If this were the ’50s, newspapers would be flying off stands like hotcakes. The "Read All About It" would refer to the newly released "Palestine Papers" a series of revealing documents (much like the equally scandalous Wikileaks) covering years of Palestinian-Israeli meetings and negotiations.
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel was the medium of choice for the so-far anonymous source of the leaked documents (although fingers have been pointed at the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit). The channel has pledged to release over 1,600 documents and papers over the next three days revealing information potentially explosive to the already weak Palestinian leadership. According to the documents, back in 2008, Palestinians were willing to concede almost all east Jerusalem settlements to Israel except for Har Homa and even compromise –” via a land swap –” areas in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
This revelation alone is breathtaking, and not in a good way. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat who reportedly at the time laid out the concession as "offering you [Israel] the biggest Yerushalayim in history" maintains the cables are full of falsities and half-truths. Not very many Palestinians are buying it though, largely believing the authenticity of the cables, mostly because the contents, although shocking, are not all surprising.
Over the years, the Palestinian leadership and its negotiating team have become weaker and more desperate if you will, with every failed attempt at reaching a deal. The concessions, revealed in detail, show just how frustrated the Palestinians have become. During no time in history did the Palestinians ever fathom conceding so much land to the Israelis in Jerusalem, always maintaining that all of occupied east Jerusalem would one day be the capital of Palestine.
To the average Palestinian, even the contemplation of such a concession is appalling, which also goes to show just how far negotiators have become disengaged from the masses. Politically and emotionally, Palestinians are not willing to offer such far-reaching concessions, especially ones that include areas of Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah and parts of the Old City.
However, if there is any silver lining to this less than palatable burst of information, it is that Israel’s hackneyed excuse of "not having a Palestinian partner" has undoubtedly been put to rest.
"This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition," said negotiator Ahmad Qrei’ back in 2008 when the Jerusalem concession was first reportedly proposed.
Still, Israel did not respond. Tzipi Livni, Israeli foreign minister the chief negotiator at the time said Israel’s government would not accept the offer because it did not "meet Israeli demands." That is, Israel would agree to nothing less than all of east Jerusalem’s settlements being annexed to Israel alongside major West Bank settlements such as Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel.
The media storm surrounding the Palestine Papers will continue for some time, no doubt. Palestinian leaders who risk losing face with the people will vehemently deny their authenticity and continue to insist that their words were taken out of context. Unfortunately, there is no smoke without fire and we have all heard leaked reports before this of unfavorable land swaps and concessions on Jerusalem that we did not approve of then any more than we approve of now.
What’s worse, the European Union and European missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah have been very vocal of late about the illegality of Israel’s settlements in east Jerusalem and the need for Europe to take a stronger stand against them. In a statement released by the missions earlier this month, they even went as far as calling for a boycott of settlement products and calling on EU officials not to visit any Israeli official whose office is in east Jerusalem.
The European’s scathing criticism of Israel’s settlement policies in east Jerusalem are now grotesquely juxtaposed with the Palestine Papers, which throw the Palestinians –” the supposed masters of their own destiny –” in a very unbecoming light on the same subject. The only saving grace in this whole fiasco is what Palestinian negotiators have said before. "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." That is, even though the Palestinians may have put these concessions on the table, the fact that the Israelis shot them down means it never came to pass. On the contrary, all bets should be off now. Offer expired. Thank God.
Perhaps, in a very roundabout way, the Palestine Papers could even serve the Palestinians internationally in their bid for statehood. While the people of Palestine will no doubt continue to reject any of these proposals our negotiators have supposedly negotiated over, at the same time the same concessions might put Israel in a bad light for being so intransigent to even the most bending of Palestinian negotiators.
In one of the leaked papers, Tzipi Livni was said to have told Ahmad Qrei during a meeting in 2007 that she understood how Palestinians perceived settlement building. "Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible," she said. "That," she conceded had been "the policy of the government for a really long time."
At present, it is unrealistic to ask any Palestinian not to get caught up in the pandemonium the papers will surely create. However, after the dust settles and the so-called peace process is seen for what it is –” a farce –” it will be time to take stock and reassess. There will be damage control, by the Palestinian Authority in particular, and accounts will have to be settled. Matters such as Jerusalem and the refugees are not taken lightly by the people and concessions such as the one reportedly offered will not be received well. If the leadership distances itself too far from the people, it is thus no longer representative of them, an accusation already being heard on the street.
Hence, it will be a crucial time for both people and leadership in the coming months. The Palestine Papers will no doubt play a role in shaping public opinion about the way the leadership has handled the negotiations with Israel but more importantly they should be the catalyst for which the leadership assesses its own performance. Only time will tell.