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January 23, 2011

Palestinian Leaders Dispute Leaked Papers

by Luis Ramirez

Palestinian leaders are rejecting reports aired by al-Jazeera that quotes what the network says are hundreds of leaked Palestinian documents that show Palestinian negotiators offered significant concessions to Israel on land and refugee issues during negotiations in 2008.  

The documents quoted conversations by Palestinian, Israeli, and U.S. officials that suggested the Palestinian negotiators were, among other things, willing to hand over all but one of the Jewish settlements adjacent to Jerusalem that sit on land claimed by the Palestinians.

On one of the most sensitive of the issues, the network quoted the papers as saying Palestinian negotiators proposed allowing the compound where the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site is, come under international control temporarily while a permanent agreement is reached.

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The Palestinian Fatah movement in Jerusalem was among the factions responding to the report. Its leader, Hatem Abdel Khader, spoke on Palestinian radio. He said this area is the most important place for Arab Muslims in Jerusalem. He also said no one has a right to give up the land because it is ground that is holy to Islam.  

The documents, if true, could undermine Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who some Palestinians already perceive as one who is weak and willing to make too many concessions to Israel.

Palestinian officials have denied the reports and are calling for independent verification of the papers, which one senior official described as being full of lies and half-truths.  

Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo on Monday accused the al-Jazeera network of misleading viewers. Hundreds of Abbas supporters rallied outside the network's office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, smashing windows and cameras before police intervened.  

The United States, a broker of the negotiations, said Washington could not vouch for the veracity of the documents.

Reports on the papers have fueled the frustration that many Palestinians feel about the failure of President Abbas' leadership to reach an agreement and end the Israeli occupation.  

Abu Issa is a shopkeeper at the Shuafat Palestinian refugee camp bordering Pizgat Zeev, one of the Jewish areas that the Palestinian leadership allegedly offered to let Israel annex. He said he considers any handover unthinkable and was especially angered by the suggestion that the Israelis offered nothing in return.

Issa said he has known all along that the negotiators have been talking for almost 20 years and have nothing to show for it. He said he believes there will be no peace with the Israelis. He thinks the Israeli people want peace, but believes their government does not.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the documents support his belief that a permanent peace agreement is not possible, and that Israel should pursue only an interim agreement.

Hamas, the rival militant Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, on Monday said the documents quoted by al-Jazeera show the Palestinian leadership under Abbas has surrendered to Israel.

 

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