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Tensions rise after Al-Jazeera leaks details of Palestinian-Israeli talks

Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera leaks over 1,600 confidential files documenting more than ten years of secret talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The publication sent shockwaves through the Arab world.

A Hamas minibus hit by an Israeli strike

It is claimed the PA knew about Israel's targeting of Hamas

Anger was brewing Monday across the Middle East in response to the documents, which Al-Jazeera has shared with the British daily newspaper The Guardian, which detail alleged deals between the Ramallah leadership and the Israelis over settlements in the disputed territory of East Jerusalem. The documents are described as being the official minutes of meetings between Palestinian negotiators and their Israeli counterparts.

According to the Guardian, the leaked documents were "drawn up by PA officials and lawyers working for the British-funded PLO negotiations support unit and include extensive verbatim transcripts of private meetings." The paper stated that many of the documents had been "independently authenticated by the Guardian and corroborated by former participants in the talks and intelligence and diplomatic sources."

The reports relating to alleged Palestinian offers on major concessions in regard to the illegal building of settlements by Israel have provoked the most severe response with the Palestinian Authority's (PA) chief negotiator Saeb Erekat declaring the so-called 'Palestine Papers' to be "full of distortions and fraud" and "taken out of context."

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas moved quickly to dispel growing Arab unease at the revelations by announcing that the PA had shared every development in the peace process with the Arab world's leadership.

Abbas angrily denied that secret deals had been hidden from "the Arab brothers" and that the PA had maintained a policy of full disclosure in regard to its dealing with Israel by regularly reporting developments to the 22-member Arab League based in Cairo.

Former Palestinian leadership offered controversial concessions

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat

Chief negotiator Erekat denies offering deals to Israel

The 'Palestine Papers' allege that former Palestinian premier Ahmad Qorei, along with Erekat, offered to allow Israel to annex all settlements in Jerusalem except Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa) during talks in June 2008 with then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israel's former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

The reports also allege that, at the same meeting, Erekat offered to accept the return of only 100,000 out of the approximately five million Palestinians and their descendants who fled the region when the State of Israel was established in 1948.

Both offers are said to have been rejected by the Israelis.

"Internationally, the Palestinians come out of this with an enhanced reputation because - if these documents are authentic - they have been shown as the ones ready to make concessions," Yossi Mekelberg, an international relations lecturer at Regents College London and Middle East expert at Chatham House, told Deutsche Welle. "Israel is the one not responding to these offers and it shows what a tough stance some of the ex-ministers like Tzipi Livni took in these negotiations."

"Internally, however, the issues of refugees and Jerusalem are those most likely to incite anger in the Palestinian territories," he added. "Even Yasser Arafat was afraid to go there at the Camp David talks in 2000 because they are such sensitive issues. The PA's rivals are going to use this against them, no doubt. They will be accused of selling out the refugees and Jerusalem."

In another document relating to an October 2009 meeting, Erekat is also alleged to have proposed a geographical division of Jerusalem’s Old City, with control of the Jewish Quarter and "part of the Armenian Quarter" going to the Israelis.

In another explosive file, it is alleged that Palestinian leaders in the West Bank were "privately tipped off" ahead of Israel's 2008-2009 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and were informed about Israel's targeted assassination campaign against the Hamas leadership.

Hamas angered over tip-offs on assassinations, Gaza offensive

The leaks drew a furious response from Gaza's Hamas rulers who accused the PA of treachery, claiming the documents showed the "ugly face" of the Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and their "level of its cooperation with the occupation."

A Palestinian militant from Hamas celebrates as the Preventive Security headquarters is blown up in the background after it was captured in fighting from Fatah loyalist security forces in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, June 14, 2007.

The volatile rivalry between Hamas and Fatah could reignite

"Fatah has been put in a very difficult position over the reports that they knew in advance about the Gaza offensive and were informed about targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders," Mekelberg said. "It appears as though Fatah didn't care about the assassinations and as such, Hamas have labelled them traitors. The PA will claim that these reports are fabricated but that may not be a strong enough excuse. It could prove very volatile."

"This publication will certainly help and further the interests of Hamas because Fatah appears to be a lackey of American and Israeli interests; that's the way Hamas movement sees it and I think it will be very difficult for the Palestinian Authority to regain lost credibility," Middle East expert Michael Lüders told Deutsche Welle. "The chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has described the revelations as a bunch of lies but nevertheless, most Palestinians agree that the information is correct."

While the PA went into damage limitation mode, concerns were beginning to rise over what effects the leaks would have on stability in the Occupied Territories and the simmering rivalry between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

The documents also hammer a further nail into the coffin of a peace process which is seen by many analysts as being dead. The United States has been increasing its efforts in recent weeks to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table for direct talks for the fist time since September 2010 but to no avail.

The impasse is apparently due to the immovability of either side to concede on the issue of Jewish settlements and occupied Jerusalem - an issue which could now take on a completely different complexion if the documents on Palestinian concessions are proved to be authentic.

"This is very embarrassing for the Israelis as it shows that they are unwilling to give in but it's also very embarrassing for the Americans who were involved in all negotiations at that time," Lüders added. "It was President George W. Bush who did not really understand that this was a very far-reaching compromise from the Palestinian side and the whole deal led nowhere. It shows again that the so-called peace process is dead."

Author: Nick Amies

Editor: Michael Knigge

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