January 23, 2011 11:37 pm

Palestinians rebuffed on Jerusalem offer

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Palestinian negotiators were ready to allow Israel to keep virtually all Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem as part of a broader peace agreement between the two sides. Their offer, made two years ago, was turned down by Israeli officials as insufficient.

According to a cache of more than 1,600 documents leaked to the al-Jazeera news channel, Palestinian officials told Israel in 2008 that it could retain all Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem save for Har Homa, a controversial settlement that cuts off the city’s southern neighbourhoods from Bethlehem.

Al-Jazeera said that because of the sensitive nature of the documents, it could not reveal their sources.

One of the leaked documents quotes Ahmed Qurei, a former Palestinian prime minister and at the time the head of the negotiating team, as saying: “This is the first time in history that we make such a proposition; we refused to do so in Camp David”, the site of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2000.

However, he was rebuffed by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister at the time.

Saeb Erekat, another senior Palestinian negotiator, is quoted as saying at a different meeting in early 2010: “What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim [Jerusalem] in Jewish history, [a merely] symbolic number of refugees return, [a] demilitarised [Palestinian] state ... what more can I give?”

The revelations are likely to prove embarrassing to the Palestinian leadership as they make clear the extent to which negotiators have been willing to compromise on core Palestinian interests, especially regarding Jerusalem.

Palestinian negotiators will, however, be able to point out that peace talks have always been held on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This means they would only have had to implement their suggested concessions if Israel had been ready to reciprocate.

Some of the documents could also make uncomfortable reading for Israeli and US policymakers. Several minutes of crucial meetings give the clear impression that the Palestinians were far readier to offer concessions – and back them up with maps and precise offers – than their Israeli counterparts. This could help undermine the frequently made Israeli claim that it has no credible Palestinian partner for a peace deal.

Meanwhile, documents detailing conversations between Palestinian and US diplomats show officials such as Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, adopting an occasionally dismissive tone.

At a meeting between Ms Rice and Mr Qurei in July 2008, she insisted that no Israeli leader would be ready to give up on Maale Addumim, a large Jewish settlement in the middle of the West Bank. “Or any Palestinian leader,” he responded. “Then you won’t have a state,” Ms Rice reportedly answered back.

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