Leaked Documents Show Palestinian Compromise

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During Middle East peace talks in 2008, Palestinians reportedly were prepared to compromise with Israel over two of the toughest issues: Jerusalem and refugees. The Al-Jazeera TV channel is citing documents it said came from the talks. Palestinian negotiators denied the report, saying parts of the documents were fabricated.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

We're learning more this morning about what has gone on behind the scenes in a decade of failed efforts by Israelis and Palestinians to make peace. According to confidential documents obtained by the news network Al-Jazeera, the Palestinian Authority offered large concessions on two key issues: giving up land in East Jerusalem - which the Palestinians want as part of their future state - and the question of what will happen to Palestinian refugees.

The authenticity of the documents has not been verified by the U.S. State Department, but the content of the 1,600 leaked documents offer startling details of years of peace negotiations.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us on the line from Jerusalem.

Good morning.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Bring us up to speed on sort of what the most import moments are in these documents.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, Renee, what we've seen are the first tranche of documents that Al-Jazeera obtained. In some cases, they are very detailed minutes of secret talks between Israelis and Palestinians and the Palestinians and American negotiators, and they stretch back for years and years, and they go up to the present. The most startling revelations, however, come from the description of talks between the Palestinians and Israelis when Ehud Olmert was prime minister. And as you know, the most recent round of peace talks have collapsed over the issue of Jewish settlements on occupied land.

The documents show the Palestinians in the last round of talks, though, offered historic concessions. For one, they said Israel could annex almost all the East Jerusalem settlements, and they offered to divide the old city, handing over part of the Armenian and the whole of the Jewish Quarter. Secondly, they offered concessions on the so-called Right of Return. There are millions of refugees and their descendents scattered around the Middle East. The Palestinians basically asked for a token number of them to be allowed back in.

And what the documents show is that Israel seemingly rejected all of these offers as not enough. Israel has always purported that they do not have a partner for peace in the Palestinians. But what analysts say these documents show is that the opposite seems to be true.

MONTAGNE: So then what has been the reaction so far?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, very quiet on the Israeli side. One of Ehud Olmert's negotiators came on the radio this morning, confirming the substance of the documents. But the Palestinians have come out saying that much of what these documents say isn't true. It's important to note that Al-Jazeera gave these documents also to the Guardian newspaper in Britain, and they independently verified them.

You can see why the PA might try and deny that the documents - what the documents show. This is hugely embarrassing for the Palestinian Authority, especially for chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. The documents detail him saying he would vote for now-opposition leader Tzipi Livni in the last elections. They show him using the Hebrew word for Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, and they show him complaining about how present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won't take his calls. They basically feel that this is an attempt to undermine the Palestinian Authority and their negotiating.

MONTAGNE: So what do you expect the fallout to be?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, in the short term, I think it's pretty clear it's bad for the Palestinians. The Palestinian street - the Arab world, for that matter -won't like what they're hearing, especially on emotional issues like Jerusalem and refugees. And it strengthens the militant group Hamas' hand. They've already come out denouncing the Palestinian Authority, saying the documents show the PA is, quote, attempting to liquidate the Palestinian cause.

But, you know, analysts say, in the long term, this may damage Israel's standing in the international community. They come off as intransigent. All the headlines we've seen around the world is that Israel rejected many of these historic concessions by the Palestinians. And it shows that they possibly weren't that interested in making real concessions for peace. But the thing is I think we can't forget that these were talks that ultimately led nowhere. Whatever was offered or agreed to, no deal was ever struck. The legacy of these documents may ultimately be that they show, in painful detail, the huge hurdles there are for making peace in the region.

MONTAGNE: And just quickly, there are more documents to be released, right, by Al-Jazeera?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, yeah. We are expecting, over the next few days, quite a few documents, and they won't make pleasant reading for the Palestinians, apparently. They're expected to detail how closely the Palestinian security services cooperate with the Israeli security services, and how Israel informed the Palestinian Authority it was going to invade the Gaza Strip in 2008. More to come.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, speaking to us from Jerusalem.

Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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