Chris McGreal
The Guardian
January 24, 2011 - 1:00am

Palestinian negotiators have angrily dismissed accounts as lies, fabrications and half truths

As Palestinian negotiators named in the secret accounts of negotiations with Israel angrily dismissed them as lies, fabrications and half truths, there was an equally hostile backlash over their offer to let the Jewish state keep its settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and other concessions.

The two leading Palestinian negotiators named in the documents, Saeb Erekat and Ahmed Qureia, reacted furiously to the leaks. Erekat called them a "bunch of lies". Qureia claimed that "many parts of the documents were fabricated, as part of the incitement against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian leadership".

But a former colleague of the two men on the negotiations team, Diana Buttu, called their secret proposal in 2008 to let Israel keep all but one of the Jewish settlements within Jerusalem shocking and "out of touch" with the wishes of the Palestinian people.

She called on Erekat to resign and said that the concessions effectively mean that Israel's strategy of continuing to expand Jewish settlements is delivering it a greater share of Jerusalem.

"It is highly, highly problematic because it rewards Israel for its settlement activity," she said.

"It highlights to me that we'll never be able to get anything from negotiations. You've got one party that's incredibly powerful and another party that's incredibly weak and my own experience is that we got nowhere during negotiations.

"I've no reason to believe it's any different now, 18 years after the peace process started. The Israelis are stronger than they were 18 years ago and the Palestinians are weaker. It is clear that there is a rising level of desperation [by Palestinian negotiators] and complete lack of any connection to the reality Palestinians face."

But former US negotiators said that the concessions made by the Palestinians were the logical result of adhering to the principle laid down by then president Bill Clinton at the 2000 Camp David talks that Israel would have sovereignty over those parts of Jerusalem that were predominantly Jewish, including settlements in the occupied east of the city.

Martin Indyk, Clinton's national security adviser on the Israeli-Palestinian question and a former US ambassador to Israel, said: "My reading is there's nothing more here on Jerusalem than [Yasser] Arafat agreed to in Camp David. The principle was very clear from Camp David on, that what's Jewish in Jerusalem will be under Israeli sovereignty and what is Palestinian will be under Palestinian sovereignty. That was the specific concession that Arafat made at Camp David."

Buttu disputes that account, backing the assertion in the documents by Qureia, the lead Palestinian negotiator, that "this is the first time in history that we make such a proposition. We refused to do so in Camp David".

She said that the Palestinians did not previously agree that Jewish areas of East Jerusalem would fall under Israeli sovereignty.

"It was rejected at the Taba summit [in 2001] which I attended. Nabil Shaath [former chief negotiator] said that if we accept the Clinton parameters we would need a GPS in order to navigate which part of Jerusalem is Palestine and which part of Jerusalem is not Palestine," she said.

Aaron David Miller, who was part of the negotiating team during the Clinton years and a senior advisor on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the Bush administration, said that the Palestinian hand was being forced by the reality of population numbers. "The Palestinians have bought off, theoretically, on the proposition that what was contained in the Clinton parameters … that demography will out. I think the Palestinians would move toward that position and if they got what they think they need on the issue of territory and refugees I think they'd be willing to turn that position in to a real one that would stand the harsh light of day within Palestinian society," he said.

Miller said the documents show that the Palestinians were serious about reaching an agreement but that the Israeli leadership, under then prime minister Ehud Olmert, was too politically weak to deliver.

"At the beginning of Star Wars there's a wonderful phrase: a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. When I read these documents that's essentially what I thought about. What appears is very serious and creative ideas. The issue has always been the absence of will, leadership and the right political environment to actually do the deal," he said. "We're talking about negotiations that didn't have legs. Ehud Olmert could never have taken what developed given his political circumstances and sold it."

Daniel Levy, a former member of the Israeli negotiating team at Taba, said the documents reveal the extent to which the Palestinians remained wedded to a strategy that had failed to deliver peace over the previous 15 years.

"What's so striking is not so much the nature of the concessions, it's that year after year they're pursuing the same strategy which not only shows itself to have failed but showed itself to be on a slope of constant Palestinian slippage. They knew that the Israelis were pocketing whatever they gave, building more settlements and then saying: we need more land," he said.

"The Palestinians never extracted themselves from that structurally losing proposition especially the expectation that the Americans would deliver Israel because the Palestinians thought they were the ones being reasonable in the negotiations. But it didn't happen and it didn't happen. The Americans constantly sided with the unreasonable side and the Palestinians kept digging themselves deeper and deeper in to this losing proposition."

Buttu said the revelations are likely to damage the credibility of the Palestinian leadership.

"Through all of this talk about Jerusalem as the capital, they've never revealed that they were going to make any concession like this. On Thursday, Nabil Shaath said East Jerusalem in its entirety is our capital, there are no concessions on our part. He's talking about no concessions when behind closed doors there are major concessions that are being made," she said.

But Miller suggested that the Palestinians may have leaked the documents in an attempt to counter Israeli claims that they are the obstacle to peace.

"You have to ask yourself the question: why have these documents appeared now? The answer is that the Palestinians, as part of a campaign to gain international support and recognition for the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood and to increase pressure not only on the Israelis but the Americans, have chosen to say to the world: look, it's not so hard.

"Previous Israeli governments were interested in a serious negotiation. So why can't we have one now based on the principles that previous Israeli governments have agreed to?"


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