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How leaked Palestinian documents will affect Abbas, peace process

Al Jazeera has begun to publish 1,300 documents that detail far-reaching Palestinian concessions on Jerusalem and borders. The offers were rebuffed by Israel.

By Correspondent / January 24, 2011

Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, listens to senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat during a press conference following his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, not pictured, at the presidential palace in Cairo, Monday, Jan. 24.

Amr Nabil/AP

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Tel Aviv

A trove of secret documents obtained by Al Jazeera shows that Palestinian negotiators offered far-reaching concessions on borders and Jerusalem in 2008, but that their Israeli counterparts balked.

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The cache of 1,300 documents run from 1999 to 2010, a dense and volatile chapter of Israeli-Palestinian history. It spans two cycles of negotiation and deadlock, the flare-up and fizzle of the second Palestinian uprising, Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the demise of Yasser Arafat and consequent weakening of his secular Fatah Party, and the rise of the Islamist movement Hamas.

Copying the strategy of Wikileaks, Al Jazeera has promised to release the documents gradually.

The publication of the trove could generate a storm of criticism against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah-dominated administration is already seen by many Palestinians as corrupt and out of touch with the public, because of his readiness to compromise on cardinal demands.

Among them were allowing Israel to annex Jewish neighborhoods in areas of East Jerusalem conquered in 1967 that are claimed by Palestinians as part of their future capital; and giving Israel control over Jewish areas of the Old City.

"Abbas is in a very hot spot. He owes the Palestinians an explanation. We were under the impression that Abbas was sticking to the pillars of consensus,’’ said Bassem Ezbeidi, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University. "If it's 'yes,’ he is in trouble, if it's 'no,’ he has to show evidence. It’s a war between two narratives. The first one by Al Jazeera and the second one is the Palestinian Authority.’’

Even before the revelation, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority had come under heavy pressure from public and political allies to boycott negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and this could further damage their image.

'It shows Abbas is best partner Israel could hope for'

Many Israeli experts said the concessions that the Palestinians detailed to the Israelis were not new. Just last month Abbas hinted at compromise when he told an audience of Israels that once negotiations on borders and security were concluded, reaching agreement on Jerusalem and refugees would be comparatively simple.

Gershon Baskin, the codirector of the Israel Palestinian Center for Research and Information, said that the Palestinians accepted the peace parameters published by Bill Clinton at the end of his presidency calling for Jerusalem to be divided based on neighborhoods.

But putting the detailed concessions in the global spotlight demonstrates that the Palestinians are serious partners in the peace process, providing ammunition for Israeli doves who believe that Israel should do more to embrace Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the best partner with whom to reach a peace deal.

"This certifies the assertion that there is a Palestinian partner for peace," says Mr. Baskin. "It shows that Abbas and the leadership of the PLO today are the best partner Israel could hope for. The basic Israeli demands have been agreed to by the Palestinians. If there is an obstacle to peace its much more on the Israeli side than on the Israeli side."

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