Today, Al Jazeera and the Guardian released the first of more than 1,600 documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The document dump comes just hours after The Associated Press reported that Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is drafting plans for a provisional Palestine. Palestinian leaders have rejected the notion as a "publicity stunt."
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Palestinians are enraged over the leaked documents and are targeting Al Jazeera and its home nation, Qatar, with protests. According to the AP:
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – A senior Palestinian official condemned Qatar-based Al-Jazeera on Monday and a crowd of protesters vandalized the satellite channel's West Bank headquarters after it reported on leaked documents that claimed Palestinian leaders offered large concessions in peace talks with Israel in 2008.The angry outburst followed the airing late Sunday of what al-Jazeera said were leaked documents showing that Palestinian leaders had offered broad concessions on two of the thorniest issues in negotiations with Israel: Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told reporters on Monday the news network engaged in "media games ... to trick and mislead the simple citizen." He angrily accused the Gulf state of Qatar, which bankrolls the station, of damaging Palestinian interests.
"What Al-Jazeera is doing today is an attempt to distort the national position of the Palestinian leadership," he said.
Abed Rabbo said the report relied on out-of-context quotes, insinuations and outright fabrications.
Comparing the program to WikiLeaks, which he said merely publishes leaked documents, he said Al-Jazeera could "draw conclusions, counterfeit documents and change texts, cut a word here and there and put together images of people with no relationship to negotiations."
Palestinian recognition of Israel as a "Jewish" state has been a hot-button issue in the ongoing negotiations. However, new documents released in the Palestinian Papers say that privately, Palestinian negotiators have already conceded the claim. According to the Guardian:
When Israel's Likud prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said last October he would temporarily halt settlement building in exchange for Jewish state recognition, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, described it as a "racist" demand.
But behind closed doors in November 2007, Erekat told Tzipi Livni, the then Israeli foreign minister and now opposition leader: "If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want," comparing it to Iran and Saudi Arabia's definition of themselves as Islamic or Arab.
An editorial in The Guardian offers a blistering assessment of why there's little optimism for peace:
It is hard to tell who appears worst: the Palestinian leaders, who are weak, craven and eager to shower their counterparts with compliments; the Israelis, who are polite in word but contemptuous in deed; or the Americans, whose neutrality consists of bullying the weak and holding the hand of the strong. Together they conspire to build a puppet state in Palestine, at best authoritarian, at worst a surrogate for an occupying force. To obtain even this form of bondage, the Palestinians have to flog the family silver. Saeb Erekat, the PLO chief negotiator, is reduced at one point to pleading for a fig leaf: "What good am I if I'm the joke of my wife, if I'm so weak," he told Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
Palestinian negotiators have denied leaking the Palestinian Papers. According to the AP:
JERUSALEM — Palestinians were prepared to compromise over two of the toughest issues, Jerusalem and refugees, during peace talks in 2008, the Al-Jazeera TV channel reported Sunday, quoting from documents it said came from the talks.
Palestinian negotiators quickly denied the reports, saying parts of the documents were fabricated. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he has kept Arab countries fully briefed on the negotiations with Israel.
The chief Palestinian negotiator in the 2008 talks, Ahmed Qureia, told The Associated Press that "many parts of the documents were fabricated, as part of the incitement against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian leadership."
He denied making an offer about the Jewish enclaves in east Jerusalem, claiming that Israel refused to discuss the issue.
The current chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, dismissed the TV report as "lies and half truths."
Abbas told Egyptian newspaper editors in Cairo on Sunday that he kept the Arab League updated on all details of the negotiations with Israel, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa. "I don't know from where Al-Jazeera came with secret things," Abbas was quoted as saying. "There is nothing we hide from our brothers, the Arabs."
According to the Guardian, the Palestinian Papers reveal an "often contemptuous attitude towards the Palestinian side shown by US politicians and officials."
Palestinians come across as "desperate and weak," writes Guardian Associate Editor Seumas Milne, quoting senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as saying to an American diplomat:
Nineteen years of promises and you haven't made up your minds what you want to do with us ... We delivered on our road map obligations. Even Yuval Diskin [director of Israel's internal security service, Shabak] raises his hat on security. But no, they can't even give a six-month freeze to give me a figleaf.
For their part, U.S. officials were dismissive of Palestinian appeal, with the Guardian quoting Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telling Palestinian leaders -- during a conversation about 1948 Palestinian refugees -- "Bad things happen to people all around the world all the time."
Current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently warned that the Middle East faced disaster without reform, saying, "In too many places, in too many ways, the region's foundations are sinking into the sand."
In the next few days, the documents will reveal major concessions about the right of return of Palestinian refugees, collaboration between the Palestinian security and Israeli military, and the secret involvement of British leaders in a plan to crush Hamas, reports the Guardian.
According to Guardian editors Seumas Milne and Ian Black, the documents reveal an "imbalance" between the two sides in negotiations. Watch the two editors discussing some of the key revelations of the documents here.
These settlements are in the same contested area that provoked anger from the U.S. when 1,600 new housing units were approved while Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. However, according to the Palestinian Papers, these settlements had already been agreed to in negotiations.
In the minutes, the Palestinian negotiator and former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei states:
As for settlements, we proposed the following: Removal of some settlements, annexation of others, and keeping others under Palestinian sovereignty.
This last proposition could help in the swap process. We proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa). This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so n Camp David.
As Al Jazeera correspondent Gregg Carlstrom notes, the Palestinians did not receive any concessions in return, a fact which they realized later. He notes:
The PA, in other words, never even really negotiated the issue; their representatives gave away almost everything to the Israelis, without pressuring them for concessions or compromise. [Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb] Erekat seemed to realise this – perhaps belatedly – in a January 2010 meeting with [US president Barack] Obama's adviser David Hale.
Erekat: Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state… what more can I give?
When the 1,600 housing units were announced, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas nonetheless said:
We call on Israel to cancel these decisions. I call on the Israeli government not to lose a chance to make peace. I call on them to halt settlement building and to stop imposing facts on the ground.
Al Jazeera English correspondent Alan Fisher tweets that the next installment of the Palestine Papers will be released Monday at 3pm EST.
Nearly all of the 1,684 documents are in English, not in Hebrew or Arabic. Al Jazeera explains that when Palestinian and Israel delegations meet, almost all of their communication is in English (excepting side conversations among delegates).
The group also explains that the PDF documents are dated 2011 because the originals were copied by Al Jazeera to "protect the integrity of The Palestine Papers." It does not indicate that the original document was actually created this year.
The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland explains the significance of the Palestine Papers.
On the Israeli side, the papers show the level of Israeli intransigence: "There are no exposés of hypocrisy or double talk; on the contrary, the Israelis' statements inside the negotiating room echo what they have consistently said outside it."
On the Palestinian side, however, the papers reveal the deep concessions Palestinian negotiators were willing to make on issues from control of Jerusalem to the right of return for Palestinian refugees, in order to achieve peace.
These revelations, Freedland writes, "blow apart what has been a staple of Israeli public diplomacy: the claim that there is no Palestinian partner. That theme, a refrain of Israeli spokesmen on and off for years, is undone by transcripts which show that there is not only a Palestinian partner but one more accommodating than will surely ever appear again."
According to The Guardian, the Palestine Papers were "drawn up by PA officials and lawyers working for the British-funded PLO negotiations support unit ... Israeli officials also kept their own records of the talks, which may differ from the confidential Palestinian accounts." They add that, "the documents were leaked over a period of months from several sources to al-Jazeera."
Al Jazeera isn't elaborating any further: "Because of the sensitive nature of these documents, Al Jazeera will not reveal the source(s) or detail how they came into our possession. We have taken great care over an extended period of time to assure ourselves of their authenticity."
While the release of these documents might be tempting to compare with WikiLeaks, there was no indication on Sunday that the organization founded by Julian Assange has any connection to this latest trove. As of this posting, no mention of the Palestine Papers has been made on the group's website, nor is WikiLeaks mentioned by Al Jazeera. The Guardian only says that their own coverage "is supplemented by WikiLeaks cables, emanating from the US consulate in Jerusalem and embassy in Tel Aviv."
The Guardian writes:
The overwhelming impression that emerges from the confidential records of a decade of Middle East peace talks is of the weakness and desperation of Palestinian leaders, the unyielding correctness of Israeli negotiators and the often contemptuous attitude towards the Palestinian side shown by US politicians and officials.
"What good am I if I'm the joke of my wife, if I'm so weak?" senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat complained to George Mitchell, Obama's Middle East envoy, in 2009. "Nineteen years of promises and you haven't made up your minds what you want to do with us," he said.
The Guardian reports that the papers unveil "the slow death of the Middle East peace process".
One of the biggest revelations is that Palestinian negotiators secretly agreed to allow Israel to annex all but one of the settlements in East Jerusalem -- "the biggest Jerusalem in history" -- an offer the Israelis spurned.
According to Al Jazeera, other revelations include:
- the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to concede illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and to be “creative” about the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount;
- the compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return;
- details of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel;
- and private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone Report was being discussed at the United Nations.
The Guardian is also releasing the Palestine Papers, in partnership with Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera has released a trove of documents relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which they have dubbed, The Palestine Papers.
The news organization writes:
Over the last several months, Al Jazeera has been given unhindered access to the largest-ever leak of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are nearly 1,700 files, thousands of pages of diplomatic correspondence detailing the inner workings of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. These documents – memos, e-mails, maps, minutes from private meetings, accounts of high level exchanges, strategy papers and even power point presentations – date from 1999 to 2010.