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 colonies built illegally in occupied 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.
A 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-long peace process, which is now regarded as all but dead.
As well as the annexation of all Occupied East Jerusalem colonies except Har Homa, the Palestine papers show PLO leaders privately suggested swapping part of the flashpoint occupied East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Shaikh Jarrah for land elsewhere.
Most controversially, they also proposed a joint committee to take over the Haram Al Sharif holy sites in Occupied 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 2008-2009, 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 occupied 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. The concession in May 2008 by Palestinian leaders to allow Israel to annex the colonies in Occupied 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.
All colonies built on territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war are illegal under international law, but the Occupied Jerusalem homes are routinely described, and perceived, by Israel as municipal "neighbourhoods". Israeli governments have consistently sought to annex the largest colonies as part of a peace deal and came close to doing so at Camp David.
The overall impression that emerges from the documents, which stretch from 1999 to 2010, is of the weakness and growing desperation of Palestinian National Authority leaders as failure to reach agreement or even halt all colonisation 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 representatives.
Excerpts: Back and forth
- In 2005 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon berated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for failing to crack down on the "terrorist infrastructure" of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Abbas was recorded as noting "with pleasure the fact that Sharon considered him a friend, and the fact that he too considered Sharon a friend", adding that "every bullet that is aimed in the direction of Israel is a bullet aimed at the Palestinians as well".
- In November 2007, Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, told senior Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qorei that she believed Palestinians saw colony building as meaning "Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible"; that "the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we'll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state". She conceded that had been "the policy of the government for a really long time."
- In March 2008, the documents show that senior Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qorei greeted US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with the words: "You bring back life to the region when you come."
- In May 2008, Erekat asked Livni: "Short of your jet fighters in my sky and your army on my territory, can I choose where I secure external defence?" "No," Livni replied. "In order to create your state you have to agree in advance with Israel you choose not to have the right of choice afterwards." By the following year, Erekat appeared to have accepted that choice. "The Palestinians know they will have a country with limitations," he told Mitchell. "They won't have an army, air force or navy."
- In July 2008, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice during talks with Palestinian leaders over compensation for refugees who fled or were forced from their homes when Israel was established in 1948, she said: "Bad things happen to people all around the world all the time."
- If the Palestinians kept insisting that Israel could not keep the large colonies of Ma'ale Adumim (near Jerusalem) and Ariel (in the heart of the West Bank), Rice told them: "You won't have a state".
- In October 2009, in an emotional and apparently humiliating outburst to Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in Washington, the senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat complained that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership wasn't even being offered a "figleaf".
- He said: "Nineteen years of promises and you haven't made up your minds what you want to do with us ... We delivered on our road map obligations. Even Yuval Diskin [director of Israel's internal security service, Shabak] raises his hat on security. But no, they can't even give a six-month freeze to give me a figleaf."
- In January 2010, Erekat returned to a similar theme with the US State Department official David Hale, saying he was offering Israel "the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history" (using the Hebrew name for Jerusalem), a "symbolic number of refugees' return, demilitarised state ... What more can I give?"