The leak of 1,600 documents covering a decade of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority threatens to shake up the status quo of this region more than the peace process itself.
The documents reveal that Palestinian negotiators offered substantial concessions to Israel in the two areas considered most intractable in the peace talks: the matter of Palestinian refugees and their claim to a right to return to their home communities now inside Israel; and the status of Jerusalem, claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as the sovereign capital of each.
While the leaked documents so far released provide a glimpse into some Israeli concessions, the overwhelming picture that emerges from these leaks is of Israel's intransigence. Time after time, Palestinian proposals were greeted negatively by their Israeli counterparts.
"We do not like this suggestion because it does not meet our demands," Israel's then foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, told the Palestinians on one occasion, "and probably it was not easy for you to think about it, but I really appreciate it."
For most of the last two years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that it is Israel alone that is willing to make the hard concessions for the sake of peace. These documents show it is the Palestinian Authority that were willing to make considerable concessions.
In that respect, the release of the "Palestine Papers," as they are being called, may have a more negative effect on the Israeli leadership than on the Palestinians.
The thousands of pages of Palestinian records fell into the hands of Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned news network, which began revealing its contents Sunday night. The documents were shared with Britain's Guardian newspaper, which began publishing its contents Monday.
On the question of refugees, Palestinian negotiators reportedly offered to limit to 10,000 the number of Palestinians who would be allowed to return each year to their old homeland and only for a 10-year period. This would cap the number of refugees at 100,000.
It is estimated that several hundred thousand Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes in fighting in 1948-49. Including their descendants, the number of people who claim a refugee's right to return now number more than 3 million.
On the subject of Jerusalem, Palestinian negotiators secretly agreed to accept Israel's annexation of all but one of the settlements Israel built on land in parts of Jerusalem occupied in 1967.
And on the highly contentious subject of the status the Old City of Jerusalem, the negotiators reportedly relinquished any Palestinian claim to the Old City's Jewish and Armenian Quarters. Since all of the Old City was captured by Israel only in 1967, it has long been the Palestinian position that all of the Old City should revert to Palestinian sovereignty.
Regarding the most sacred part of the Old City, known in Arabic as the Haram ash-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat even went so far as to offer a creative solution to its status.
He proposed that a joint body made up of the Palestinians, Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan would administer the site until Israel and the Palestinians could work out a permanent arrangement.
The offers on Jerusalem were made in 2008-2009 to the administration of then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Mr. Erekat is recorded as having told the Israelis: "This is the first time in Palestinian-Israeli history in which such a suggestion is officially made."
Mr. Erekat, interviewed by Al Jazeera, denied offering such concessions, or saying such things.
The Jerusalem document was an Israeli proposal, not a Palestinian one, he said.
He also denied the report about a Palestinian offer to limit the return of refugees.
While the revelations strike no one who has followed the years of negotiations as particularly surprising - the back-channel Israeli-Palestinian document known as the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan, which provided a blueprint for a peace agreement 15 years ago, contained similar suggestions - the explicit offers and the conciliatory, sometimes fawning tone of the Palestinian negotiators are likely to create a severe backlash against the Palestinian Authority, at least in the short run.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not appreciate being recorded as noting "with pleasure the fact that [then Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon considered him a friend, and the fact that he too considered Sharon a friend," or that he once told Israelis "every bullet that is aimed in the direction of Israel is a bullet aimed at the Palestinians as well."Report Typo/Error