Palestinians react angrily to al-Jazeera's 'Palestine Papers'

Leaders and residents react to the release of the so-called 'Palestinian Papers', which reveal big concessions Palestinian negotiators offered Israel.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 6:58 AM

JERUSALEM - The publication this week of documents revealing the Palestinian leadership's willingness to concede parts of East Jerusalem and make other difficult compromises in peace talks with Israel is troublesome for both sides.

For Palestinian negotiators, the risk is an erosion of credibility, with the documents strongly suggesting to the Palestinian public that their leaders abandoned core Palestinian positions in exchange for little from Israel, analysts said Monday.

For Israel, the documents could prove problematic because they show the earnestness with which the Palestinians pushed for a deal, despite Israeli protestations that they have no partner for peace.

As they try to limit the fallout from the documents disclosed by al-Jazeera TV, the prospects for renewed negotiations toward a two-state solution appear to be growing even more faint.

A bid in September by the United States to restart stalled peace talks collapsed almost as soon as it started amid disputes over Israeli settlements in the West Bank, territory that the Palestinians claim for a future state. Amid the impasse, U.S. officials have come and gone in recent weeks searching for new formulas to restart talks, which have failed to produce a Palestinian state during nearly two decades of fitful negotiations.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley acknowledged Monday that publication of the documents complicated U.S.-led peace efforts and will at least temporarily "make the situation more difficult than it already was."

The impact of the disclosures was especially profound Monday among Palestinians, with the Palestinian Authority leadership furiously backpedaling from the apparent concessions, the Islamist Hamas movement seeking to capitalize and much of the Palestinian public seemingly surprised at what their negotiators were willing to bargain away.

"It is a huge blow to the Palestinian leadership, and it's going to make it very difficult for them to stand before the Palestinian people and say they are representing the Palestinian interests," said Ed Abington, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem and longtime American diplomat.

Many of the compromises discussed in the 1,600 pages of memos, minutes, e-mails and other documents being released this week by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV network on air and on its Web site are well-known to veteran watchers of the peace process.

At the Camp David summit brokered by President Bill Clinton in 2000, the Palestinians were open to surrendering claims over parts of East Jerusalem settled by Jewish Israelis, negotiators said. But what's most damaging in the newly released documents is the way Palestinian negotiators are "seen as conceding more and more" while getting "absolutely nothing from Israeli negotiators," Abington said.

The United States will suffer a credibility blow as well, he predicted. "The impression one gets from reading these documents is the United States is, by default, on the side of Israel in the negotiations," he said.

Palestinian Authority officials in the West Bank reacted angrily Monday to the documents' release, denying much of the content and lashing out at the Persian Gulf state of Qatar for allowing them to be published. Al-Jazeera began releasing the documents Sunday.

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