Al-Jazeera obtained 1,600 documents from the past 11 years of Palestinian/Israeli negotiations. They joined with the Guardian newspaper to verify and then publish the documents, producing in effect a Palestinian version of Wikileaks.
The documents paint an interesting picture of the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. They show a Palestinian leadership willing to give up far more than they had ever publicly indicated in order to obtain a Palestinian state, including:
--A willingness to agree to land swaps with Israel that would allow Israel to keep most major settlements.
--A willingness to give up control of much (but not all) of East Jerusalem, and to seek a compromise on control of the Temple Mount.
--A willingness to give up the right of return for millions of Palestinians, accepting instead a token return of about 10,000 Palestinians.
The parties had still not reached a common understanding on these issues, but the documents show the gaps were narrowing. So why were these documents released now, and what impact could it have on any future negotiations?
First, the documents are incredibly embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority leadership. The papers show the leadership was willing to give up far more than they were saying publicly to the Palestinian people. It's possible these revelations will result in the collapse of the current government. It certainly makes their hold on power in the West Bank more tenuous. Were the documents leaked now for this very reason? It's hard to tell.
Second, the documents will probably kill any serious negotiations, at least in the near term. Much like the fallout from the Wikileak documents, politicians will be less likely to engage in serious discussions of issues, and to offer possible compromises, if the discussions have the potential of ending up as front page news.
Third, the documents show that any serious attempt to solve the Israel/Palestinian issue will ultimately need to acknowledge that (a) final borders will not match those of 1967, (b) the right of return to Israel will not be granted to all Palestinians, and (c) most major Jewish settlements will become part of Israel with some type of land swap as compensation.
Fourth, the real issue to watch now is how the Palestinian people respond to these revelations. The expectation is that there will be an angry rejection of the compromises made by the PA leaders. If so, there will be no movement toward an agreement. However, perhaps the shock of realizing the kind of compromises required to reach an agreement will produce more realistic expectations for what any future Palestinian state will need to look like. But I'm not optimistic.