Al Jazeera: Palestinians were willing to give in on key issues

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 23, 2011 

JERUSALEM — Palestinian leaders made significant concessions to win Israeli cooperation toward a comprehensive peace process, but the offers were not enough to lure Israel to negotiations, according to secret Palestinian documents made public Sunday by the Arabic satellite television channel al Jazeera.

The documents are part of a cache of 1,600 that al Jazeera said reveal intricate details of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Al Jazeera did not say how it had obtained the documents, and Palestinian officials said they were fabrications, but U.S. and Palestinian officials said seals and stamps on the documents indicated they were authentic, al Jazeera said. There was no reaction from Israeli officials.

The al Jazeera report came too late Sunday to gauge Palestinian reaction to the documents, but at least one analyst felt the release was likely to damage the reputation of Palestinian leaders.

"This exposes the Palestinian leadership, putting it in a position where it will be impossible to win the confidence of the people," said Zakaria al Qaq, a Palestinian commentator.

The documents describe Palestinian negotiators and leaders as repeatedly offering concessions on two of the most contentious issues in the ongoing discussions — Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is now Israel.

Publicly, the Palestinians have said that they are unwilling to compromise their position on those issues, but a document dated Jan. 15, 2010, reports a conversation between U.S. Ambassador David Hale and Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in which Erekat expresses frustration that Israel is unmoved by the extent of Palestinian concessions.

The document quotes Erekat reiterating that Israel could keep vast swathes of land in East Jerusalem and observe a "quiet" freeze with no overt announcements of new housing tenders. Erekat is told by Hale that the concessions are not enough.

"What is in the paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history," Erekat is quoted as saying, using the Hebrew for Jerusalem. "Symbolic number of refugee return, demilitarized state ... What more can I give?"

Publicly, Palestinian leaders have demanded that Israel recognize East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state and halt all settlement building there.

A separate document disclosing minutes of a meeting on Aug. 31, 2008 reveals that Palestinians agreed that Israel would have to take in only 10,000 refugees a year for 10 years — a total of 100,000. Publicly, the Palestinians have insisted that all refugees from the 1948-49 war and their descendants — several million people — have the right to return to Israel.

Erekat also reveals that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is not planning on running for office in future elections.

"He is ready to resign - but he will not be thrown out of office. Our credibility on the ground has never been so low. No it's all about survival. There is Hamas and the bigger picture in the region. "

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