3:00pm

Mon January 24, 2011
Middle East

Leaked Palestinian Papers Raise Questions For U.S.

The U.S. State Department says the release of secret documents about Middle East peace talks will make it harder for the U.S. to revive talks.

Spokesman P.J. Crowley says the U.S. isn't changing its strategy for now, but Middle East experts argue that the U.S. should be drawing some lessons.

Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel, says the documents, which show the Palestinians making unprecedented concessions and being rebuffed by Israel, raise "substantial questions as to why the Bush administration didn't understand that there had been a significant narrowing of differences."

Kurtzer, a professor at Princeton University, suggests that a big push a couple of years ago might have really advanced the peace process.

The former ambassador says the Obama administration also comes across as reluctant to put ideas on the table and should now "get its act together." He says the documents show that the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians are narrower than most people assumed.

"If the administration has been waiting for that narrowing to put forward a bridging position, it now has evidence that the bridge can be built," Kurtzer says.

But that bridge may be harder to build now with a different Israeli coalition government, and as Palestinians grapple with the political fallout from the leaks.

Another U.S. veteran of the peace process, Robert Danin, cautions against reading too much into what he calls a "selective" leak of documents. He calls it a "Rorschach test" and says everyone is going to draw from it their own pre-existing policy recommendations.

"Those who believe that a negotiated settlement is possible will be bolstered by these revelations. Those who believe that the Israelis are not serious will point to certain things here and say that that's what it demonstrates," argues Danin, the Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Danin believes the documents were leaked to embarrass Palestinian negotiators, and he called it "a big blow" to U.S. efforts to revive those talks.

"It was released by people who think that negotiations do not serve Palestinian interests and that this is not the way to go," he says.

The documents were leaked at a time when Palestinians are already working on Plan B — taking their cause to the United Nations to try to win Palestinian statehood. Former ambassador Kurtzer thinks the leaks will give more impetus to this push at the U.N.

"The argument now is, 'Look how far we went, we didn't get anything in return, so why shouldn't we go to the U.N.?' " he says, adding that he would be very worried if he were in the administration now because there is no good response.

The Obama administration has been urging the Palestinians not to move ahead with a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli building projects in the occupied West Bank.

As State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley argues, New York is not the place to resolve the conflict.

"The best and only way to fundamentally resolve the core issues, reach an agreement and end the conflict once and for all is through a negotiation — not through unilateral statements, unilateral actions," Crowley says.

While he wouldn't "vouch" for the documents released by Al-Jazeera, he acknowledges they will make an already difficult job of reviving the peace process even harder. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.