Daily Archives: June 4, 2014
Four years ago in 2010 Al Jazeera acquired a set of documents known as “The Palestine Papers.” These were classified documents characterizing behind the scenes comments pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as far back as the Madrid conference and the Oslo agreements in the early 1990s. They included emails, minutes, transcripts, reports, strategy papers, and draft agreements all detailing the US mediated negotiations. The Palestine papers can be accessed in English at this site: The Palestine papers. Moreover, a more detailed analysis of the Palestine papers and the issues discussed below appears in Zayani (2013) in the journal Media, War & Conflict.
Of course, the release of these documents can be and was hailed as a blow for freedom of information, greater exposure to the truth, and a gold mine for scholars. Al Jazeera began by holding the documents closely but then found it too overwhelming to deal with and decided to make them available on a website for all to examine. But what is the main news value of these documents? What information is truly relevant and informative? It was tantalizing to read some memos and examine what were thought to be private opinions, but what are the real political effects?
It turns out that the release of these documents was pretty damaging and just possibly might have set the entire negotiation process back. They are a good example of how media can reorganize relationships can cause changes in the issues. We can see this with respect to issues if we compare the state of negotiations in 2010 to the present. First, in 2010 the Palestinian Authority was trying hard to keep Hamas out of the picture. The Palestinian Authority was trying to minimize Hamas and establish themselves as the dominant Palestinian political unit. This was the preference of the United States and Israel each of which assumed that negotiations would be more middle ground and mainstream without Hamas. There was even documentation representing a covert operation between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority against Hamas and cooperation between the US, Israel, and the Mubarak regime.
The Palestinian Authority was under critical scrutiny and embarrassed by the state of affairs. There were additional revelations about the weak performance of the Palestinian negotiating team and the strength of the Israelis including Palestinian concessions that made them look like they were outmatched by the Israelis and the United States. The Palestinian community felt their pride was eroded and even perhaps their leadership was in an unhealthy collaboration with Israel.
The exposure of these issues has had the effect of hardening the Palestinian position and essentially made negotiations more difficult. The recent formation of a unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is probably in some way a response to the WikiLeaks documents. Behind the scenes the Palestinians were seeking to marginalize a more extreme group, but the presence of new media that exposes these behind-the-scenes strategies put the Palestinian negotiating team in the untenable position. They have incorporated Hamas into the negotiations, and even though as I argued in an earlier post this might have some salutary effect, it is also possible that it will push the Palestinian Authority into more hardened and extreme positions.
Al Jazeera played an important role in the release of these documents. Some accuse them of making a conscious attempt to embarrass the Palestinians and empowering Hamas. The documents reconfigured the relationship between the Palestinians and other Arab groups by taking backstage behavior and pushing it to the front stage thereby redefining everyone’s role. But then again, this is what media does.