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January 24, 2011

Abbas Defiant After 'Palestine Papers' Release

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been welcomed by supporters in the West Bank, in his first trip home since the Al Jazeera television channel released documents alleging he offered concessions in peace talks with Israelis.

Thousands of chanting supporters rallied at his headquarters in Ramallah Tuesday. Mr. Abbas said their rally was a positive response to the Al Jazeera documents, which he claimed were fake. He insists his peace overtures are on the "right path."

His comments came after a second cache of documents released by the television channel quotes Mr. Abbas as saying it would be "illogical" to ask Israel to absorb five million refugees as part of a final peace deal.

The documents appear to contradict the Palestinians' public position that all refugees from the 1948-to-1949 war and their descendants have the right to return to Israel.

The leaked files alleged that Mr. Abbas privately acknowledged the return of even one million refugees would mean "the end of Israel" and does not seem practical.

Palestinian negotiators are said in the documents to have requested that Israel allow the return of 10,000 refugees a year for 10 years – a total of 100,000.

At another point, Palestinian negotiators were said to have agreed that only a token number of refugees – just 10,000 – should return to Israel.

Israeli leaders say a mass resettlement is out of the question because it would undermine the state's Jewish majority.

A top aide to Mr. Abbas Monday accused the Persian Gulf state of Qatar – where Al Jazeera is based – of consciously seeking to damage Palestinian interests. He said the report released by the Doha-based Arab satellite channel relies on out-of-context quotes, insinuations and outright fabrications.

Yasser Abed Rabbo said Qatar's emir gave "a green light" for a political campaign against the West Bank Palestinian leadership. Qatar has close ties to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas says the documents show that it is the true leader of Palestinians and has called the documents' revelations a betrayal.

The Qatari government bankrolled Al Jazeera when it launched in 1996 and is believed to still fund the station.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said negotiations with Israel included discussion of some ideas that the Palestinians "could never agree to." He added that "no agreement will be signed without the approval of the Palestinian people."

Confidential documents obtained by Al Jazeera allege that Palestinian negotiators secretly offered concessions, including an agreement to cede almost all of occupied East Jerusalem to Israel.

Mr. Abbas said Monday that the proposal – which Al Jazeera reported to be from the Palestinian side – was actually an Israeli position.

The leaked transcript of a June 2008 meeting between Palestinian, U.S. and Israeli officials said chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei proposed that Israel keep all but one of the major settlements it built in East Jerusalem after capturing that part of the city during the 1967 Middle East war.

The nearly 1,700 files cover an 11-year period from 1999 to 2010 and have been described by Al Jazeera as the largest leak of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Al Jazeera has shared the documents with Britain's The Guardian newspaper, which says it has verified most of them.