Palestinian cartoonist Khalil Abu Arafeh is no Fatah loyalist. In his early years he supported the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Abu Arafeh’s brother Khaled was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council on the pro Hamas Reform and Change List. Abu Arafeh’s political cartoons in the largest daily Al Quds are often seen as a reflection of the general mood of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Abu Arafeh captured much of the Palestinian pulse on Monday with his cartoon on the latest controversy involving the leaked Palestinian negotiating papers. He depicts an older Palestinian man holding the hand of a young boy; they are caught in some attacks on Palestinians. On the left side, Israeli bulldozers knock down houses, under the caption "Israeli mubasher". On the right side, arrows are puncturing the old man’s back; the caption reads "Jazeera mubasher". Mubasher means direct, and also applies to the television term for live broadcast.
Demonstrations in Palestine and interviews in the streets, including in Gaza, reflected feelings of opposition to Al Jazeera and support for the current Palestinian leadership.
While people in the occupied territories have been largely understanding of the difficulties facing Palestinian negotiators, most responses from the Palestinian diaspora and Arab peoples have been of disgust with and anger at the Palestinian leadership.
Accusations of treason and selling out are repeated over and over on air and in talk back chats all over the Arab world.
Anger with the Qatari satellite station was also seen in some social media networks. Sami Toukan, founder of maktoob, the Arab world’s leading e-mail company that was sold last year to Yahoo for a reported $100 million, sent a number of tweets attacking Al Jazeera for focusing too much on the Palestine leaks while ignoring the demonstrations in Egypt. Diaspora Palestinians, however, are more likely to follow the Jazeera reporting than Toukan’s tweets.
The coverage of the popular pan-Arab television station has been totally against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership. Despite a few symbolic attempts to give Palestinian officials a chance to respond, the coverage focused on what Palestinian negotiators are reported to have said or promised in discussions or in nonbinding papers. Of special focus has been the reported Palestinian offer regarding the two hottest and unresolved issues: Jerusalem and the refugee issues.
So what gives? How can there be such a wide gap of opinion from two groups that are totally in support for the Palestinian cause for independence from the hated Israeli occupation?
One place to start would be the nature of negotiations. What any negotiator would consistently say is that the worst way to look at any talks is by dissecting them piecemeal. Any single position on a complex set of negotiations will invariably make the negotiator look weak. Because in the nature of negotiations, it is important to look at the entire picture.
Any Palestinian, including the Palestinian negotiating team, would be totally in favour of granting the Palestinians the right of return, of the entire East Jerusalem belonging to Palestinians, and of the need for an independent Palestinian state on all areas occupied in 1967. Revealed separately, the Palestinian negotiating position on any of the hot items would appear like capitulation.
If negotiators are willing to accept anything short of a full repatriation of the six million refugees living abroad, many would shout sell out. However, if the picture is looked at in its totality, and if a package deal is presented in which Palestinians would, after decades of occupation, be able to experience true independence in their own country, such a compromise would be more bearable.
Another problem in understanding the chasm between different Palestinian communities is the hype. For years, Palestinians have been told that they have the right to return and that East Jerusalem will be the capital of their state. Palestinian leaders of all persuasions, including the negotiators, have repeated this ad nauseam. Until all points are agreed to, nothing is agreed to. What is offered as a compromise in one file today might be withdrawn tomorrow.
This does not mean that Palestinian leaders are disingenuous when they talk about Palestinian inalienable rights and when they reflect on these rights in the framework of international law and treaties. Only when there is agreement can these leaders be expected to start preparing the public for compromises on certain fronts.
Without such agreement, the rhetoric goes on. The Palestinians living in refugee camps or with the hope of return are naturally disappointed when they are told that their rights have been compromised if such talk is not put in context. However, the Palestinians living in occupied Palestine and who are able to distinguish national aspirations from realities on the ground are not as shocked as those whose only term of reference is public rhetoric.
Negotiations in any context are naturally based on a give and take process that is often dictated by the balance of power. Few Palestinians who are willing to be honest with themselves would deny that the Palestinian negotiating powers are limited. After all, Israel continues to occupy the land, most Arabs and the international community give little more than lip service and Israel is able to arrogantly reject calls to end their occupation as long as this occupation is not very painful to it.
All is not lost, however. While the release of the so-called Palestinian Papers has been painful to the Palestinian leadership and has further antagonised Palestinian public opinion, there is a silver lining to it all. As The Guardian newspaper accurately reflected, the papers do show the seriousness of the Palestinian negotiators, Israel’s lack of interest in peace and the ineptitude of the US and international community.
The release of the Palestinian Papers is certain to hurt attempts to galvanise the Palestinian and Arab public, and to move Arab armies and political will in this direction. However, if the present conflict is to be resolved on the political and international battlegrounds, the release of these secret documents ultimately strengthens the Palestinian position and increases political pressure on the Israeli occupiers.