It may not be the case that Al Jazeera has “declared war” on the Palestinian Authority, as one PA official claimed after the release of the “Palestine Papers”, but it has scored a direct hit on Ramallah with its humiliating revelations about the lengths to which the Palestinian leadership was prepared to go to secure a peace deal with Israel.

The extent of the Authority’s proposed concessions in East Jerusalem — allowing Israel to annex virtually all its hitherto-illegal settlements in the city as part of what Palestinian negotiators called “the biggest Yerushalayim in history” — major concessions on Palestinians’ right of return (said to be detailed in coming papers) and the almost humiliating efforts of the Palestinian leadership to build a relationship with the Israelis and Americans will place the Palestinian Authority in a deeply embarrassing position in the eyes of Palestinians.

The fact that its historic concessions were still not enough to move Israel to even offer, in the words of Palestinian negotiators, a “figleaf”, or move the Americans who alternately acted as hapless bystanders and guarantors of Israeli intransigence, will empower extremists like Hamas who have consistently refused to entertain the idea of negotiations. Now Hamas has proof that its position is justified.

But the papers also expose Israel as simply not serious about negotiating with the Palestinians — the very reverse of the position it has long maintained.

For decades, Israel has relied on the line that it can’t negotiate with the Palestinians because they are too divided, can’t get themselves organised and they’re not prepared to make the sorts of concessions that will seriously advance the cause of peace. This line was strongly reinforced by the perception that Yasser Arafat scuttled the July 2000 Camp David summit over issues like control of East Jerusalem and the timing of the dismantling of terrorist groups, in the face of a generous offer from Ehud Barak.

The reality, including that Israel was continuing to fund illegal settlements in the West Bank right through the Oslo peace process and into the 2000s, may have been different but, ever since, the Israelis have peddled the line that the Palestinians aren’t serious about peace negotiations. Just last week, Benjamin Netanyahu was using the Tunisian revolution, of all things, to justify not “rushing into” negotiations with the Palestinians , as if there was any danger of the Israelis rushing a process that has been going on since the first George Bush was president.

But now the Israeli line has been utterly discredited. Israel can no longer pretend the Palestinians are not serious about peace. The Palestinian Authority is so serious about peace it is willing to make concessions that will infuriate Palestinians and recognise Israel’s illegal settlement-building. Israel’s refusal to respond to these offers will legitimise those who reject peace negotiations and significantly arguing for a negotiated settlement.

Meantime, Israel’s illegal, and often violent, settlement construction continues in the West Bank, funded by hundreds of millions of Israeli taxpayers’ dollars, donations from the US via major credit card companies and even, blogger Jinjirrie has noted, Australian Zionists.

The massive dump of 1600 documents spanning a decade was shared by Al Jazeera with The Guardian, which also has access to WikiLeaks-derived US cables relating to the negotiations. As is now becoming standard, The Guardian provided a detailed explanation of how the material was obtained, how it has been edited, how it will be released and the nature of its relationship with Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera has done the same.

The dump demonstrates that WikiLeaks is only one example of the growing porousness of governmental information control — what Nathan Jungerson called “liquid modernity”. And so far in 2011, the two biggest stories in the Middle East have almost entirely bypassed the mainstream media.

Only Al Jazeera and a handful of Middle East observers in the western media caught what was happening in Tunisia, which mostly played out on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Now Al Jazeera has material that is likely to bury the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey