The biggest leak of confidential documents in the history of the Middle East conflict has revealed that Palestinian negotiators secretly agreed to accept Israel's annexation of all but one of the settlements built illegally in occupied East Jerusalem.
This unprecedented proposal was one of a string of concessions that
will cause shockwaves among Palestinians and in the wider Arab world.
cache of thousands of pages of confidential Palestinian records
covering more than a decade of negotiations with Israel and the US has
been obtained by al-Jazeera TV and shared exclusively with the Guardian. The papers provide an extraordinary and vivid insight into the disintegration of the 20-year peace process, which is now regarded as all but dead.
The documents - many of which will be published by the Guardian over the coming days - also reveal:
- The scale of confidential concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators, including on the highly sensitive issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
- How Israeli leaders privately asked for some Arab citizens to be transferred to a new Palestinian state.
- The intimate level of covert co-operation between Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority.
- The central role of British intelligence in drawing up a secret plan to crush Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
- How Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders were privately tipped off about Israel's 2008-9 war in Gaza.
As well as the annexation of all East Jerusalem settlements except Har Homa, the Palestine papers
show PLO leaders privately suggested swapping part of the flashpoint
East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah for land elsewhere.
controversially, they also proposed a joint committee to take over the
Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City - the
neuralgic issue that helped sink the Camp David talks in 2000 after
Yasser Arafat refused to concede sovereignty around the Dome of the Rock
and al-Aqsa mosques.
The offers were made in 2008-9, in the wake
of President George Bush's Annapolis conference, and were privately
hailed by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, as giving Israel "the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew name for Jerusalem] in history"
in order to resolve the world's most intractable conflict. Israeli
leaders, backed by the US government, said the offers were inadequate.
efforts to revive talks by the Obama administration foundered last year
over Israel's refusal to extend a 10-month partial freeze on settlement
construction. Prospects are now uncertain amid increasing speculation
that a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict is no longer
attainable - and fears of a new war.
Many of the 1,600 leaked documents
- drawn up by PA officials and lawyers working for the British-funded
PLO negotiations support unit and include extensive verbatim transcripts
of private meetings - have been independently authenticated by the
Guardian and corroborated by former participants in the talks and
intelligence and diplomatic sources.
The Guardian's coverage is supplemented by WikiLeaks cables, emanating from the US consulate in Jerusalem and embassy in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials also kept their own records of the talks, which may differ from the confidential Palestinian accounts.
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concession in May 2008 by Palestinian leaders to allow Israel to annex
the settlements in East Jerusalem - including Gilo, which is a current
focus of controversy after Israeli authorities gave the go-ahead for
1,400 new homes - has never been made public before.
settlements built on territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war are
illegal under international law, but the Jerusalem homes are routinely
described, and perceived, by Israel as municipal "neighbourhoods".
Israeli governments have consistently sought to annex the largest
settlements as part of a peace deal - and came close to doing so at Camp
Erekat told Israeli leaders in 2008: "This is the first
time in Palestinian-Israeli history in which such a suggestion is
officially made." No such concession had been made at Camp David. But
the offer was rejected out of hand by Israel because it did not include a
big settlement near the city Ma'ale Adumim as well as Har Homa and
several others deeper in the West Bank, including Ariel. "We do not like
this suggestion because it does not meet our demands," Israel's then
foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, told the Palestinians, "and probably it was not easy for you to think about it, but I really appreciate it".
overall impression that emerges from the documents, which stretch from
1999 to 2010, is of the weakness and growing desperation of PA leaders
as failure to reach agreement or even halt all settlement temporarily
undermines their credibility in relation to their Hamas rivals; the
papers also reveal the unyielding confidence of Israeli negotiators and
the often dismissive attitude of US politicians towards Palestinian
Palestinian and Israeli officials both point out
that any position in negotiations is subject to the principle that
"nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" and therefore is invalid
without a overarching deal. But PA leaders are likely to be embarrassed
by the revelation of private concessions that go far beyond what much of
their population would regard as acceptable - particularly since
Mahmoud Abbas's mandate as Palestinian president expired in 2009.
PA, set up as a transitional administration after the 1993 Oslo
agreement between Israel and the PLO, is under pressure from a
disaffected Palestinian public and from Hamas, the Islamic Resistance
Movement. Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and has controlled
the Gaza Strip since its violent takeover in 2007.
PLO, Hamas rejects negotiations with Israel, except for a long-term
ceasefire, and refuses to recognise it. Its founding charter also
contains antisemitic elements. Supported by Iran and Syria, it is
sanctioned as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU,
despite pressure for it to be included in a wider political process.