In a peculiar piece of stagecraft, AlJazeera has announced the publication of documents pertaining to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.The Qatar-based news channel said 1,600 documents would be published over four days.
There seems to be an attempt to create as much anticipation as possible as the leaks began to be revealed. When the announcement appeared on the website on Sunday, it was accompanied by a video clipshowing Israeli and Palestinian leaders and negotiators. It looked like a movie set witha picture of the AlAqsa Mosque in the background and a voice-over describing the leaks.
The issues raised so far are Palestinian concessions regarding land swaps, the status of Jerusalem, and refugees and the right of return. These are among the most important issues in negotiations, yet somehow this elaborate show has only obscured the core causes of the Palestinians' weakness.
On the Israeli side, officials have been cautious, with some denials about the details of the leaks, refusals to comment to "safeguard the interests of the Israeli state," as a former foreign minister said. On the other hand, the Israeli media allocated much space to the issue in print and on radio and television programmes.
Both the Palestinian leadership and media were riveted to the leaks yesterday. Some officials denied the accuracy of the documents; others accused AlJazeera of taking hostile action against the Palestinian Authority, even sayingthat Israel was behind the leaks. And, crucially, there were proposals that all of the Palestinian Authority's documents on negotiations should be published.
The questions raised by this episode arequite similar to those inthe recent WikiLeaks cables. Among them is the identity of who leaked the documents, what is actually new in the informationand what data is missing.Certain extracts were chosen for publication based on what reasons, and why at this time?
As with WikiLeaks, much of this so-called "new" information has been rehashed from old reports. And also the agenda has to be questioned when the leaks target certain groups, states and leaders more than others. In the Arab world, WikiLeaks seemed to reinforce the public's beliefs about corruption and dishonesty, as well Arab leaders'collaboration with the US and Israel.
On the other hand, the US government seemed to have weathered the scandal, and there were hardly any embarrassing revelations regarding the Israeli government.
AlJazeera's leaks seem to follow the same pattern. Only Palestinian leaders will be embarrassed by this reiteration of information that people already knew.At least so far, the revelations have largely spared Israeli and American officials entangled in the ' different issues.
This is a strange bias in the leaksbecausenegotiations obviously have not been conducted by Palestinian leaders in isolation, but rather in concert with Israeli officials as well as heavy USinvolvement. Part of what is left unsaidis the Israeli negotiation tactics and proposals, as well as the position taken by the Americans. What that might reveal would be far more valuable: the way power relations have played out in these meetings, and how these leakeddocuments were produced.
If the only partiestargetedarePalestinian officials, than some legitimate questions follow:Were the leaks meant to put pressure on the Palestinian leadership? If so, for what purpose? At present there are clear internal divisions within Palestinian society and the political landscape. Were these leaks tailored to contribute to those divisions? Were they meant to benefit Hamas, agitate the public against the Palestinian Authority or aggravate splits within its own leadership, as seen in the recent case involving Mohammed Dahlan? Perhaps not all of these questions will be answered.
In the face of the Israelis' repeated refusal to accept a final agreement, the Palestinian Authority has already been considering its options. In order to stop Israel's land grabs, a proactive approach has been to work within the framework of the UN Security Council to condemn the continued building of colonies. The leaks should only help Palestinian officials to take a tougher stance with Israel; after all, they have already offered so much and been refused.
Butwill a tougher stance help? Can Israel, backed by the US and most of Europe, be forced to change its position simply because Palestinians "get tough" and confront it?The answer is that it has always been a confrontation. How could the relationship between a coloniser and the colonised ever be any different?
In the coming days and weeks we will see the results of these reports. What is much more important is an acknowledgement of the fundamental weakness of Palestinians, and Arabs in general,relative to Israel and the West led by the United States. These leaks will not lead to a discussion of how we will reach a future free of colonisation or provide space within the media without pointing fingers.
We need to rethink the issues of power, dignity, justice and liberation - and consequently the continued colonisation of lands, peoples and minds, and the suffering of millions all around the Arab world. Perhaps these leaks and WikiLeaks can contribute to this.
As events unfold in Tunisia, where a people's future is being made, there are lessons of more importance. Thereare ramifications for the region at large, and consequently for the issues that we areall dealing with, whether in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine or elsewhere in the region. To some extent, the public can still be colonised by external domination which is buttressed by internal collaboration.
Dr Magid Shihade is a professor at the Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute of International Studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank