Ramallah, Palestinian Territories (AFP) Jan 24, 2011
Palestinian officials reacted with astonishment and fury on Monday after the leak of hundreds of secret documents on a decade of peace talks with Israel.
The cache of documents, the first set of which were revealed by Al-Jazeera on Sunday night, contain potentially damning revelations on the amount of land in annexed east Jerusalem that the Palestinians were willing to cede to Israel.
And the hundreds of documents, dating from 1999 onwards, also reveal that Israel gave the Palestinian leadership advance warning before it launched a devastating 22-day invasion of Gaza in December 2008.
The revelations have infuriated the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, already weakened by years of failure to win a peace deal with Israel and the deadly rout of its forces in Gaza in 2007 at the hands of Hamas.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who heads the Fatah party, voiced astonishment at the leaks in talks with Egyptian journalists in Cairo on Sunday night, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
He said Palestinian negotiators had never sought to hide the terms of their peace talks with Israel from Arab neighbours.
"With everything we have done -- in terms of activities with the Israelis or the Americans -- we have given the Arabs details," Wafa quoted Abbas as saying.
"There is nothing hidden from the Arab brothers."
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat reacted furiously, accusing Al-Jazeera of a smear campaign and saying the documents were "out of context and contain lies."
"We don't have anything to hide, and I reiterate that Al-Jazeera's information is full of distortions and fraud," he told AFP from Cairo, where he was accompanying Abbas for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
In Ramallah, foreign minister Riad al-Malki held a press conference to address the leaks and accused Al-Jazeera of standing "beside Israel and helping them in their attempt to finish off the Palestinian Authority."
He said the Qatar-based channel was trying to incite an uprising similar to the one that toppled veteran Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
"Al-Jazeera got very enthusiastic about what happened in Tunisia and wants the same thing to happen in other places, including here," he said.
"But here the situation is very different, because we connect with our people and any attempts at destabilisation will not work."
At a separate press conference, senior Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo reserved his anger for Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, accusing him of authorising "a campaign" against the Palestinian Authority.
"It was a political decision made at the highest political level in Qatar," he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority would not punish Al-Jazeera or its reporters.
Shortly afterwards, dozens of Palestinian youths demonstrated outside Al-Jazeera's office, fighting with security forces who sought to keep them out of the building. They burned an Israeli flag with Al-Jazeera written on it.
In an unusual step, the UN's special Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry issued a statement defending Palestinian officials.
"I can personally attest to the commitment of the Palestinian leadership to secure the legitimate rights and interests of the Palestinian people," he said.
The documents, released late on Sunday on the websites of Al-Jazeera and British daily the Guardian, are the first of some 1,600 secret files relating to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Those published so far threaten to undermine the already fragile standing of Abbas and his negotiators stand accused by rival Hamas of supporting the Israeli occupation.
Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman of the Islamist Hamas movement which rules the Gaza Strip, said the documents revealed the "ugly face" of Abbas's Palestinian Authority and "the level of its cooperation with the occupation."
"These secret documents that were presented by Al-Jazeera are serious," he told AFP.
They showed "the Fatah Authority's involvement in attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause, particularly on the issue of Jerusalem and refugees."
earlier related report
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, however, questioned on the Doha-based channel, said the Palestinian leadership had "nothing to hide" and dismissed most of the report as "a pack of lies."
Al-Jazeera said the Jerusalem areas offered were where Jewish settlements have been built, including French Hill, Ramat Alon and Gilo, as well as the Jewish Quarter and a part of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City.
Israel, the Arab satellite channel added, offered nothing in return for what it called the "historic concession" from the Palestinians, in the documents which Britain's The Guardian newspaper said it was also leaking.
Al-Jazeera said the concessions came at a June 2008 meeting in Jerusalem between Condoleezza Rice, then US secretary of state, then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and ex-Palestinian premier Ahmad Qorei, and Erakat.
"This last proposition could help in the swap process," Qorei is quoted as saying in the "Palestine Papers."
"We proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa)," he said in the documents, as cited by the news channel.
"This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so in Camp David," he added, referring to the US-hosted 2000 Camp David peace talks attended by late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
But "the Israeli side refused to even place Jerusalem on the agenda, let alone offer the PA (Palestinian Authority) concessions in return for its historic offer," the report said.
Qorei told Livni at the June 2008 meeting, however, there would be no concessions on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, according to the Palestine Papers.
The report comes as world powers seek ways to haul Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after direct peace talks broke down last September in a dispute over Jewish settlements.
The United States on Sunday said it was reviewing the "alleged Palestinian documents."
"We cannot vouch for their veracity," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley in a Twitter post.
The Palestinians refuse to resume negotiations while Israel builds on land they want for a future state of their own.
In what it termed "shocking revelations," Al-Jazeera said it had obtained more than 1,600 internal confidential documents from a decade of US-brokered peace negotiations.
They were to be disclosed in installments on the channel and its website.
"We are offering you the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history," chief negotiator Erakat is quoted as telling Livni, using the Jewish name for the Holy City.
Erakat also offered concessions on the status of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, which houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the Palestine Papers.
On refugees, he is said to have offered to accept the return of only 100,000 out of the Palestinians who fled at the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and their descendants, now numbering almost five million.
But Erakat scoffed at the reports.
"We have not gone back on our position. If we had given ground on the refugees and made such concessions, why hasn't Israel agreed to sign a peace accord?" he asked.
Observers said the Al-Jazeera report revealed little new as details of the land swap proposals had long been an open secret.
In Britain, The Guardian said on its website that the cache of confidential Palestinian documents obtained by Al-Jazeera was to be "shared exclusively" with the daily.
The documents also show how PA leaders had been "privately tipped off" about Israel's 2008-2009 war against the Gaza Strip ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas, the paper said.
"The overall impression... is of the weakness and growing desperation of PA leaders as failure to reach agreement or even halt all settlement temporarily undermines their credibility in relation to their Hamas rivals."
The Guardian said "the papers also reveal the unyielding confidence of Israeli negotiators."
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," it said.
Many of them had been "independently authenticated by The Guardian and corroborated by former participants in the talks and intelligence and diplomatic sources."
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