The Palestine Papers – a collection of classified documents on the Middle East peace process, leaked to Al Jazeera – reveal that the US has stifled true Palestinian democracy and acted more like Israel's lawyer. Only a bold policy shift could salvage a positive US role in the Middle East peace process. Otherwise, the US must stand back and allow the popular movements now shaking countries across the region, like Tunisia and Egypt, to establish representation for their people.
“We make the call on our own credibility.” Those were the words of State Department official Dan Shapiro when confronted by Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat about the Obama administration’s failure to obtain an Israeli settlement freeze and to stand by minimal commitments made to the Palestinians by the Bush administration.
The conversation on Sept. 17, 2009 was recorded in detailed Palestinian minutes of meetings with US officials that were part of The Palestine Papers, a huge cache of documents related to the Middle East peace process leaked to Al Jazeera. In early January, I was one of a number of experts invited to Doha to analyze the documents in detail before the network began to release them, in conjunction with The Guardian, on Jan. 23.
The contents of the documents and the reaction to them among Palestinians and in the wider Arab world show that the United States is, to put it mildly, actually rather incompetent at evaluating its own credibility among those it seeks to influence. It is completely out of touch with the grim realities it has helped create in the region and unprepared to deal with the consequences.
Only a bold policy shift could salvage a positive US role in the Middle East peace process. Otherwise, the US must stand back and allow the popular movements now shaking countries across the region to establish representation and freedom for their people.
These revelations emerge at a moment when people across the Arab world are demanding in the streets, on television, and through social media that the order that has kept them impoverished and oppressed for so long finally change. The uprising in Tunisia has restored hope that such transformation is possible.
At first, State Department officials variously tried to cast doubt on The Palestine Papers, then admitted they would “complicate” US diplomacy, and eventually vowed to carry on with failed policies as if nothing had happened. That won’t work.