Palestinian negotiators had agreed to give up claims to parts of east Jerusalem and swap some Jewish settlements in the West Bank for territory within Israel in 2008 talks, according to classified documents.
Al-Jazeera television said it had been given access to thousands of pages of memos, e-mails and minutes of private meetings that show Palestinian negotiators were also prepared to make concessions on the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Al-Jazeera didn’t say how it obtained the correspondence, which covered the period from 1999 to 2010.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called the reports “unfounded, twisted and taken out of context” in a telephone interview with Bloomberg News. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, accused al-Jazeera of launching “an organized campaign to distort the positions of the Palestinian leadership towards peace with Israel.”
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in September after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial construction freeze in West Bank settlements. Abbas has refused to negotiate as long as the building continues.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said on Twitter late yesterday that the U.S. was reviewing what he called “the alleged Palestinian documents released” and said he “cannot vouch for their veracity.”
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the documents show there’s no way for Israel to reach a comprehensive peace treaty with the Palestinians.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he made the biggest concessions of any prime minister in the talks in 2008, and that the Palestinians wouldn’t accept them.
“Even the Olmert government didn’t reach an arrangement despite their far-reaching concessions,” Lieberman said in an interview with Israel Radio.
Lieberman, who heads the second-largest party in Netanyahu’s coalition, has said it may take “a few decades” to establish the trust needed for a permanent peace settlement. Netanyahu, who took office in 2009, has distanced himself from some of Lieberman’s positions.
The documents showed that Erakat and his team agreed to allow Israel to keep most of the neighborhoods it has built in east Jerusalem. It also showed the team agreeing to exchange some settlements near Bethlehem for other territory.
According to al-Jazeera, the Palestinians were also willing to hand over Haram al-Sharif, Islam’s third holiest site, to international control. The compound is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of the ancient temple destroyed by Romans.
The area lies in east Jerusalem, sought by Palestinians as the capital of a state. Israel captured the area in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move never internationally recognized.
“We have already said that we have accepted the principle of land swaps, but this is totally out of context,” Erakat said.
Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said “the fallout could actually be useful on the international stage because it makes the Palestinians look more flexible than Israel.” He spoke in a telephone interview.
The Islamic Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the documents were “clear evidence that the Palestinian Authority colluded with the occupation and it reflects its role in eliminating the just Palestinian cause,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri commented in an e-mailed statement.
Hamas seized full control of Gaza in 2007, ending a partnership government with the Palestinian Authority after winning parliamentary elections a year earlier. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel, refuses to recognize Israel or any agreements signed with it.
“Hamas is already using this material to incite against the Palestinian Authority,” Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza City’s al-Azhar University, said by phone. “That’s going to inflame a lot of people in Gaza, but I don’t think it’s going to hurt them with their supporters.”
Al Jazeera’s publication of the leaked documents was the first by its new “transparency unit,” which follows the mission pioneered by WikiLeaks to release secret documents.