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Leaks show Palestinian Authority is selling out its people

By Nadia Hijab, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nadia Hijab: Palestinian Authority took aim at Al-Jazeera for leaking 1,600 documents
  • Documents detail years of concessions to Israel behind closed doors, she says
  • Hijab: Leaks confirm Palestinian fears that a major sell-out of their rights was at hand
  • Palestinian civil society must decide if it's time to challenge Palestinian Authority, she writes

Editor's note: Nadia Hijab is co-director of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

(CNN) -- In time-honored style, the Palestinian Authority took aim at the Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera for its release of over 1,600 documents detailing Palestinian-Israeli negotiations from 1999 to 2010.

There is little love lost between the Fatah-dominated authority and Al-Jazeera. They have previously clashed bitterly over news coverage, and Qatar is known to have a soft spot for Hamas.

By seeking to focus attention on Al-Jazeera and its host country, the Palestinian Authority is following the lead of its main donor and security guarantor, the United States, in its response to WikiLeaks, arguing that the problem lies not in the news but its purveyor. Of course, the reverse is true. The leaks bring to light the horrors governments commit in their people's names.

It is the authority's actions that are at fault. The authority is supposed to be accountable to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents the Palestinian people, when it comes to negotiations. But since the Oslo peace process began in 1993, the Ramallah-based authority has used the PLO as a tool as it made one concession after another in its effort to salvage something from its failed strategy in the cantons to which it has been confined.

And it did so behind closed doors, leaving the Palestinian people in the dark. The leaks have let the sunshine in. They confirm what most Palestinians already feared, that a major sell-out of their rights, including the right to return and Jerusalem, was planned. Despite the secrecy, it was clear that no good could come of a process where the Palestinian side was going naked into the negotiating room, having left itself without a single source of potential power -- diplomatic, popular, or legal.

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[The leaks] confirm what most Palestinians already feared, that a major sell-out of their rights was planned.
--Nadia Hijab
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The reason the Palestinian Authority couldn't swing a deal was not for lack of effort. Rather, as the leaks expose, the Israelis have absolutely no interest in stopping their relentless colonization of occupied Palestinian land and meeting the authority halfway.

Why should they? Israel controls everything and has the authority where it wants it, completely dependent on its occupier -- even for its freedom of movement to get to meetings. Just before the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007, former Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and his team were actually prevented from reaching a meeting with Israeli negotiators. Qurei's rank counted for nothing vis-à-vis the Israeli soldiers at the roadblock to Jerusalem.

Palestinians have not been simply sitting on their hands and waiting for these leaders to come to their senses. Instead, for nearly six years, they have been testing other sources of power to achieve their rights, including the popular struggle villagers are waging against the wall Israel is building on their land and the international movement that is hearkening to the 2005 Palestinian civil society call to boycott Israel.

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Palestinian civil society faces this question: Is it finally time to directly challenge the Palestinian Authority because it does not represent the people and so has no right to negotiate in their name? And to demand that the PLO be revived as an institution that is truly representative of Palestinian aspirations? There is no doubt that the Al-Jazeera leaks have brought this moment much closer.

The leaks expose that the Israelis have no interest in stopping their relentless colonization of occupied Palestinian land.
--Nadia Hijab
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The leaks have also made it easier for Palestinian civil society to make the case against the Palestinian Authority in the international arena. The authority is belatedly seeking to move away from total reliance on the United States and get the United Nations and its member states re-involved in the question of Palestine.

The number of countries lining up to recognize Palestinian statehood at the authority's request is increasing, and that is a good thing -- but only if statehood is a vehicle for fulfillment of rights and not a means for Israel to cement its control in other ways.

If the Palestinian state-to-be is reduced to a sham, then international recognition is meaningless and must be stopped. Governments may be willing to give Palestinian civil society a more sympathetic hearing now that the leaked documents reveal the extent of the authority's willingness to trade away so many rights.

There is no doubt that a major task looms, a clearing of the Augean stables to get at the things that matter. It is a task that will not be carried out by a Hercules, but rather by the single-minded determination of a dispersed and oppressed people that has struggled for its rights for nearly a century, and will not give up.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nadia Hijab.