by Khaled Abu Toameh
Documents revealed by Al-Jazeera, the popular and influential Qatari-owned TV network, have reconfirmed the widely believed perception that the Palestinian Authority speaks in more than one voice.
These documents expose the Palestinian leadership's double standards and hypocrisy. They show that the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, has not been telling Palestinians the truth about the peace process.
According to the documents, Palestinian negotiators went as far as ceding control over almost the entire area of east Jerusalem. This position contradicts the Palestinian Authority's public position, namely that it would not agree to any concessions on east Jerusalem, which it insists must become the future capital of a Palestinian state.
The leaked documents have caused huge and irreparable damage to the leaders of the Palestinian Authority. For the first time since the beginning of the peace process in 1993, the Palestinian Authority is now being accused of lying to its people about its positions.
Most Palestinian officials have not denied the authenticity of the documents. Their reaction to the revelations by Al-Jazeera has reflected the state of confusion and uncertainty among the top brass of the Palestinian leadership.
The Palestinian Authority has always had a problem with its credibility. In recent years, especially after Hamas managed to throw it out of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the Palestinian Authority's reputation among many Palestinians continued to deteriorate.
Many Palestinians lost faith in the Palestinian Authority leadership largely because of its failure to implement major reforms and get rid of corrupt officials. The Palestinian Authority's failure to draw conclusions from its defeat to Hamas was another factor that led many Palestinians to turn away from the leaders sitting in Ramallah.
Now, in light of the latest scandal surrounding the leaked documents, Palestinians have discovered that Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat and Ahmed Qurei have also been lying to them all these years. It now turns out that Palestinian negotiators have been telling Israelis and Americans one thing and their own people the exact opposite.
It is hard to see how, from now on, the Palestinian Authority can continue to represent the Palestinians in peace talks with Israel. Negotiating with Abbas and Erekat will be a waste of time: the two men's credibility among many Arabs and Muslims has been seriously undermined.
It is not even clear whom these men represent. Abbas's term in office expired in January 2009. Erekat represents the tiny district of Jericho in a parliament whose term has also expired. Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, is head of the smallest political list, Third Way, which won about 2% of the votes in the parliamentary election that took place in January, 2006.
In the absence of a reliable and credible partner on the Palestinian side, it is time for the US and the EU to reconsider their policies toward the Middle East process. This does not mean that the Americans and Europeans should stop helping the Palestinians politically and financially.
The US and EU should finally wake up to the reality that the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority has no credibility and will never be able to deliver. They need to realize that leaders who lie to their own people are also capable of lying to the US and the EU.
There is nothing wrong with waiting until a new and more credible Palestinian leadership emerges.
Khaled Abu Toameh
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