The Palestine Papers -- more than 1,600 internal Palestinian documents summarizing negotiations with Israel over the past decade -- are no "Palestinian WikiLeaks" aimed at bringing transparency and good government to the Palestinian Authority. Rather, they are a direct attack on the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), its negotiators, and the very idea of negotiating peace with Israel.
The documents were apparently provided to Al Jazeera by disgruntled Palestinians who set out to harm the PLO leadership and their peaceful path toward realizing Palestinian national goals. The Qatar-based satellite network has played along, insinuating that the documents show that the Palestinian leadership has proved weak and willing to capitulate to Israeli desires. On the documents pertaining to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, it laments that Palestinian negotiators "gave away almost everything to the Israelis, without pressuring them for concessions or compromise."
Palestinian leaders have done a lamentable job of preparing their public for the types of concessions necessary for an enduring Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Accordingly, the far-reaching compromises that were under discussion will likely come as a shock to many on the streets of Ramallah and Hebron. The ensuing outrage, unfortunately, makes it possible that the leakers could sabotage the peace process, as they seem to have intended.
It would be mistaken, however, to draw conclusions about the course of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from the documents released so far. This is not the equivalent of the National Archives opening up the public record for scholars to reconstruct the diplomatic narrative. Only a few documents have been publicly released to date, which means that any context for the discussions is absent. According to my Palestinian sources, more documents are likely to be posted online in piecemeal fashion over the days ahead.
The first batch of documents focuses largely on the 2008 final-status negotiations between the PLO and Ehud Olmert's government that followed the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007. They are meant to demonstrate that Palestinian negotiators are desperate quislings, willing to cooperate shamelessly with the Israeli occupiers, while selling out sacrosanct Palestinian positions on the status of Jerusalem and the "right of return."
However, the documents actually show that the Annapolis process had succeeded in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, under U.S. leadership, to discuss the most sensitive issues that divide them. They show flexibility, agility, and candor on both sides of the debate. "It actually makes me proud of my leadership. It showed that they are smart, subtle, and know what they are doing," one non-affiliated Palestinian told me today. "I just wish they let us know that this is the case."
Negotiations are conducted confidentially for a reason. A degree of secrecy allows parties to explore positions without necessarily locking themselves into a particular stance. But readers of these documents should keep in mind that these discussions operate under the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.