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Why Palestine papers didn't spark outrage against Abbas's government

But the Palestine papers published by Al Jazeera have further dented Abbas's already low credibility, calling into question his ability to negotiate a lasting peace deal.

By Correspondent / January 28, 2011

Palestinian Fatah supporters shout slogans during a rally supporting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Nablus Thursday in the wake of documents released by Al Jazeera. The documents, which Al Jazeera has called the 'Palestine Papers,' show Palestinian officials offering big concessions in negotiations on issues such as the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees in past rounds of peace talks.

Abed Omar Qusini/Reuters

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Ramallah, West Bank

With the winds of anti-government sentiment spreading across the Middle East, Al Jazeera's leak of the Palestine papers this week threatened to undermine the increasingly weak Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

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The news channel's exposé of far-reaching Palestinian peace concessions to Israel on Jerusalem, refugees, and borders failed to spark outward public outrage, spurring relief among President Abbas' aides. But the muted response of everyone from shopkeepers and businessmen in the West Bank belies a deeper erosion of support for Mr. Abbas, who has staked his career on negotiating peace with Israel.

While the West has embraced Abbas's willingness to make concessions such as those outlined in the recently leaked documents, he has struggled to gain the same credibility in Palestinian eyes as his predecessor Yasser Arafat, the revolutionary guerrilla who fought for a Palestinian state for decades.

Even if he were able to arrive at a peace deal with Israel, his limited street credibility – dented further by the Al Jazeera leak – calls into question his ability to make it stick with people like Ali Ahmed, a grocery shop owner in Ramallah.

"No one has given the Jews as much as [Abbas] gave them in land, in borders and security,'' says Mr. Ahmed. "He gave a lot and gave up the struggle.''

Fewer than 1 in 3 Palestinians support peace talks

After nearly two decades of peace talks failed to yield a state, Palestinians are growing weary of negotiations. Only 27 percent believe there will be a state in five years, according to a December survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. That skepticism prompted Abbas to boycott talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he refused to freeze Israeli settlements.

The failure of the peace process weakens Abbas and his Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority government against Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

The ongoing rift has delayed national elections and fueled an atmosphere of political intimidation: In the same survey, only 27 percent said that West Bankers can criticize the authorities without fear.

Though the Al Jazeera scoop focused mainly on peace talks from 2008, it is liable to erode the public credibility of the Palestinian government in Ramallah, analysts say.

"This is going to have long-term ramifications for the Palestinian leadership because the legitimacy is already in question,'' says Sam Bahour, a Ramallah-based businessman and political analyst, "and this is only reinforcing that legitimacy crisis.''

Al Jazeera attack on Abbas?

The Palestinian official reaction has been muddled and defensive. At first officials said the documents were fabricated. Later some officials vouched for the documents, but said that they had been taken out of context by Al Jazeera. Some officials said that the positions detailed in the documents reveal nothing new. They also accused Al Jazeera of serving the agenda of both Hamas and Israel.

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