President Mahmoud Abbas pledged Jan. 25 that he will personally face the Qatar-based satellite network AlJazeera to address its release of secret documents from a decade of Israel-Palestinian negotiations. Speaking a crowd of hundreds gathered at his headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas said, “I am ready personally to go on their own channel and face them.” He dismissed the leaked papers as forgeries—less than a day after Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath told AlJazeera that the leaked documents matched those in his possession.
The leaks, dubbed the “Palestine Papers,” detail concessions that Palestinian negotiators apparently offered Israel during years of mediation. One concession detailed was an apparent proposal by chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat that Israel keep all settlements in Jerusalem except for one, offering what he said was “the biggest Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] in history.”
According to other documents released by AlJazeera Jan. 24, Erakat also accepted an offer from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to allow only 10,000 Palestinian refugees the right to return, and referred to refugees’ rights as a “bargaining chip.” The position sharply contradicts the PLO’s public statements that the right of return for Palestinian refugees is inalienable.
Abbas said in his address that he had “nothing to hide,” asserting: “We are on the right track to restore our people’s rights. Unchangeable Palestinian principles have never and will never change.” (Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 25)
AlJazeera says the over 1,600 PLO documents include minutes of private meetings, e-mails, maps and reports. The documents purportedly reveal that Erakat said Palestinian refugees in the diaspora would not vote in a referendum on a peace agreement. “The referendum will be for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Can’t do it in Lebanon. Can’t do it in Jordan,” he is quoted as saying in a March 2007 meeting with Belgium’s foreign minister.
In October 2009, Erakat apparently told US envoy George Mitchell: “Palestinians will need to know that five million refugees will not go back. The number will be agreed as one of the options. Also the number returning to their own state will depend on annual absorption capacity.” Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested repatriating Palestinian refugees in South America, according to released minutes of a June 2008 meeting in Berlin.
Speaking on AlJazeera, PLO negotiator Sha’ath said that the documents were authentic, but said positions offered by the PLO were not binding until an agreement was reached. He said remarks by Palestinian officials in the “Palestine Papers” were “fragmented and taken out of context.” (Ma’an News Agency Jan. 25)