Palestine Papers: Al Jazeera, Guardian Release Documents On Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

01/23/2011 03:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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."

SCROLL DOWN FOR LIVE UPDATES

01/24/2011 4:19 PM EST

Palestinians Furious Over Leaks

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."

01/24/2011 4:05 PM EST

Palestinian Negotiators Accept Jewish State

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.

01/23/2011 7:41 PM EST

Harsh Words For All Sides

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.

01/23/2011 6:56 PM EST

Palestinians Deny Leaked Papers

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."

01/23/2011 6:48 PM EST

U.S. 'Contemptuous Attitude' Toward 'Desperate And Weak' Palestinian Side

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."

01/23/2011 5:27 PM EST

What's To Come

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.

01/23/2011 5:06 PM EST

'Biggest Jerusalem In Jewish History' Offer Revealed

According to minutes from trilateral meeting in 2008 released by the Palestinian Papers, the Palestinian delegation made the unprecedented offer to allow Israel to annex almost all of the settlements in Jerusalem.

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.

01/23/2011 4:37 PM EST

More Documents Coming Monday

Al Jazeera English correspondent Alan Fisher tweets that the next installment of the Palestine Papers will be released Monday at 3pm EST.

01/23/2011 4:31 PM EST

Why Are The Papers In English?

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.

01/23/2011 4:28 PM EST

The Significance

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."