Yesterday afternoon, Al Jazeera starting publishing stories related to its trove of more than 1,600 memos, diplomatic cables, and notes from the past decade of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The station also shared the documents with the Guardian, which is running some of its own stories. The damning leaks, which Palestinian Authority leaders are calling forgeries, reveal that Mahmoud Abbas and his senior negotiators made major compromises in private that contradicted their public position. Al Jazeera's "Palestine Papers" section reveals that despite international controversy over construction of a settlement in northern Jerusalem populated by Orthodox Jews, "Palestinian negotiators agreed in 2008 to allow Israel to annex this settlement, along with almost every other bit of illegal construction in the Jerusalem area — an historic concession for which they received nothing in return." At the time, Joe Biden responded by saying Israeli's decision to build "undermines the kind of trust we need."
Controversy is also swirling around two so-called "napkin maps," revealed for the first time in Al Jazeera's leak, that document further concessions. The Palestinian Authority proposed a land swap with Israel, offering up almost all of the illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. Israel's response?
Not only did the Israeli government offer no concessions in return, but - as The Palestine Papers now reveal - it responded with an even more aggressive land swap: Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert wanted to annex more than 10% of the West Bank (including the major settlements in Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and elsewhere), in exchange for sparsely-populated farmland along the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The "napkin" element is due to the fact that Abbas was not allowed to keep the map and had so sketched it by hand. If that's the power dynamic, no wonder Binyamin Netanyahu didn't feel compelled to pick up the phone when Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called. One of the most embarrassing revelations from the documents also comes from Erekat, who was willing to cede control over the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, to the oversight of an international committee during discussions about East Jerusalem.
To hear their chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, tell the Israelis that the Palestinians are ready to concede "the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history" - even using the Hebrew word for the city - will strike many as an act of humiliation.
As the Guardian points out, the cache of documents may have been leaked selectively, leaving out papers that expose a different take on negotiations. But the damage to the reputation of the Palestinian Authority and its leading Fatah party is done. Leaked documents that could actually affect the course of international relations? Julian Assange must be so jealous.
"The biggest Yerushalayim" [Al Jazeera]
The "napkin map" revealed [Al Jazeera]Palestine papers: Will a big scoop change business as usual? [Christian Science Monitor]
Palestine papers: Now we know. Israel had a peace partner [Guardian UK]