Palestinian officials are denying the accuracy of leaked documents which claim Palestinian negotiators offered to give Israel major concessions on Jerusalem during peace talks three years ago.
Speaking in Cairo today, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas categorically denied that such concessions were ever offered to Israel by Palestinian negotiators -- saying, instead, that Israeli negotiating positions were wrongly described as offers from the Palestinian negotiators.
"The aim of it is to create confusion," Abbas said. "I saw [the documents] yesterday that presented positions labeled as Palestinian, but they were in fact Israeli. I can frankly say that we have no secrets and the whole of the Arab world knows this, either individual countries or all Arabs in general.
"Every negotiating effort, meeting held, every suggested position put forward or being looked into is immediately presented to the Arab countries along with all its documents."
The reports about the documents were made by the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera television channel, which announced late on January 23 that it had been given unhindered access in recent months to nearly 1,700 confidential documents from more than a decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
For Abbas, one of the potentially most politically damaging details in those documents to emerge is in the leaked minutes of a June 15, 2008, meeting. The document reportedly shows a senior Palestinian negotiator proposing that Israel annex all but one of its major Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem as part of a broad deal to end their decades-old conflict.
Equally worrisome for the Palestinian people -- who want to create a state on land Israel seized in a 1967 war -- is the fact that Israel offered nothing in return for the alleged concessions and turned down the offer, saying it did not go far enough.
The document says the offer was made at talks in Jerusalem that included former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Israeli negotiator and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, along with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
The document quotes Qureia as making the proposal for the annexation of all Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem except Har Homa, known to the Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim.
It also quotes Erekat as listing five settlements the Palestinian Authority was willing to concede -- French Hill, Ramat Alon, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, and Talpiot.
'Never Done That Before'
Such revelations could undermine popular support for Abbas because his public declarations about Jerusalem are at odds with what the documents suggest his team was promising in private.
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami -- who was a key participant in the Camp David and Taba peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 2000 and 2001 -- told Al-Jazeera that the documents show Palestinians more willing to trade land for peace then during his years at the negotiating table.
"The difference that I see in these papers compared to the time when we negotiated," he says, "is the seriousness with which the Palestinians, for the first time and they admit that, approached the question of swaps of land, and they come after having done their homework in an extraordinarily serious way and proposed concrete ideas that, in a way, surprised the Israeli side in these negotiations. They have never done that before."
Other senior Palestinian officials also are denying the accuracy of the Al-Jazeera's reports on the documents.
Erekat, in an interview today with the "Al-Ayyam" newspaper from Cairo, said the documents contained "lies and half truths." Erekat said readers should ask themselves the reason behind the timing of the report and whose interest it is in.
Quereia today told "Al-Ayyam" that the Palestinians never ceded areas in East Jerusalem and the Old City. He said the government of Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had refused to discuss Jerusalem "in the first place" because it could bring his government down.
The Palestinian Authority, the moderate Abbas, and his senior negotiators already face criticism from hard-liners within Palestinian society and the Arab world -- including their arch-rival, the radical Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza.
Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization today accused Al-Jazeera of having a political agenda and taking some of the information from the documents out of context in what he described as obvious "incitement."
Al-Jazeera describes the so-called "Palestinian Papers" as "the largest-ever leak" related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has said it obtained the materials from a variety of sources in recent months, rather than a single person, and that it plans to release all the material by January 26.
Britain's "Guardian" newspaper also has had access to the documents and says it has verified most of them.
The release of the "Palestinian Papers" by Al-Jazeera comes just weeks after the online whistleblower WikiLeaks starting publishing some 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables about developments around the world.
written by Ron Synovitz, with ageny reports