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January 23, 2011

Abbas: Leaked Palestinian Concessions Were a Mix-Up

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says the Al Jazeera television channel report about Palestinian concessions made during the course of peace talks in 2008 and 2009 is a "mix-up."

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 during a visit to Cairo the proposal which Al Jazeera reported to be from the Palestinian side was one from the Israeli side.

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 Mideast war.

Mr. Abbas said he thinks the documents were altered intentionally before they were leaked to Al Jazeera. He says the Palestinian Authority has "nothing to hide" when it comes to peace negotiations and that the Palestinians discuss details with other Arab nations.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera says it will publish other documents in the coming days highlighting more concessions on sensitive issues such as the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the proposed international control of Jerusalem's key holy sites.

According to the documents, Israeli leaders turned down the offers, saying they were inadequate.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dismissed the reports as "lies and half truths" during an appearance Sunday on Al Jazeera.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Sunday the U.S. is reviewing the alleged documents and cannot vouch for their veracity.

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.

In the documents, Qurei describes the territorial concessions in East Jerusalem as enabling population exchanges needed for a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Leaked minutes from the June 2008 meeting quote Qurei as saying this is "the first time in history" the Palestinians had made such a proposal. He added that the Palestinians had refused to make such a concession during negotiations led by the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 2000.

On the refugee issue, the files say the Palestinians secretly agreed that Israel would accept 10,000 refugees a year for 10 years – a total of 100,000.

This contradicts the Palestinians' public position that all refugees from the 1948-49 war and their descendants – several million people – have the right to return to Israel. The Israeli government has always rejected this demand as a threat to the Jewish character of their state.

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