Al-Jazeera releases papers claiming Palestinian concessions to Israel
Monday, January 24, 2011; 4:27 AM
JERUSALEM - Palestinian negotiators were willing in 2008 to concede sections of East Jerusalem to Israeli control as part of a final peace deal, according to a newly exposed cache of memos that al-Jazeera TV said came from the talks.
Minutes detailing the concession came from a meeting in Jerusalem in June 2008 between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators mediated by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The document is one of more than 1,600 that al-Jazeera's English-language Web site is calling the Palestine Papers, which it plans to post, WikiLeaks-style, over the next several days.
Palestinian negotiators were quick to deny the reports, telling the Associated Press that parts of them had been fabricated.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said late Sunday, in a tweet, "The U.S. government is reviewing the alleged Palestinian documents released by Al-Jazeera. We cannot vouch for their veracity."
Al-Jazeera did not say how it obtained the documents. Rather, it said Sunday on its Web site, "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."
The documents, which the Web site says include memos, e-mails, maps, minutes from private meetings and accounts of high-level exchanges between 1999 and 2010, provide "an unprecedented look inside the continuing negotiations involving high-level American, Israeli, and Palestinian Authority officials.'' They appear to show Palestinian negotiators making greater concessions than had previously been known.
While books have been written detailing the failed U.S.-led peace efforts from 1999 onward, some of the more recent history, especially some of what was discussed in the last serious negotiation round between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, remains unclear.
Among the other information the documents will reveal, al-Jazeera said, are compromises that Palestinian negotiators proposed on the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, a key sticking point in the negotiations alongside the future of Jerusalem, borders and security. At the June 2008 meeting, the sides engaged in a lengthy debate about land swaps - the concept that Israel would hold on to sections of the West Bank as part of a final peace deal and, in exchange, compensate the Palestinians territorially with parts of Israel.
Then-Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei, also known as Abu Ala, tells the group, "We proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa)," according to "trilateral meeting minutes" published by al-Jazeera.
"This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so [at] Camp David," he added, referring to the 2000 peace summit hosted by President Bill Clinton that collapsed without an agreement and was followed a few months later by a Palestinian uprising.
Qurei, then, however, listed several major Israeli settlements that the Palestinians would not allow Israel to annex, including Ma'aleh Adumim, a large settlement east of Jerusalem, and Ariel, to the north.
When the then-Israeli chief negotiator, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, insists that Israel needs to hold on to Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says she should instead focus on the fact that the Palestinians are conceding Jerusalem settlements including Ramat Shlomo, Gilo and French Hill.
Qurei told the AP on Sunday that some of the al-Jazeera documents had been faked, "as part of the incitement against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian leadership." Israeli officials had no immediate comment.
It was Israeli construction in Ramat Shlomo that sparked a major row between the United States and Israel last March during a visit to Jerusalem by Vice President Biden. Israel insists Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, French Hill and other areas are integral Israeli neighborhoods in Jerusalem and therefore it will continue to build in them.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has in recent months conditioned the resumption of peace negotiations on an Israeli freeze in construction in all of East Jerusalem, including these areas that Erekat said in 2008 the Palestinians would be willing to concede, according to the minutes.
Peace negotiations have been at a standstill for several months as the United States searches for a formula to restart them.