Ethan Bronner
The New York Times
January 23, 2011 - 1:00am

Despite longstanding protests against the construction of Jewish developments in contested areas, Palestinian negotiators agreed to cede large tracts of Jerusalem to Israel during peace negotiations in recent years, according to a set of documents Al Jazeera says it has obtained.

The materials suggest that the chief Palestinian negotiator at the time, Ahmed Qurei, “proposed that Israel annexes all settlements in Jerusalem,” except for the Jewish district known as Har Homa.

“This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition,” Mr. Qurei was quoted as saying during a June 2008 meeting with his Israeli counterparts and Condoleezza Rice, then the American secretary of state.

Al Jazeera did not say how it had gotten hold of the documents, and State Department officials on Sunday would not comment on them, cautioning that they could not vouch for the documents’ authenticity.

But the new details of how Jerusalem might have been divided during negotiations under Israel’s former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, are in keeping with previous understandings of what drove the peace talks before they broke down so completely in recent months.

The status of Jerusalem is an emotional and symbolic issue for both sides. Still, it had long been understood that residential areas built in East Jerusalem by Israel since its 1967 conquest would stay in Israeli hands, and that historically Palestinian areas would become part of a new Palestinian state. President Bill Clinton laid out this notion in December 2000 in what became known as the Clinton Parameters. He said the general principle was that Arab areas would be Palestinian, and Jewish ones Israeli.

Palestinian and Israeli officials have made clear that in fall 2008 they came very close to agreement on territory for a two-state deal, but they were divided over the West Bank.

The Israelis wanted to hold onto about 6 percent of the West Bank; the Palestinians were willing to cede about 2 percent of it for land swaps. But then Mr. Olmert, facing indictment, left office and the Israel invasion of Gaza occurred, ending the negotiations. New elections in 2009 brought Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud and his right-leaning coalition to power. The Palestinians have said ever since that peace talks should start where they had left off with Mr. Olmert. Mr. Netanyahu has rejected that, saying he wanted a fresh start.

Palestinian authorities immediately rejected the Al Jazeera report as “a bunch of lies,” while their rivals in Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, seized on the documents as evidence that the Palestinian Authority was “attempting to liquidate the Palestinian cause,” Reuters reported.

The new details come as the United States is facing unusual pressure from its Arab and European allies, and even from some former top American officials, not to veto a draft Security Council resolution reaffirming the longstanding international view that Israeli settlements on occupied territory are illegal.

Habitually, Security Council members avoid proposing any resolution that might be seen as critical of Israel because the United States vetoes them, almost automatically. But the new resolution reflects widespread frustration that even though President Obama said in a United Nations speech last September that Israel should freeze settlement expansion and that a Palestinian state was achievable within a year, no tangible progress has been made.

The common position among those lobbying for the new resolution is that American credibility is at stake — especially if the United States, after pushing Israel to halt settlement construction, refuses to take up the matter at the Security Council.

“Nothing is happening outside,” said Maged A. Abdelaziz, the Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations. “The statements given by the secretary of state and the American administration are that ‘We are against settlements and we are not going to do anything about it and we don’t want you to do anything about it. We will let the Israelis do what they want.’ ”

Ultimately, he said, “We will wake up one day to find that the two-state solution has become a dream that is unachievable.”

The draft resolution is freighted with several goals. First, it is meant to pressure the United States to do something concrete to get the talks moving again. Second, it is a way for the Palestinian administration to save face with its own population — even if the measure does not pass — since President Mahmoud Abbas set a halt on Israeli construction as a condition for returning to the bargaining table. The resolution is also a stalking horse for a larger effort, to gauge support at the United Nations for a resolution unilaterally declaring an independent Palestinian state.

The United States has not engaged in talks even on the wording of the new resolution, signaling that a veto looms. “We continue to believe strongly that New York is not the place to resolve the longstanding conflict and outstanding issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week.

Supporters recognize that the resolution, which would most likely win votes from the 14 other members of the council, puts Mr. Obama in the potentially embarrassing position of having to veto a resolution that reflects his position. Among many Israelis, his administration is already viewed as unsupportive, and voting for the measure would antagonize the Republican-controlled House.

But given the lack of “credible, real, effective negotiations,” said José Filipe Mendes Moraes Cabral, the Portuguese ambassador, condemning settlement construction anew “could be something instrumental in not keeping the settlement issue at the center.”

The Israeli mission to the United Nations described the resolution as an attempt to bypass direct talks. “The only road to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is through direct negotiations that address the core concerns of both sides,” read a statement by the mission’s spokeswoman, Karean Peretz.

But Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, singled out Israel last week, demanding that it halt what he called its illegal settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem. “We must find a way for Jerusalem to emerge as a capital of two states,” he said.


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