While Palestinian officials have long maintained that Israeli settlement construction was non-negotiable, leaked documents obtained by Al Jazeera show Palestinian negotiators agreed to concede tracts of Jerusalem to Israel.
In what the British daily The Guardian is calling the “biggest leak of confidential documents in the history of the Middle East conflict,” documents released by the Arabic Al Jazeera TV station Sunday show that Palestinian negotiators were prepared to compromise on the status of Jerusalem and on Palestinian refugees, two of the thorniest issues that have dogged the Mideast peace process for decades.
The first of four programs dedicated to the cache of thousands of documents obtained by Al Jazeera and shared with the The Guardian revealed that in 2008, Palestinian negotiators secretly agreed to accept Israel's annexation of all but one of the settlements built in East Jerusalem after it was captured in the 1967 war.
Palestinian concessions also included a compromise on the so-called “right of return” of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars, the documents revealed.
Reporting from Jerusalem Monday, FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick said the details revealed in the “Palestine Papers” - as the documents have been called – were explosive and potentially damaging for the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank.
“When you know how important East Jerusalem is to the Palestinian people, when you talk to Palestinians on the street, that certainly is a shocking revelation,” said Fenwick, predicting that the Palestinian Authority would have to resort to extensive damage control measures to repair their image among the Palestinian people. “They’re going to have a hard time explaining this to their public, especially since the Palestinians are already distrustful of the Palestinian Authority,” said Fenwick.
The official Palestinian reaction was swift and sharp. Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called the leaked documents "a pack of lies". In an interview with Egyptian editors late Sunday in Cairo, where he is holding talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said, "I don't know from where Al-Jazeera came with secret things. There is nothing we hide from our brothers, the Arabs.''
‘The biggest Yerushalayim’
The leaked documents covering more than a decade of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians and aided by US officials show that at one point, Ahmed Qureia, the lead Palestinian negotiator at the time, allegedly proposed that Israel annex all Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem except Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim), in a bid to reach a final deal.
In return, according to the quoted documents, the Palestinians wanted Israeli land, including a section close to the West Bank-Israel line where many of Israel's minority Arab citizens live.
"This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition," said Qureia, noting that it was a bigger concession than those made during the 2000 Camp David talks.
"We are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history," said Erekat, using the Hebrew word for Jerusalem.
Concessions on the Holy City included a proposal to have an international committee control the Temple Mount, a flashpoint religious site claimed by Muslims and Jews, which houses the Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third-holiest site.
‘The weakness and desperation of the Palestinian side’
On the issue of the right of return of refugees, the documents show that Palestinian negotiators told their Israeli counterparts that the number of refugees would be limited to Israel accepting 10,000 refugees a year for 10 years, making it a total of 100,000 refugees.
For decades, Palestinian officials have publicly declared that the right of return was an inalienable, “sacred right” and that the millions of Palestinians displaced by war have the right to return to Israel. The Jewish state has, however, rejected right of return, viewing it as a threat to the Jewish character of their nation.
In reality though, most Palestinians have always known that some of the core issues, especially the right of return, have been up for discussion during decades of US-backed Mideast peace negotiations. Talks finally stalled in 2008 over Israel’s refusal to halt settlement construction in the occupied territories.
The real damage of the Palestine Papers, according to a taped interview of Guardian columnist Seumas Milne and posted on the paper’s Web site, is that the leaked documents “give a picture of the weakness and desperation of the Palestinian side in negotiations that have gone nowhere.”
The latest leaked documents also show that PA leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas said, were privately tipped off about Israel's 2008-9 war in Gaza. Abbas has categorically denied this in the past, when US Embassy cables leaked to the whistleblower Wikileaks site revealed that former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert reportedly asked the PA if it would be ready to “handle” Gaza if Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza Strip, was toppled.
Al-Jazeera claimed it has 1,600 leaked documents from peace talks over the past decade. The Al-Jazeera program Sunday, concentrating on Jerusalem, was the first of four episodes to be broadcast this week.
According to The Guardian, the leaked documents were "drawn up by PA officials and lawyers working for the British-funded PLO negotiations support unit and include extensive verbatim transcripts of private meetings."
The British daily added that many of the documents had been "independently authenticated by The Guardian and corroborated by former participants in the talks and intelligence and diplomatic sources."
Date created : 2011-01-24