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Palestinian Papers Show Disappointment With Obama


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

This week, the Arab news channel Al-Jazeera published hundreds of secret documents that detail more than a decade of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. They include emails, the minutes of meetings, maps and other papers. Because they were apparently leaked from the Palestinian side - many of the documents bear the seal of the Palestinian Authority - the viewpoint here is one-sided. But they do provide insight into the most recent chapter of the stalled peace talks. Here's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians are at a complete standstill. How did we get here?

(Soundbite of music)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: On Thursday, Al-Jazeera released all of the documents in its possession, and a portion deal with the latest era in peace negotiations. And what it shows is a great deal of dashed hopes.

Unidentified Man: June 2, 2009.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's two days before President Obama is slated to give his speech to the Muslim world. According to the minutes of a meeting between chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his team, expectations are high. Erekat has just returned from Washington. He tells his team: The Washington I went to last week isn't the Washington I knew before. There is a growing sense in the U.S. that something must be done soon, he says. Washington is very concerned about the state of the Middle East.

Unidentified Man: September 30, 2009.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The U.S. government has made a settlement freeze by the Israelis central to its Middle East policy. In a position paper the Palestinians draw up, they say that for any settlement freeze to be effective, it must include East Jerusalem, an area the Palestinians want for the capital of their future state.

Unidentified Man: October 21, 2009.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Saeb Erekat meets with U.S. Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, and his deputy, David Hale. He delivers the message that a partial freeze that excludes East Jerusalem won't bring the Palestinians back to the table.

Erekat is quoted as saying in the minutes of the meeting: We cannot have resumption of negotiations with this government. We will punish Netanyahu. He can't survive without a process with us. We won't give him the leverage of taking us for a ride and continuing settlements while we negotiate. Am I clear? Erekat asks. No direct negotiations unless there is a freeze that includes East Jerusalem, he says.

In November 2009, Israel implements a 10-month freeze. It does not include Jerusalem and there are other caveats.

Unidentified Man: January 15, 2010.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In one of the last direct exchanges between U.S. and Palestinian officials documented by the Palestine Papers, Saeb Erekat is reduced to pleading with the U.S. He tells David Hale: Our credibility on the ground has never been so low. Now it's about survival.

Later that year, direct negotiations were launched between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They lasted only a few weeks and prospects that they will resume look bleak. Settlements are again the main point of contention.

In an interview in Ramallah yesterday, senior Palestinian Authority official Nabil Shaath said the papers accurately reflect the disappointment the Palestinians feel with Mr. Obama.

Mr. NABIL SHAATH (Palestinian Authority): Well, there is a sense of betrayal. I mean, we are not his priority. It's very obvious. I mean, the total lack of resolve. And it's his statement - Mr. Obama's statement that in order to get any peace you should stop all settlement activities. And then he failed to seduce Mr. Netanyahu in doing what he should have done. This is really too much. I mean, this is really too much to take.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Ricci is a professor of political science at Hebrew University. He says he believes the president and his team were naive.

Professor DAVID RICCI (Hebrew University): Everybody here has been waiting for Obama for two years. And he really hasn't come. He sends George Mitchell. He sends Joe Biden. He sends Hillary Clinton, but he doesn't come himself. And that's not the way you make a deal in the Middle East. I don't think he understands the dynamics.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The U.S. says it remains committed to helping forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. But Ricci says the U.S. needs to do more.

Prof. RICCI: In the Middle East you make a sulha, you make a deal between two warring tribes or warring families who aren't able to resolve their differences until a third party comes in and kind of gives them some way of making an adjustment that they couldn't make by themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You need the U.S. to pin things down, he says. But so far the American government hasn't done that.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.