Palestine papers: Will a big scoop change business as usual?
A roundup of opinion so far.
Al Jazeera says it has a trove of more than 1,600 memos, diplomatic dispatches, and internal notes from Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the past decade. Al Jazeera, which isn't saying where it got the documents, started to release stories based on them yesterday afternoon and will carry on until the 26th. It has also shared the documents with The Guardian, which is running some of its own coverage.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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The immediate effect has been a WikiLeaks-like explosion of media commentary and public fascination in the Middle East, with the curtain pulled back on how the diplomatic sausage is being made. From the Arab and Palestinian publics' perspective, the documents – which Palestinian Authority leaders say are mostly forgeries – are deeply unflattering to Mahmoud Abbas and his senior negotiators, with private offers of major compromises over the status of East Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees that went nowhere and starkly contradict their public positions.
Correspondent Josh Mitnick wrote in the Monitor today that the release is likely to be damaging to Abbas' own standing.
"Abbas is in a very hot spot. He owes the Palestinians an explanation. We were under the impression that Abbas was sticking to the pillars of consensus,’’ said Bassem Ezbeidi, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University. "If it's 'yes,’ he is in trouble, if it's 'no,’ he has to show evidence. It’s a war between two narratives. The first one by Al Jazeera and the second one is the Palestinian Authority.’’
Driving that point home is the current design of the Al Jazeera homepage for the documents and commentary related to them. The visitor is greeted by a large picture of chief Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat next to a quote attributed to him from a 2008 meeting with then Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. "We are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history," Mr. Erekat allegedly told her, using the Hebrew word for the holy city, as he promised to give away all but one Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem.
Ms. Livni's response? "We do not like this suggestion because it does not meet our demands, and probably it was not easy for you to think about it, but I really appreciate it." Livni said only an agreement to give up the remaining East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa and the settlements of Ma'ale Adumim and Ariel in the West Bank would be sufficient.
If true, the exchange is deeply embarrassing for Erekat, and also shows the practical impotence of Palestinian leaders in a peace dance in which they hold little of the leverage. Erekat and other senior Palestinian negotiators have been publicly adamant that ongoing construction in the East Jerusalem settlements makes a direct peace process impossible. How can that be squared with private assurances that they're willing to let them go?
For the Palestinian public, the optics of the meeting and Erekat's use of the Hebrew word for the city that the Palestinians, too, claim for their capital, is likely to be taken as a public humiliation. If the documents are indeed accurate, they're a step well beyond the private US diplomatic cables that have been trickling out of WikiLeaks in recent months. Rather than the opinions and summaries of diplomats, they're filled with intimate details of high-level negotiations over the region's most explosive conflict.