to a larger number of Palestinians as a just solution and not just rolling over. It also shows that the PA has not engaged in a great communication or consultations job on these issues over the years- like any government or authority–openness and consultation is a can of worms and they have done a very bad job at it,and completely unrealistic dreams continue. But based on the collapse of Oslo, which satisfied few, and years of continuing occupation and revolt, ‘realism’ is a very hard sell, when the Israelis baulked at even the most moderate of proposals. The international community has a big role to play here in supporting such a process of realistic negotiation over the right of return.

    Now of course, there may well have been discussion of such a mechanism as discussed in Geneva, but from the thrust of the discussions, with the limitation of numbers of returnees and claims, I doubt it.

    I’d also suspect that if such a proposal had been mentioned the Israelis would have raised similar issues about Jews from Arab lands and their compensation claims. Of course, the Palestinians would have claimed that is a separate matter, but it is linked, because we are dealing with a dispute that had international effects.

    5) The ‘sellability’ of the Palestinian position also depends on the widespread view in the Palestinian community (and here, we have documents signed by many P. civil society organisations), that there needs to be fundamental constitutional reform in Israel to guarantee full citizen equality–I have written about that in depth in another post to Galus Australis ‘An Israel for all its citizens rather than an Israel for all Jews’. For many Jews of course, such a position fundamentally challenges their Zionism.

    There is a good discussion of how moderate Palestinians see the situation # http://tiny.cc/q9iko.

    6) Frosh’s comments about accusations of ‘sell out’ from Western leftists who would rather see Palestinians die for their far-left dreams of extinguishing Israel. Can you be more specific about who has made such claims?

  • Marky says:

    We need to remember the words of Hillary Clinton “when the Israelis pulled out of Lebanon, they got Hezbollah and 40,000 rockets. And when they pulled out of Gazza they got hamas and 20,000 rockets..”

    I shudder to think who and what they get after a total withdrawal..

  • ariel says:

    What about my right to reclaim my grandparents’ vast property and real estate in what is now part of Ukraine, which was confiscated from them when the Soviets marched across the border into Romania?
    All they got in exchange was being sent to a labour camp.

    Fortunately they were eventually accepted as full Israeli citizens then Australian citizens and I thank G-d for that.

    It is now time for the decendents of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria etc to acknowledge that their grandparents and parents lost their homes – as happens in the tragedy of war – and to demand citizenship in their current countries of residence, or to make “aliya” to the Palestinian state which will emerge.

    They must give up their unrealistic hope of reclaiming homes in Israel and move on with their lives, just like all of us have.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Larry,


    6) Frosh’s comments about accusations of ‘sell out’ from Western leftists who would rather see Palestinians die for their far-left dreams of extinguishing Israel. Can you be more specific about who has made such claims?

    Here’s a starting point:


  • AccidentialKorach says:

    To be fair – a negotiation is just that. To expect each side to concede their 50% and meet in the middle is childish. If Israel is a good negotiator and does not concede much, that is a valid strategy.

    Keep in mind that Israel probably has a better BATNA than the Palestinians [BATNA = best alternative to a negotiated agreement]. It is not a surprise to me that they are securing their position further by increasing settlements. The longer this dispute continues the more secure West Bank settlement will be in the final settlement.

    This is not a game where you have to be nice. This is real life, affecting citizens and from Israel’s perspective, the future of the Jewish State.

    Hamas’ BATNA is martyrdom. It has gotten their cause nowhere (unfortunately except for many martyrs).

    I suspect the PA has realised that they will get more from Israel the sooner they settle. I am heartened that the PA has come a long way in private negotiations – particularly dropping the right of return (other than for a token 10,000).

    I am disappointed that the private and public PA are not even closely in alignment.

    Let the games continue.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Frosh, Prosor is the Israeli Ambassador for goodness sake. He’s a professionial spin doctor who has been getting stuck into the media for years. That’s his job.

    Of course he will call the Grauniad and others ultra leftists Israel haters–look at the comments (some unreasonable btw) which lash him for his spin on this. But it is true, in the UK there are hardliners and essentialists. I don’t want to set next to, such as George Galloway and his allies.

    BTW, I think the term leftist has reached its use-by state for discussions of the middle east. Many of the people critical of Israel are not die hard socialists, communists, but social democracts etc. Some are even conservatives. It is throwing everyone into the basket of various Trotskyists cults/bizarre alliances with Islamists/justifiers of armed struggle, as well as an automatic criticism of people who are social democrats (which includes people such as Michael Danby, Mark Drefus etc).

  • Shaun says:

    I would agree with Frosh that the Guardian’s take on the ‘Palestine Papers’ was pretty poor form, and seemed to take the line that the PA had ‘sold out’ to Israel.

    See for example what Bernard Avishai had to say, and his someone in the know as his just spoken to both Olmert and Abu Mazen, which is the subject of a long article he has written for NY Times Magazine. http://bernardavishai.blogspot.com/

    Other than Jonathan Freedland, it was quite clear what view the Guardian and its staff writers were taking.

    See for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/26/authentic-leaders-middle-east-peace

  • Sam says:


    You said ” BTW, I think the term leftist has reached its use-by state for discussions of the middle east. Many of the people critical of Israel are not die hard socialists, communists, but social democracts etc.”

    I think you meant use-by date, however it sounds like you are trying to distance yourself from the extremists when the main difference is only your ability to articulate your ideals in a more sophisticated less threatening manner.

    You picked up on my words “our leaders in Israel”, and imply strongly that as you didnt vote for them, they are not your leaders. I am not an Israeli citizen but as they are the decision makers for the Jewish homeland they do represent my interests. And that is the fundemental difference between you and me.

  • Akiva says:

    Meh. as far as I can see, the papers *don’t* make Israel look bad in the eyes of mainstream israeli society, nor in the eyes of the Jewish community here in sydney. The consensus amongst those i have spoken to – and I talk alot, too much :) – is that Olmert + Lipni appear strong and resolute, refusing to sell Israel’s interests down the river, with a nice little foretaste of current suggestions (eg population transfer) to put the current regime in a context in which they don’t appear so ‘out there’ after all. I think that it hasn’t made a splash because most agree with Israeli actions in this instance. (this thread is a confimation too). I’m not remotely surprised that the story sank.

    however, as I’m sure you anticipated, I pretty much agree with Larry’s piece. I agree that the PA was agreeing to things which would not be supported by many (? most? a few? who can tell) of their people – but I also think that if a peace is going to be made, it will have to be made ‘over the heads’ so to speak of a large percentage of the ordinary people on both sides. The only hope is that it will then catch on and become accepted.

  • Mohan to akiva says:

    Who will make peace over the heads of the Israeli settlers ? Likud is strongly tied in with the settlers and the rightwing Shas, Liebermann et al. Labour is noting more than a junior partner of whicever party is in power.

  • Shaun says:

    For something more honest and comprehensive then the Palestinian Papers see the following in the NY Times.


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