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.
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In a frenzied appearance Wednesday night on Al Jazeera, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused the news channel of slandering him as a collaborator with Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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While many Palestinians sided with their leaders, seeing the exposé as an intentional attempt to undermine Fatah, in private many assailed the government for being overly generous to Israel and getting little in return.
"People understand this is an attack, but it is still manipulating minds," says Dalal Salameh, a former legislator from Abbas' Fatah party who came to party headquarters this week to implore Fatah leaders to begin stumping to offset any public backslash. "We want to avoid damage of trust in their leaders and in the opportunities of the negotiations.''
Indeed, the wide gap between the concessions detailed in the Al Jazeera documents and Palestinians' public statements on the heavily symbolic issues risks further erosion of support for President Abbas and the peace talks, say activists and analysts.
'What happened in Tunis will happen here'
To be sure, in public opinion polls, Abbas' approval rating surpasses 50 percent, and he defeats Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh by more than 10 percent. Fatah still beats Hamas as well. But Abbas has never been a man of the masses, and Fatah is viewed as largely corrupt.
In Ramallah's Al Amari refugee camp, an archway marking the entrance of the district declares the camp the "fortress'' of Abbas, but locals ridicule the tribute as evidence of Fatah payoffs.
Down the road at the Amari café, the Al Jazeera reports served as fodder for a debate between Fayez Isaili and his co-proprietor Jamal Abu Rub.
"Abbas has conceded a long time ago'' to Israel, Isaili said. "What happened in Tunis will happen here," he said referring to the street protests in Tunisia.
But Mr. Abu Rub insists that Abbas would resist pressures to make compromises in the negotiations. "Abu Mazen is following in the footsteps of Arafat. Like Arafat he will not concede.''
'We have no other leaders'
Much of the Palestinian discussion focused on Al Jazeera's coverage of the leaks rather than their substance: concessions on Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the right of return for more than a million refugees whose families fled or were forced out of Israel in the war that gave birth to the Jewish states. Those issues are so laden with symbolic weight that many are reluctant to discuss pragmatic compromises that must be at the centerpiece of any peace treaty.
Back in the refugee camp, Fatma Memousa, whose family is originally from Lod, Israel, said she was opposed to Abbas' remark in one document saying the return of millions of refugees to Israel is unrealistic. "[Abbas'] credibility has been shaken on the Palestinian street, but we shouldn't attack him because we have no other leaders.''
And in a produce shop a few feet away, Samara Mahmoud, a teacher who wore a black robe and head covering, was also sympathetic toward Abbas but disagreed with his eschewing of violence – illustrating the dangerous alternative if Abbas's commitment to peace talks fails to bear fruit.
"Why are people unfair to Abu Mazen? Would anyone else be more successful?'' she asks, before adding: "Negotiations are not the solution. An intifada is the only solution."